Pakistani lawmaker hails Turkey's Hagia Sophia move

Pope Francis

The colossal Santa Sophia cathedral was turned into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453.

Hagia Sophia became a museum after the Republic of Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but secular state, was founded.

Pope Francis said on Sunday that he is "deeply pained" over the decision by Turkey to change the status of Hagia Sophia - which was originally built in Istanbul as a Christian cathedral - from a museum to a mosque.

Speaking at a service in the Vatican, the Roman Catholic leader added that his "thoughts go to Istanbul".

One of the world's most famous landmarks, the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul, has been turned back into a mosque.

"And of course it does not only affect relations between Turkey and Greece, but its relations with the European Union".

The building has mosaics of Christian icons which were obscured while it was used as a mosque but uncovered when it became a museum.

It has also drawn condemnation from Greece, and Unesco said its World Heritage Committee would now review the monument's status.

The World Council of Churches has called on President Erdogan to reverse the decision.

In its ruling the Council of State, Turkey's top administrative court, said: "It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally".

The minister noted that Ankara's decision on Hagia Sophia was another provocative action against Greece and other countries in the region, and the fact that Turkey did not show any spirit of cooperation to comply with global law should not be ignored.

As a World Heritage museum, "Hagia Sophia has been a place of openness, encounter and inspiration for people from all nations", Ioan Sauca said in the letter released Saturday by the Geneva-based group.



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