Turkey's top court yesterday convened to consider whether Istanbul's emblematic landmark and former church Hagia Sophia can be redesignated as a mosque, a ruling which could inflame tensions with the West.
The Council of State evaluated a case brought by several associations during a short hearing and will announce its decision on the fate of the UNESCO World Heritage site within 15 days, state broadcaster TRT reported.
The sixth-century edifice -- a magnet for tourists worldwide with its stunning architecture -- has been a museum since 1935, open to believers of all faiths.
Despite occasional protests outside the site by Islamic groups, often shouting, "Let the chains break and open Hagia Sophia" for Muslim prayers, authorities have so far kept the building a museum.
Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a church in the Christian Byzantine Empire in the sixth century but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Transforming it into a museum was a key reform of the post-Ottoman authorities under the modern republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
But calls for it to serve again as a mosque have sparked anger among Christians and tensions between historic foes and uneasy Nato allies Turkey and Greece.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last year it had been a "very big mistake" to convert it into a museum.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Turkey to keep Hagia Sophia as a museum, and to ensure it remains accessible to all.