Thousands of Muslim faithful made their way to Istanbul's landmark Hagia Sophia, Friday, July 24, to take part in the first prayers in 86 years at the structure that once was one of Christendom's most significant cathedrals, then a mosque and museum before its reconversion into a Muslim place of worship.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended the inaugural prayers.
READ MORE: Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prayed with hundreds of worshippers Friday inside the Hagia Sophia, the first prayers since the sixth-century Byzantine landmark was redesignated a mosque two weeks ago.
The president was joined by other officials, including his son-in-law and finance minister. Only 500 people were allowed inside the mosque because of coronavirus restrictions, while thousands more prayed outside in Sultanahmet Square.
Initially an Orthodox Christian cathedral, the mosque’s mosaics depicting Christian figures were covered during the Friday prayers.
Erdogan read verses from the Quran, while wearing a white prayer cap. Ali Erbas, head of Turkey’s religious authority, addressed worshippers afterward.
“The longing of our nation, which has turned into a heartbreak, is coming to an end today,” Erbas said from the pulpit.
“Hagia Sophia will continue to serve all believers as a mosque and will remain a place of cultural heritage for all humanity,” the Turkish president said.