Foreign tourists entering the former Orthodox Christian cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul will have to pay an entrance fee of 25 euros ($27) starting on Monday.
Turkish nationals visiting for religious worship will continue to enter for free from a separate entrance. There are now two separate entry points for worship and tourism purposes.
The Turkish Ministry of Culture says that ticket booths have been installed as part of restoration efforts, ensuring visitor preparedness by Monday.
Security cameras, fire detection, and emergency communication systems have been set up, with protective measures along the touring route at the monument.
The 1,500-year-old Byzantine cathedral, which was converted from a museum into a mosque by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2020, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and receives over 3.5 million visitors a year.
Turkish officials say the entrance fee is based on UNESCO’s recommendations, which included a visitor management plan 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 of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said.
Implementing the visitor management policy is expected to streamline the flow of visitors, reduce overcrowding, and protect the historical and cultural significance of Hagia Sophia, he added.
Hagia Sophia “needs to close to avoid collapse”
In October 2023, a Turkish expert warned that Hagia Sophia was 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 twenty to thirty 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 of Hagia Sophia had been badly damaged.
The group posted a picture clearly depicting the damage to the oak wood of the fifteen-century-old gate.