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Istanbul monastery, considered the most important of Constantinople, 'to be turned into mosque'
People visit the Hagia Sophia, at Sultanahmet in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia, which dates back to 537, was a church for centuries -- and the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople -- before being converted to a mosque under the Ottoman empire in 1453. It opened as a museum in 1935 after the founding of modern Turkey. AFP PHOTO/BULENT KILIC.
ISTANBUL (AFP).- A ruined fifth century monastery in Istanbul is to be turned into a mosque next year, local media reported Tuesday, amid a row with Greece over possible similar moves for the ancient Hagia Sophia complex.

The plans for the Monastery of Studios, which was dedicated to St John the Baptist and was considered the most important of Constantinople, were revealed by the Hurriyet Daily News.

Religious authorities in the city could not immediately be reached for comment on the report, which comes amid increasing criticism of the government over its attempts to impose Islamic values on secular society in Turkey.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc angered Greece when he voiced hope that Hagia Sophia, a stunning Byzantine monument that dates back almost 1,500 years, would be converted into a Muslim place of worship.

Two churches of the same name in other parts of Turkey have recently been turned into mosques, adding to the estimated 83,000 across the country.

Hurriyet said the monastery, which has been left in ruins by fire and earthquakes with only part of the church remaining, would be restored next year and then converted.

Hagia Sophia, now one of Istanbul's most popular tourist attractions, was a church for centuries -- and the seat of the Patriarchate of Istanbul -- before the Ottomans turned it into a mosque in the 15th century.

Both Hagia Sofia and the Monastery of Studios were turned into museums after the founding of modern Turkey by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk in 1923.

Debate about the role of religion in Turkish society has intensified in the run-up to a highly-charged election period, kicking off next March with local polls.


© 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse





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