Erdogan joins thousands at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia for first Friday prayers

Crowds formed at checkpoints surrounding the historic heart of Istanbul, where thousands of police maintained security.



By Reuters

Published: Fri 24 Jul 2020, 11:45 AM

Last updated: Sat 25 Jul 2020, 12:32 AM

Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan joined thousands of worshippers at Hagia Sophia on Friday for the first prayers there since he declared the monument, revered by Christians and Muslims for almost 1,500 years, a mosque once again.
Erdogan and his top ministers, wearing white facemasks as a precaution against COVID-19, knelt on blue carpets at the start of a ceremony which marks the return of Muslim worship to the ancient monument.
Earlier, crowds formed at checkpoints around the historic heart of Istanbul where massed police maintained security. Once through the checks, worshippers sat apart on prayer mats in secured areas outside the building in Sultanahmet Square.

 
"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.
 
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.

People sit outside Hagia Sophia as they wait for the beginning of Friday prayers, for the first time after it was once again declared a mosque after 86 years. Reuters
People sit outside Hagia Sophia as they wait for the beginning of Friday prayers, for the first time after it was once again declared a mosque after 86 years. Reuters
People sit outside Hagia Sophia as they wait for the beginning of Friday prayers, for the first time after it was once again declared a mosque after 86 years. Reuters
People sit outside Hagia Sophia as they wait for the beginning of Friday prayers, for the first time after it was once again declared a mosque after 86 years. Reuters

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