The Turkish president on Friday inaugurated the Hagia Sophia Fatih Madrassa (religious school) in Istanbul.
The religious school takes its name from Fatih (Conqueror), the title given to Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered the city in 1453. It was the first of its kind in the capital of the former Ottoman Empire.
“We have taken a very important step to carry our magnificent past to the present and the future, and to bring it together with our people,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the inauguration ceremony.
“After the conquest of Istanbul, this place was put into service as the first madrassa of the city, next to Hagia Sophia," Erdogan added.
He said the school continued to operate until 1924 with maintenance, repairs and construction during different periods, but was later demolished by "those who wanted to erase the country’s rich history."
Erdogan said the madrassa will again be an education center, operated by the Fatih Sultan Mehmet University.
“Hagia Sophia Fatih Madrasa, which has been instrumental in the training of countless scholars for nearly four and a half centuries, will serve as an education center from now on. I hope that tomorrow's scholars, intellectuals, scientists and researchers will be trained here,” the president said.
Hagia Sophia was built in the year 532 CE, and turned into a mosque after the conquest by the seventh sultan, who later established a mosque foundation.
In the building, he also ordered the construction of a minbar (pulpit), a mihrab (niche showing the direction of Mecca), and a library.
Hagia Sophia served as a church for 916 years and 86 years as a museum. But for most of its existence – from 1453 to 1934, or nearly 500 years – it served as a mosque. In 1985, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Hagia Sophia is among Turkey's top tourism destinations and remains open for domestic and foreign visitors.