The Muslim worship at the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul, which was turned from a museum into a mosque on Friday, will begin on July 24, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a televised address to the nation on Friday.
“Upon the completion of preparatory measures, we plan to organize a religious service in Hagia Sophia on July 24. As its museum status has been revoked, entry fees will be cancelled. Its doors will always be open for local residents, foreign tourists, Muslims and followers of other religions,” the Turkish leader said.
According to the Turkish president, the process of turning Hagia Sophia into a museum “will take six months.”
“The transformation of Hagia Sophia will be careful, with an eye on preserving the humanity’s cultural heritage,” he said.
Erdogan called upon everyone to respect the government’s decision.
“Hagia Sophia falls under Turkey’s jurisdiction. I call upon everyone to respect the decisions made by Turkey’s judicial and executive authorities. We accept any expression of views on the matter, except for those aimed at undermining out sovereignty,” the Turkish leader said.
He went on to say that his country has 435 churches and synagogues on its territory. “This demonstrates our mentality, which views diversity as our wealth,” he added.
Earlier in the day, the Turkish Council of State cancelled the Turkish government’s decree on assigning the museum status to Hagia Sophia. President Recept Tayyip Erdogan signed a decree allowing Moslems to perform prayers in Hagia Sophia, which now enjoys the status of a mosque.
The Hagia Sophia is a Byzantine architectural monument. The cathedral was constructed between 532 and 537 AD by a decree from then Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
After the fall of Byzantine Empire in 1453, the cathedral was converted into a mosque. In 1935, under the decree of the Turkish government signed by the founder of the modern Turkish state Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the building was transformed into a museum. White plaster covering Christian mosaics and murals were removed. In 1985, the building was included on the UNESCO World Heritage’s list of monuments.