in Istanbul, Hagia Sophia is now paying for foreign tourists

The former Hagia Sophia, converted into a mosque since 2020, is subject to charges from this Monday, January 15 for all foreign tourists. A decision which should make it possible, in particular, to finance the restoration work, but which is far from unanimous.


Reading time: 2 min

Access to Sainte Sophie becomes paying for foreign tourists from Monday January 15 (MARIE-PIERRE VEROT / RADIO FRANCE)

The price is 25 euros for entry. Enough to raise eyebrows at Souad, from Lyon, who had just left Sainte-Sophie this weekend. “No, but it’s madness, it’s abuse. Fortunately we did it today, we were lucky!”she reacts.

Hagia Sophia, Byzantine basilica transformed into a mosque during the capture of Constantinople, then into a museum by Atatürk and became a mosque again in 2020 when President Erdogan wished, he said, “give it back to the Turkish Muslims” and open it to everyone for free. But since Monday January 15, 2024, access has finally become paying for foreign tourists.

Entrance to Hagia Sophia will now be 25 euros for foreign tourists.  (MARIE-PIERRE VEROT)

There are now two separate entrances: tourists will therefore be directed to the Ahmed III fountain behind the Hagia Sophia. The ticket will give them access to the upper gallery which is currently closed. The lower floor will remain reserved for the mosque, devoted to prayers. Foreign visitors and believers, assures the government, will thus be able to enjoy the building without inconvenience. But it is above all a question of financing the restoration work, specifies Hayre, guide at Sainte-Sophie. “The restoration of monuments is so expensive”he assures.

“When you pay the entrance fee, you can eat more easily”

Hayre, guide at Hagia Sophia

at franceinfo

The transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque and its free access have in fact attracted tens of thousands of additional visitors. The damage to the wooden doors and the marble floor worried the heritage management. The maintenance of the building strains the budget of a state already in crisis. It was therefore necessary to find new money, notes researcher Jean-François Pérouse. “This is the principle of reality, economic reason takes over. After this generous decision, calculations quickly led to practicing this discrimination, because it is indeed discrimination. The Muslim foreigner, how will he be considered? This will pose more complicated problems than we think.”analyzes the specialist.

“This reflects a desire to make a profit at the expense of tourists”

Jean-François Pérouse, researcher

at franceinfo

How, in fact, can we establish this distinction between the foreigner who comes to visit and the one who wishes to pray? Muharrem isn’t too worried. He has been selling simits, these typical Turkish breads in front of Hagia Sophia for around thirty years. “There are guards at the entrance who will sort them out. They will ask a few questions to find out if people know how to pray, if they know how to perform ablutions…”he explains.

Muharrem seller of simits in front of Sainte Sophie (MARIE-PIERRE VEROT / RADIO FRANCE)

However, he regrets its transformation into a mosque. “For me it would be better if it was completely converted into a museum. Firstly, this can help the state’s finances and the Turkish population, and then there are already enough mosques in Sultanahmet, Ayasofya, Firuzaga, etc.”, he continues. Especially since, from now on, tourists will no longer pass by his bun stand. And that, adds Muharrem, “It’s not very good for my business.”

source site-29