As director of the Topkapi Museum [the former palace of the Sultans] Ilber Ortayli was for many years the custodian of one of the greatest monuments of Ottoman times and home to many of the empire’s splendid treasures.

Cosmopolitan, a scintillating conversationalist with sweeping knowledge in a number of historical and cultural areas of study, and a friend of Ecumenical Vartholomeos, Ortayli now is sending out a red alert on the disastrous effects that the millions of Muslim faithful from throughout Turkey and tourists from all over the world who flock to Hagia Sophia each year in the two years since Turkey’s Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned it from a museum into a mosque, called Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, will have on what was once the greatest cathedral in Christendom, built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and dating to 537.

In an article in the Turkish daily Hurriyet, Ortayli described the fact that millions of people each year have visited the mosque as a “disaster”.

“Hagia Sophia must shut down for a certain time period in order to be restored,” Ortayli said.

“The condition of Hagia Sophia must be examined seriously, publicised, and discussed with lengthy [detailed] references. It is a disaster that so many million visitors visit Hagia Sophia annually. In such monuments all around the world a system is implemented with planned visits. This is what happens in Florence, for example, and with the Cathedral of Milan, the Duomo, as well as in 6th century structures in Rome,”Ortayli underlined.

“Hagia Sophia must close for a specific period of time for restoration. The entire building must be cleaned. The gutters for the flow of humidity and water must be properly placed, the floor must be bolstered as should the buttresses to avert a collapse brought over time,” he stressed.

‘Hagia Sophia had 6.56mn visitors in its second year as a mosque’

In an article published by Daily Sabah, the deputy mufti of Istanbul, Ahmet Aktürkoğlu, is quoted as saying that 6.5mn visitors entered Hagia Sophia in its second year of operation as a mosque.

«Like many other holy places in the world, Hagia Sophia is flooded with visitors. It attracts great attention from local and foreign tourists, especially after it was opened to worship again. In the second year since its opening, the mosque has hosted over 6.5 million visitors,» he said.

In an interview with Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency (a wire service), Aktürkoğlu said that Hagia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was one of the most significant events in the history of Islam.