President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid a surprise visit to Hagia Sophia site just days before the first Muslim prayers will be held at the Istanbul historic building since it was reconverted to a mosque last week.
In a brief visit Erdogan took stock of the conversion work, the president’s office said on Sunday (July 19), providing images showing scaffolding inside the building.
The Diyanet, the country’s religious authority, said Christian fresco would be covered with curtain and unlit “through appropriate means during prayer times”.
Authorities said last week the mosaics would be concealed with either curtains or lasers when the first prayers are held.
In an interview with broadcaster NTV, President’s spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin said on some mosaics of Mary and Gabriel that are positioned in the direction of Qiblah, where Muslims face during prayer, would be covered with curtains.
The other ther 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, he added, however spokesperson did not say whether they would remain uncovered at all times.
Outside prayers, Hagia Sophia will be open to all visitors and tourists and all mosaics will be uncovered, authorities have said.
It remains unknown whether Erdogan planned to be among some 500 worshippers set to attend Friday prayers.
Turkey’s top court paved the way for the conversion in a decision to revoke the edifice’s museum status conferred nearly a century ago in 1935.