A Turkish high court has ruled that Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia can be converted back into a mosque.
The Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral during the Byzantine Empire.
It was converted into a mosque in 1453 after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and changed the city’s name to Istanbul.
The latest court ruling overturns a 1934 government decision to make it into a museum.
The move has sparked outrage in Greece and Russia, home to millions of Orthodox Christians.
The World Council of Churches has called on the Turkish president to reverse the decision.
In the Vatican, Pope Francis expressed dismay: “My thoughts go to Istanbul. I think of Santa Sophia, and I am very pained.”
The Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by millions of tourists each year, but UNESCO now plans to review its status.
President Erdogan says deciding the building’s purpose is Turkey’s sovereign right: “Like all our other mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be open to all locals, foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims,” Erdogan said. “Being the common heritage of humankind, Hagia Sophia will continue to embrace everyone in a most sincere, unique way, with its new status.”
The first prayers are expected to take place on July 24.
This video was produced and edited by Al Jazeera NewsFeed’s Hassan Ghani.