Shortly after the announcement, the first call to prayer was recited at Hagia Sophia and was broadcast on all of Turkey's main news channels. "Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage, and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue", said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday formally reconverted Istanbul's sixth-century iconic Hagia Sophia into a mosque and declared it open to Muslim worship, hours after a high court annulled a 1934 decision that had turned it into a museum.
Hagia Sophia stayed under Byzantine control - except for a brief seizure by Crusaders in the 13th century - until the city was captured by the Muslim forces of the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet the Conqueror, who converted it into a mosque.
A Turkish court ruling has paved the way for Istanbul's crowning architectural jewel, the Hagia Sophia museum, to be turned back into a mosque - a politically charged decision that has drawn global criticism but delighted the president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's conservative base.
It could deepen tensions with neighbouring Greece, which also called on Turkey to maintain the structure's status as a museum.
The Indian Express is now on Telegram. It was Turkey's most popular tourist attraction in 2019 with 3.8 million visitors.
Nikos Christodoulides, Cyprus's minister of foreign affairs, criticized the Turkish court's decision.
The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, considered the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, warned in late June that the building's conversion into a mosque "will turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam".
"We plan to open the Hagia Sophia to worshipping on July 24 with Friday prayers", Erdogan said at a televised address to the nation.
The debate over turning the Hagia Sophia into a mosque has stoked nationalist sentiments in Turkey, with President Erdogan strongly rallying behind the move to convert it.
The other side: The step was taken despite lobbying from Greece and Russian Federation, both centers of the Orthodox Church, and from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who said it would erase a vital "bridge between those of differing faith traditions and cultures". It was the centre of Orthodox Christianity and remained the world's largest church for centuries.
Erdogan urged everyone to respect Turkey's decision and said the issue of what purposes Hagia Sophia would serve "concerns Turkey's sovereign rights".
"Ths decision, alas, is not aimed at reconciling existing differences, but, on the contrary, can lead to even greater divisions", a spokesperson told the TASS news agency.
"Symbolically, such a decision would appear as the culminating point for Turkey which has systematically gone on the offensive in all theatres of regional conflicts: Syria, Iraq, Libya and eastern Mediterranean", he said.
The famous Istanbul landmark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and major tourist destination, has been a secular museum since 1935, when the founder of the modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, transformed the building from a Muslim mosque.