ISTANBUL: A magnet for tourists worldwide, Hagia Sophia is ready to reopen on July 24 for the inaugural Friday prayer for the first time in 86 years in the Istanbul landmark following its conversion back into a mosque.
According to a statement from Ali Erbaş, the head of Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate on Thursday announced the appointment of three imams, including a professor of religious studies, and five muezzins, including two from Istanbul’s famed Blue Mosque who make the Muslim call for prayer at the iconic sixth-century building.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, joined by a large entourage, paid a surprise visit and took stock of the conversion work.
It is reported that Erdogan is scheduled to join hundreds of worshipers on Jumma (Friday) for the first prayers at famed Sophia.
Stressing the measures being taken ahead of the prayers, as many as 17,000 security personnel would be on duty.
Also several roads leading to the building are being blocked before and during the prayer time, as per the authorities.
History of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia-Turkey’s most popular tourist site has a long and complicated history.
It began in the year 537 when it was built on the order of Byzantine emperor Justinian I as the great Christian cathedral of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.
When Istanbul (formerly known as Constantinople) was conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II in 1453 it was converted to a mosque and the Friday prayers was performed inside Hagia Sophia by the victorious conqueror.
During the rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey in the 1930s, the nearly 1,500-year-old monument was re-opened as a museum in a drive to make Turkey more secular.
The reconversion sparked anger among Christians and tensions between historic foes and uneasy NATO allies Turkey and Greece.