Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a surprise visit to Hagia Sophia a few days before the first Muslim prayers will be held at the Istanbul landmark since he was converted back to a mosque last week.
Diyanet, the country’s religious authority, said that Christian icons would be darkened and turned off “by adequate means during prayer times.”
Authorities said the mosaics would be hidden with curtains or lasers last week when the first prayers take place.
In an interview with the NTV broadcaster, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Sunday some mosaics of Mary and Gabriel that are positioned in the direction of Qiblah, where Muslims confront during prayer, would be covered with curtains.
|Turkey converts Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia museum to a mosque|
He said that other mosaics of Jesus and other Christian figures did not represent an obstacle for Muslim prayers because they are not in the direction of Qiblah. But he didn’t say if they would be discovered at all times.
External prayers, Hagia Sophia will be open to all visitors and tourists and all the mosaics will be discovered, authorities said.
It is not clear whether Erdogan planned to be among some 500 faithful destined to participate in Friday prayers.
Turkey’s supreme court paved the way for conversion with a decision to revoke the museum status of the building 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, Diyanet said that the building will continue to be open to all visitors outside of the hours dedicated 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.
A museum was designated in a key reform of the post-Ottoman authorities under the founder of the modern republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Erdogan said it was a “big mistake” to convert the Hagia Sophia into a museum last year.
The conversion has sparked anger among Christians and tensions between historic enemies and restless allies of NATO, Turkey and Greece.