World-famous cat stays in Hagia Sophia after mosque reconversion
The conversion of the Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque has caused great controversy around the world but Turkish authorities on Thursday gave assurances that life would continue as normal for one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s most famous residents.
Gli the cat has lived in the Hagia Sophia for at least 13 years and become a favourite with the millions of tourists who visit the historic building, which was built as a cathedral in 537 AD, converted to a mosque into 1453, and turned into a museum in 1934 before becoming a mosque again this month following a decision by Turkey’s top administrative court.
With a grey mane and shining, crossed green eyes, Gli has gained tens of thousands of fans around the world including former US President Barack Obama, who was filmed stroking him on a visit to Turkey in 2009.
An Instagram account dedicated to Gli, started by tour guide Umut Bahceci, has gained over 54,000 followers,with reports that some tourists visit Istanbul only to see the adorable feline.
“I started noticing Gli every time I went [to Hagia Sophia] because Gli was posing for people like a model,” Bahceci told Reuters. “I get messages such as, ‘Gli, we will come to Istanbul to see you.’ This is truly a very nice feeling,”
Ibrahim Kalin, the spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said that Gli and other cats would be allowed to stay where they lived.
“That cat has become very famous, and there are others who haven’t become that famous yet. That cat will be there, and all cats are welcome to our mosques,” he told Reuters.
On Friday, thousands of Muslim worshippers, including President Erdogan, attended Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia after it was reopened as a mosque amid a festive atmosphere. However, Turkey’s decision to reconvert the iconic structure into a mosque has been met with disapproval from the Greek Orthodox Church, which declared a day of mourning.