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It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, the nation’s biggest tourist destination, and the contested religious center of both Christian and Muslim empires.
Now, Turkey has moved to convert the 1,500-year-old Hagia Sophia (above), a museum since 1934, into a mosque. The awe-inspiring edifice, built as an Orthodox cathedral, has been a target for Islamists seeking to restore it to centuries of use as a Muslim worship site.
It is unclear whether the site will remain open to visitors or at what frequency, writes Nat Geo's Kristin Romey. On Friday, the Hagia Sophia hosted a call to prayer, just hours after a judge cleared the way for the shift.
UNESCO said it wasn’t consulted. The Eastern Orthodox Church and Greece, home to millions of Orthodox worshipers, were shocked. “The nationalism displayed by President Erdogan... takes his country back six centuries,” Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said. In his Sunday prayer, Pope Francis said he was “very saddened.” Others expressed concern about the stunning Byzantine mosaics and paintings.
Experts said the site may manage to work through changes and remain a tourist center. “Our primary concern is that the authorities ensure proper conservation and public access to the site,” says Jonathan Bell, vice-president of programs for the World Monuments Fund. “I personally feel like it can totally exist as a place of worship and still fulfill its role as a world heritage site, as long as there are other safeguards in place.”
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Today in a minute
Long before the Europeans: Polynesians and Native Americans may have met nearly nine centuries ago, according to DNA studies and other evidence. That’s centuries before European explorers sailed the vast reaches of the Pacific, Megan Gannon writes for Nat Geo. Unknown: How the Polynesian-Native American contact occurred. Studying that DNA has shown us that sweet potatoes traveled from Peru to Polynesia long before the Europeans. Recent studies point to the eastern Polynesian island of Fatu Hiva (pictured above) as the first known contact point between Native Americans and Polynesians.
Name change: The Washington football team dropped its controversial Redskins nickname on Monday and is casting about for a new one. Its quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, Jr., favors the Redtails (or Red Tails), the nickname of the courageous, pathbreaking Black Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Subscribers can read about former Red Tail Harry T. Stewart, Jr., who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for shooting down three German fighter planes on one mission.
The restorer: School librarian Ola Mae Spinks, on a summertime gig at the Library of Congress in 1972, found decades-old interviews with former enslaved people in neglected, scattered boxes. Nearly 2,300 interviews. Spinks, who died last week at age 106, pulled those 1930s transcripts together, the New York Times reported. And America got a fuller story of its past.
One doctor, 56,000 patients: That’s the job of Anthony Cortez in the Philippine town of Bambang. These days, Cortez leads the town’s fight against the coronavirus as well as providing primary healthcare with his staff. “We don’t just cure,” Cortez tells Xyza Cruz Bacani for Nat Geo. “We are also clinicians, managers, administrators, multitaskers.” And also worriers. Although the virus hadn’t hit the town, 200 miles north of hard-hit Manila, Cortez knows it will.
Instagram photo of the day
There was a treaty: In 1840. 500 Maori chiefs and the British signed a treaty on land rights in present-day New Zealand. Each year there are commemorations (above) of the Treaty of Waitangi, in which Britain agreed to full Maori rights and Maori ownership of their lands, forests and other possessions. (Crooked land deals led to the loss of much land, however). Photographer Andrea Bruce focused on event participants Bronwyn Clifford, 16, and other young women who teach Maori and their culture. This Instagram image, liked by more than 200,000 readers, was part of a June magazine story on gains (and obstacles) for women worldwide.
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The big takeaway
A lightweight washable glove? The response to the COVID-19 crisis has spurred interest in gloves, for highly practical reasons, notes Nat Geo’s Jennifer Barger. But Barger's desire to keep away from the crippling virus prompted a deeper curiosity about the history of gloves themselves. Gloves, she writes for us, “have played an outsized role in everything from English royal rituals to early 20th-century medicine.” Above, in this 1947 image, a woman examines a selection of colorful gloves. Below, from 2018: Workers produce medical gloves at a factory in Luannan County, China, which manufactures more than 13 billion medical gloves a year for global export.
In a few words
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The last glimpse
Time for dessert? Always. But you should know the history of what you’re eating. Ice cream, for example, did not begin with the first Dairy Queen. Frozen treats go back at least 4,000 years, to China, Nat Geo’s History magazine reports. Where do the words syrup, sherbet, and sorbet come from? The Persian Empire, where sharbat was enjoyed 2,400 years ago. This history of ice cream also takes us to 1700s Spain, where a waiter in a brown coat (above) delivers Spanish frozen mousse in this Valencian tilework, now at Madrid’s Museum of Decorative Arts.
This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with Jen Tse selecting the photos. Do you have an idea or a story link? We'd love to hear from you.