Crowds formed at checkpoints surrounding the historic heart of Istanbul, where thousands of police maintained security.
Thousands of Turks gathered near Hagia Sophia early on Friday for the first prayers there since President Tayyip Erdogan declared the monument, revered by Christians and Muslims for almost 1,500 years, a mosque once again.
Crowds formed at checkpoints surrounding the historic heart of Istanbul, where thousands of police maintained security. On entering the secured area the worshippers, wearing face masks, sat spaced out on prayer mats in the city’s Sultanahmet Square.
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“We are ending our 86 years of longing today,” said one man Sait Colak, referring to the nearly nine decades since Hagia Sophia was declared a museum and ceased to be a place of worship. “Thanks to our president and the court decision today we are going to have our Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia.”
A top Turkish court announced this month it annulled Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum. Erdogan immediately turned back into a mosque a building which was a Christian Byzantine cathedral for 900 years before being seized by Ottoman conquerors and serving as a mosque until 1934.
The president was scheduled to attend Friday prayers shortly after 1 pm (1000 GMT) along with several hundred invitees for the ceremony in the sixth-century building.
Inside Hagia Sophia, the Christian frescoes and the glittering mosaics adorning the cavernous dome and central hall will be concealed by curtains during the prayer times, but remain on display for the rest of the time.
On Friday morning, the interior echoed to the sound of Holy Quranic recitations from white-robed clerics, sat on blue carpets freshly laid this week ahead of the prayers.
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