Turkey’s President Erdoğan visits Hagia Sophia ahead of grand reopening as a mosque

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who recently signed a decree to revert the status of Hagia Sophia museum to a mosque, visited the iconic Istanbul landmark on Sunday. Erdoğan’s visit comes ahead of the July 24 resumption of Islamic prayers inside the architectural masterpiece, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The president, who is expected to attend the first Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia, was accompanied by ministers and head of the Presidency of Religious Affairs during his visit. Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy and Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya informed the president on the work inside Hagia Sophia which was being readied for worship. He greeted a crowd outside following the visit.

Hagia Sophia saw an increasing number of visitors after the decree which came on the heels of a court ruling paving the way for reverting the museum’s status. After Hagia Sophia, Erdoğan visited a mosque under construction in Istanbul’s Taksim Square and a culture center also under construction across from the mosque.

Turkey to keep Hagia Sophia mosaics as it is after reversion into a mosque.

Turkey’s presidential spokesman reiterated Sunday that the historical mosaics at Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia will be preserved, as they have been for the past 500 years.

“The main point here is that there is no damage to these mosaics, depictions, the historical texture and architecture of the building,” Ibrahim Kalın told Turkish private broadcaster, NTV.

“Currently, we are working on covering them with a curtain (during prayers),” Kalın added.

The presidential spokesman’s remarks came days before the first Friday prayer planned at Hagia Sophia on July 24.

Last week, Turkey’s Council of State annulled a 1934 Cabinet decree, restoring Hagia Sophia’s status as a mosque from a museum.

Kalın did not give details on how many people are expected to attend the first prayer at Hagia Sophia but said that social distancing rules will be applied due to the coronavirus.

He ruled out closing the mosaics for visitors.

“These will also be open to regular visitors, whoever wants to go and see those mosaics,” he added.

The iconic monument was first built as a church in the Byzantine period. It became a mosque after Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered Istanbul in 1453.

In 1934, the Turkish government turned the Hagia Sophia Mosque into a museum.

Its walls are covered with Christian art, including a mosaic of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in the main hall.

Earlier, Turkey’s top religious body said the presence of these paintings will not be any hindrance to prayers.