Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy announced on Tuesday that foreign visitors to Hagia Sophia, an İstanbul landmark with a history dating back more than 1,500 years, will be charged an entrance fee, in a major policy change after the building was converted from a museum to a mosque by the Turkish government.
The minister said foreign visitors would start to pay a fee to enter the mosque starting Jan. 15, 2024.
The minister stated that the new visitor management practices aim to improve the quality and security of visits to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Turkish citizens visiting the landmark for religious purposes will not be affected by the changes.
Ersoy elaborated on the new measures, saying they are designed to minimize visitor congestion and enhance the quality of both visits and religious practices at Hagia Sophia. The entry point for foreign visitors will be changed, and they will be guided through a gallery before exiting.
Additionally, a mobile application will provide information in 16 languages to assist visitors during their tour of the historic site.
The decision to charge foreign visitors admission comes amid an ongoing debate over the preservation and management of Hagia Sophia, which was converted from a museum to a mosque in July 2020. The conversion has drawn international criticism and raised concerns about preserving the architectural and artistic treasures inside the structure.
The minister stressed that revenue from entrance fees will be used for the maintenance and preservation of Hagia Sophia.
It is not clear how this policy will affect non-Turkish Muslims who want to visit the mosque to pray.