Turkey starts charging foreign tourists to visit Hagia Sophia

By AFP   January 15, 2024 | 06:54 pm PT
Turkey starts charging foreign tourists to visit Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia mosque in Turkey is seen from outside. Photo by Wiki/Arild Vagen
Turkey on Monday started charging foreign tourists a hefty fee to visit Istanbul’s famed sixth-century monument Hagia Sophia, which was controversially converted into a mosque in 2020.

The new fee of €25 (US$27.31) per person was displayed on a side entrance where foreigners were directed.

The main entrance is now reserved for Turkish citizens.

The tickets allow access to an open tunnel through which visitors can visit Hagia Sophia without disturbing prayers.

Local press compared it to a "garage entrance."

Surprised by the new practice, only a handful of visitors were paying the fee on Monday.

"It was free yesterday... (tourists) are surprised," admitted an official directing passers-by.

Non-Turkish Muslim visitors will also be charged, even if they wish to pray, added the official, who wished to remain anonymous.

The Hagia Sophia was built as a Byzantine cathedral – once the world’s largest – in the sixth century before being converted into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

It was converted into a museum as part of the modern Turkish republic’s efforts to move towards secularism.

But conservative President Recep Tayyip Erdogan re-converted it to a mosque in 2020, to the delight of his zealous religious supporters and the dismay of secularists.

The change also sparked condemnation from Western governments, Russia and Christian leaders.

The entry ticket gives access to the upstairs gallery and the museum at the Unesco World Heritage site, which is a magnet for tourists.

Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy announced the new measure in October.

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