Instabul’s Hagia Sophia has been an Eastern orthodox church, a Catholic cathedral, a mosque, a museum and a home for cats.
Now, after a court in Turkey ruled it was illegal to convert the building into a museum, it will once again become a mosque — and the cats who call it home can stay, Turkey’s government says.
The most famous of those cats is Gli, a European shorthair with striking eyes who has become the building’s most famous resident and perhaps the most famous cat in Turkey, a country knownfor its love of cats.
Tourists come to the ancient house of worship hope to get a glimpse of Gli — or even better, a selfie with her — and she has more than 50,000 followers on Instagram. She was also famously petted by US President Barack Obama when he visited the monument in 2009.
Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan, assured the public that Gli and her feline companions will stay right where they’ve always been.
“That cat has become very famous, and there are others who haven’t become that famous yet,” Kalin told Reuters. “That cat will be there, and all cats are welcome to our mosques.”
The Hagia Sophia has perhaps the most interesting history of any place of worship — it was built as a church of the Eastern rite in the Byzantine empire in 537 when the city was called Constantinople, and remained that way for almost a thousand years, with a 57-year interregnum in which it became a Catholic cathedral in the 13th century.
In 1453, the fall of Constantinople marked an end to the Roman empire and Christian rule in the city. It was renamed Istanbul, and the Hagia Sophia became a mosque. The building is unique for blending elements of Christian and Islamic architecture.
The court decision to return it to use as a mosque after it was a museum for most of the 20th century came earlier in July. Prayers are expected to resume in the building today, July 24.
Top image credit Flickr.