Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras continued his official visit to Turkey with visits to sites of religious significance to Greeks.
Mr Tsipras toured Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO world heritage site that now operates as a museum. The visit to the cathedral, one of the most significant Byzantine structures in the world, was largely symbolic. The magnificent cathedral had once served as the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church before the sacking of the Ottomans in 1453. The Turkish government, under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, had turned the monument into a museum in 1935. More recently, there have been calls to reconvert it into a mosque and, on occasion, muslim services have been held there.
Following his visit to Hagia Sophia, Mr Tsipras declined to make any statements to members of the press assembled outside the monument.
On Twitter, the Greek Prime Minister stated that in places like Hagia Sophia, one feels the “weight of history”.
Later in the day, Mr Tsipras visited the former Greek seminary of Halki on the island now known as Heybeliada. The visit is the first of a Greek leader to the institution in decades.
He attended a religious ceremony conducted by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, and expressed the desire for the seminary to be opened again after it had been closed down by Turkish authorities in 1971.
The seminary, created in 1844, was closed by Turks under a law that placed religious and military training under the jurisdiction of the Turkish government. At the time, a number of Greek churches and schools had been closed and reopened as Turkish administrative centres.
Over the years, Greek officials have worked towards its reopening and have seen this as imperative as Turkish law also requires that the religious leader that holds the leadership of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate, a seat based in Istanbul, should be a Turkish citizen.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that it could be reopened if the Greek government improved the conditions for Muslims of Western Thrace.