Last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Hagia Sophia, formerly the Church of the Holy Wisdom, which used to be an Orthodox Christian cathedral before becoming a mosque and then a museum, could become a mosque again, with free admission.
The United States, Greece and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the huge sixth-century building, converted into a museum in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Turkey's highest administrative court, the Council of State, ruled unanimously on Friday to annul a 1934 presidential decree that stripped the Hagia Sophia of its religious status and turned it into a museum.
Calls for it to serve again as a mosque have led to anger among Christians and exacerbated tensions between historic foes Turkey and Greece, which closely monitors Byzantine heritage in Turkey.
"T$3 he decision is unlikely to give him more than a temporary boost in popularity; what it will surely do is undermine Turkey's worldwide brand as an open, Muslim-majority society at peace with its Christian heritage", Cagaptay contends.
"The nationalism displayed by President Erdogan. takes his country back six centuries", she said in a statement.
The decision sparked deep dismay among Orthodox Christians.
"Today's court ruling shows that all calls for the need for extreme delicacy in this matter were ignored", Legoida said. Large crowds have gathered outside Hagia Sophia on the May 31 anniversary of the city's conquest to pray and demand that it be restored as a place of Muslim worship.
Erdogan last week said that accusations against the country about Hagia Sophia directly target its sovereignty, adding that Turkey will always protect the rights of Muslims and the minorities living in the country.
The group that brought the case to court had contested the legality of the 1934 decision by the modern Turkish republic's secular government ministers and argued that the building was the personal property of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Istanbul in 1453.
"May we be blessed", he commented.
"Hagia Sophia is arguably the most conspicuous symbol of Turkey's Ottoman past -- one which Erdogan is leveraging to strengthen his base while snubbing domestic and foreign rivals", he told AFP.
The world-famous Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul - originally founded as a cathedral - has been turned back into a mosque.
One aspect of the saga that appears to have struck a nerve has been statements made by the Orthodox churches in Russian Federation and Greece - whose traditions date back to Byzantine Constantinople - opposing the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, which some see as an infringement of Turkish sovereignty.
"It's been a dream since we were kids", said Erdal Gencler, an Istanbul resident.
"Hagia Sophia is not among our main concerns", said Zaki, who owns a shop in the same street. "We are very excited, proud, and hopeful that there will be handsome services here", he added.
"As I was about to enter, I didn't expect that I would feel so excited", she said.
She said visiting the Hagia Sophia was an unexpectedly thrilling part of her visit.
Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Erdogan's son-in-law, tweeted that Hagia Sophia would be reopened to Muslim worship "sooner or later", referring to a quote from Turkish poet Necip Fazil Kisakurek. In 2018, the Constitutional Court rejected one application.
In religious conservative circles, the conversion of the building into a museum was seen as a betrayal of the Ottoman past and of its Islamic heritage.