Turkey: Erdogan visits Hagia Sophia, takes stock of conversion work

by MCR Correspondent

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has paid a surprise visit to Hagia Sophia.

The visit on Sunday July 19, 2020 was aimed at taking stock of the conversion work.

Erdogan paid the unannounced visit days before the first Muslim prayers will be held at the Istanbul landmark since it was reconverted to a mosque.

The Diyanet, the country’s religious authority, said Christian icons would be curtained off and unlit “through appropriate means during prayer times”.

Authorities also said that the mosaics would be concealed with either curtains or lasers when the first prayers are held.

In an interview with broadcaster NTV, presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said on Sunday some mosaics of Mary and Gabriel that are positioned in the direction of Qiblah, where Muslims face during prayer, would be covered with curtains.

He said other mosaics of Jesus and other Christian figures did not pose an obstacle for Muslim prayers because they are not located in the direction of Qiblah.

“Outside prayers, Hagia Sophia will be open to all visitors and tourists and all mosaics will be uncovered, authorities have said.

The UNESCO World Heritage site was built as a cathedral during the Byzantine empire but converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

It was designated a museum in a key reform of the post-Ottoman authorities under the modern republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

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