A few changes have happened to Turkey in the past couple of years. For one, the country changed its name from Turkey to Türkiye. Also, the Hagia Sophia, one of the most iconic buildings in all of Istanbul, had its status switched from museum to mosque, making visiting a very different experience.

@matadornetwork #HagiaSophia was first built as a Christian church in the 6th century. It then became a mosque, then a museum, and is now back to being a mosque. It is an architectural wonder and a must-visit when you are in #Istanbul #Türkiye 🇹🇷 #hagiasophiamosque #turkeytravel #turkeybucketlist ♬ original sound – Sp3d._.s0ngz

The Hagia Sophia that you can see today at the end of Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square was built as a cathedral in the sixth century. It then became a mosque in the 15th century, and some time later (in the early 20th century), it was given the secular status of museum. But in 2020, the Hagia Sophia, which is part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a property inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, became a mosque again.

The change has somewhat affected the interior of this renowned building. The floor, made of white marble, has been covered in a large, turquoise carpet for the comfort of worshippers during prayers. Also, some of the Christian mosaics and frescoes featuring religious characters are covered in drapes.

While the Hagia Sophia is very much still open to tourists, the way people visit it is very different now that it’s been switched back into a mosque:

  • On Fridays for parts of the afternoon, the mosque is open only to worshippers (Friday afternoon prayer is the most important prayer of the week in Islam). The closure creates long lines outside of the Hagia Sophia, so if you can visit on a different day, do so.
  • Modest clothing is required of visitors (no short shorts, no tank tops, etc.) and women must cover their heads while inside.
  • As in every mosque, visitors must take off their shoes before entering the Hagia Sophia; there are hundreds shoe lockers provided at the entrance.

Despite the change of status from museum to mosque, the Hagia Sophia is obviously still a must-see when in Istanbul. It is free to enter and is open every day. Lines are usually long to enter the mosque so make sure you arrive before 9 AM if you don’t want to be at the very end of the queue.