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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday paid a surprise visit to Hagia Sophia, the landmark in Istanbul that was reconverted to a mosque earlier this month.
Erdogan’s visit comes days before the first Muslim prayers are due to be held at the mosque on Friday, July 24.
Erdogan took stock of the conversion work, the president’s office said on Sunday, providing pictures showing scaffolding inside the building.
The Turkish President also shared the photos of his visit to Hagia Sophia on his Twitter handle.
Ayasofya… pic.twitter.com/SqXRX3N5WG— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) July 19, 2020
The Diyanet, the country’s religious authority, said Christian icons would be curtained off and unlit “through appropriate means during prayer times”.
It was unclear 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.
The sixth-century building had been open to all visitors, regardless of their faith, since its inauguration as a museum in 1935.
Earlier this week, the Diyanet said the building would continue to be open to all visitors outside the hours given over to prayer.
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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