Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday signed a formal decree to restore mosque status to the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul, a move that signals a symbolic shift away from secularism for Turkey.
The decree came soon after Turkey’s highest court’s ruling to annul a 1934 decision, made in the early days of Turkey’s modern republic, to turn the site into a secular museum.
Though originally built as a Christian church in the sixth century, the Hagia Sophia had previously served as a mosque since 1453, when the Ottomans invaded what was then Constantinople and converted the building into a space for Muslim religious services.
Critics have accused Erdogan of using the Hagia Sophia—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—to appeal to conservative voters, the New York Times reported.
The prospect of the Hagia Sophia being turned back into a mosque proved unpopular internationally, but a poll in June suggested roughly 73% of people in Turkey support the idea.