Hagia Sophia the latest tussle over holy sites

Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia is to reopen for Muslim worship as a mosque after an almost nine-decade hiatus, in the latest historic tussle with Christianity over religious sites.

The UNESCO World Heritage site was constructed as a cathedral during the Byzantine empire but converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

A Turkish court on Friday overturned a 1934 cabinet decision to turn hagia sophia into a museum, clearing the way for a July 24 reversion to its status as a mosque.

The move adds to a long list of such conversions of holy sites over the centuries. The following are examples:

Algiers’ Ketchaoua Mosque was built in about 1612 and enlarged in 1794, making it one of the country’s main mosques.

The French, a year into their 1830-1962 colonial reign, turned it into the Catholic church of Saint Philippe.
The first mass was celebrated there on December 24, 1832.

In 1838, it was consecrated the Algiers Cathedral and enlarged, destroying most of the old mosque.

But with Algeria’s independence in 1962, Ketchaoua again became a mosque, hosting its first Friday prayer in 130 years. Since then, it has been renovated with Turkish funding.

Selimiye mosque in northern Nicosia, originally the Roman Catholic cathedral of Saint Sophia, was the work of French masons who accompanied the Crusades.

It was built in the 13th century during the reign of the Frankish Lusignan dynasty on the eastern Mediterranean island.

The cathedral was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman seizure of Nicosia in 1570.

Tradition has it that imams preparing to deliver the Friday sermon climbed into the minbar, or pulpit, leaning on a sword used during the conquest of the city.

The finest example of Gothic architecture on the island, the Catholic cathedral of Saint Nicholas in the northeastern city of Famagusta was consecrated in the 14th century during the Lusignan period.

It was transformed into Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque after the Ottoman empire captured the coastal city in 1571.

Attarine Mosque in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria was originally an octagonal church dating back to 370 and dedicated to St Athanasius, a pivotal figure in the Coptic Orthodox church.

The place of worship was converted into a mosque during the Islamic invasion of the seventh century, and it is named after its location in the old spice market of Alexandria.

During the Napoleonic invasion, explorers believed the tomb of Alexander The Great was buried inside the mosque in a green sarcophagus.

It was renovated several times during Ottoman rule, and has been open to the public since its latest rebuilding in 1976. — AFP

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