Turkey unveiled plans for a visitor management policy at Hagia Sophia, including charging foreign tourists with an entrance fee to be implemented starting Jan. 15.
Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said that extensive restoration work is underway in various sections of Hagia Sophia, now a mosque, with plans to progress to other parts upon their completion.
He emphasized that, based on UNESCO’s recommendations, a visitor management plan would be enforced to enhance the quality and safety of visits while preserving the historical significance of the site.
“Starting from Jan. 15, 2024, we are implementing a visitor management plan in line with UNESCO’s guidance. This strategic move aims to ensure the preservation of the Hagia Sophia Mosque and its square as UNESCO World Heritage Sites,” Minister Ersoy announced.
Hagia Sophia entrance fee to combat overcrowding
One of the key changes outlined by Ersoy is the introduction of separate entry points for worship and tourism purposes.
Turkish citizens visiting for worship will not experience any alterations however, foreign visitors arriving for tourism and cultural exploration will be required to pay an entrance fee, a practice commonly observed at many iconic places of worship worldwide.
Addressing concerns about the entrance fee, Minister Ersoy clarified, “We have not finalized the fee yet. We will determine the fee structure before Jan. 15, 2024. Our focus right now is on the effective implementation of the visitor management plan.”
Implementing the visitor management policy is anticipated to streamline the flow of visitors, reduce overcrowding and protect the historical and cultural significance of Hagia Sophia, he added.
The Hagia Sophia, the epicenter of Christian worship at Constantinople (now Istanbul), which has served as an Orthodox cathedral, an Ottoman mosque, and a museum, is now again functioning as a mosque and receiving a large number of visitors daily.
Hagia Sophia “needs to close to avoid collapse”
In early October, a Turkish expert warned that it is in danger of collapse due to the vast number of visitors.
Writing in the Hürriyet daily, Ilber Ortayli said that the monument, which attracts three million pilgrims annually apart from tourists, has undergone significant damage since its conversion into a mosque.
He asserted that even a modest number of 20-30 thousand people annually, including scientists, historians, archaeologists, representatives of the Muslim religion, politicians, and public officials, could be considered excessive for the endurance of the monument.
The historian warned that the building needs to be closed for restoration to prevent any potential collapse.
Ortayli also criticized interventions related to the monument’s function as a mosque, stressing that facilities for daily mosque needs, such as toilets and fountains, cannot be installed in the Hagia Sophia.
In June 2022 a number of tiles of the ancient marble floors in Hagia Sophia were damaged by heavy machines used to clean the site.
In April 2022, The Turkish Association of Art Historians stated that the historic Imperial Gate in Hagia Sophia had been badly damaged.
The group posted a picture clearly depicting the damage to the oak wood of the 15-century-old gate.