Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan have joined huge crowds on Friday for the first prayers at Hagia Sophia
Erdogan reiterated his commitment to restoring Muslim worship at an ancient site long revered in both Christianity and Islam.
After the call to prayer rang out from four minarets surrounding the mosque, whose rose-pink walls and huge grey dome have dominated Istanbul since Christian Byzantine times, hundreds knelt in prayer inside the building.
Outside, tens of thousands more prayed in a public square and on sidewalks, squeezing into spaces between cars or in cafes.
Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world for 900 years until its capture by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453.
“This is the opening of a place of worship that was conquered by the right of the sword by the holy conqueror,” said worshipper Latif Ozer, 42.
“This is a source of great pride for us, great excitement,” he added.
Church leaders and some Western countries have sharply criticised Turkey’s move, saying the shift to exclusive Muslim worship at Hagia Sophia risks deepening religious divisions.
Pope Francis said he was deeply pained by the decision, which came after a Turkish court annulled Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum two weeks ago. Erdogan immediately issued a decree converting it once again to a mosque.
Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, called Turkey a “troublemaker”, and the Hagia Sophia conversion an “affront to civilization of the 21st century.