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The Turkish president paid a symbolic visit to the former Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on Sunday. This visit is the first since the controversial conversion of this building into a mosque last week. </p><div> <p>It is a symbolic visit, a week after the controversial reconversion of the former Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, into a mosque. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the religious building on Sunday (July 19) for a brief inspection of the work inside the building, the presidency said.</p> <p>The surprise visit of the Turkish head of state comes a few days before the first Muslim prayer in Hagia Sophia since his reconversion, scheduled for Friday. It is not yet clear whether Recep Tayip Erdogan will take part.
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Turkey’s highest administrative court last week overturned a 1934 government decision granting Hagia Sophia museum status. As soon as this decision was made public, President Erdogan announced the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
According to the Religious Affairs Authority (Diyanet), 500 people will participate in the first collective prayer on Friday inside Hagia Sophia. The Christian icons that adorn the interior of the ancient Byzantine basilica will be hidden during prayer time, according to the Diyanet.
Major architectural work built in VIe century, Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of Istanbul’s main tourist attractions. Converted into a mosque after the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, it was transformed into a museum in 1934 by the leader of the young Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal, who wanted to “offer it to humanity”.
The decision to return it to the Muslim cult has drawn criticism abroad, especially in Greece, a country which closely follows the fate of Byzantine heritage in Turkey. Pope Francis said he was “very distressed” by this reconversion.