Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, which will officially open as a mosque on July 24, is being outfitted with thousands of square meters of turquoise carpeting, the fibers of which are designed to point in the direction of Mecca.
“The carpet is 100% wool, and has a feature that other carpets lack: its fibers are specially-situated to point toward Mecca by using a steam-powered system. There is a 4,000-square-meter area for the carpet, and 2,000 square meters will be laid out for the opening,” said Ali Rıza Özkul, the board chairman of the company producing the carpet.
A court decision earlier this month converted the Hagia Sophia to a mosque, a move heavily championed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Built as a cathedral in the 6th century during the Byzantine era, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
After the establishment of the Turkish Republic, founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk changed the status of the Hagia Sophia and turned it into a museum, and it is known as one of the country’s most iconic and popular tourist destinations. More than 3.7 million people visited Hagia Sophia last year.
For decades, Islamists have called for Hagia Sophia’s reconversion to a mosque, and the issue has been brought to the agenda numerous times in recent years, though Erdoğan said last year that he would “not get played into” changing the status of the famous structure.
Government critics have blasted the move as entirely “politically motivated” and occurring amid a deep economic recession that has eroded popular support for President Erdoğan and the AKP.