A top Turkish court today struck down the 1934 Cabinet decree that turned Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its use again as a mosque after an 85-year hiatus.
An NGO in Istanbul, the Permanent Foundations Service to Historical Artifacts and Environment Association, had filed a petition at the Council of State seeking annulment of the decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a museum after it was used as a mosque for nearly 500 years.
The court heard the parties' arguments at a 2 July hearing before issuing its ruling.
According to the court's full ruling, Hagia Sophia was owned by a foundation established by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror and was presented to the community as a mosque.
The decision said that in its title deed, Hagia Sophia was defined as a "mosque" and this cannot be legally changed.
It concluded that it is not legally possible to use the building as anything other than a mosque, as it is defined as such in the deed.
Under the Byzantine Empire, Hagia Sophia had been used as a church for 916 years. In 1453, after the Ottoman Empire conquered Istanbul, it was converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmet II, also known as the Conqueror.
An unparalleled treasure of world architecture, Hagia Sophia underwent restoration work during the Ottoman era, including the addition of minarets for the call to prayer by famed architect Mimar Sinan.