Hagia Sophia's mosaics to be covered up for Muslim prayers but remain open to visitors

The ancient mosaics in Istanbul's Hagia Sophia will be covered up with curtains during Muslim prayer, but will remain available to visit at all other times, presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said on July 19. Meanwhile, the floors will be carpeted ahead of the July 24 opening.

Duvar English - Reuters

The American who restored Hagia Sophia's mosaicsThe American who restored Hagia Sophia's mosaics

Mosaics depicting Christian figures in Istanbul's ancient Hagia Sophia will be covered with curtains during Muslim prayers but will remain open to visitation, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said on July 19.

The spokesman's announcement came as work to prepare the building for use as a mosque continues, aiming for a July 24 opening.

Turkish officials said last week that the mosaics would be concealed with either curtains or lasers when the first mass Friday prayer is held on July 24.

In a move that sparked sparked international criticism and concern, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship earlier this month following a court ruling that said the building's conversion to a museum in 1934 was unlawful.

Erdoğan visited the mosque on July 19 to inspect the progress in preparing the building. 

President Erdoğan salutes the public in front of Hagia Sophia on July 19.

Hagia Sophia dates back to the sixth century and has a history as both a church and a mosque before it was turned into a museum.

In an interview with broadcaster NTV, Kalın said some mosaics of Mary and Gabriel that are positioned in the direction of Qiblah, where Muslims face during prayer, would be covered with curtains.

"It's out of the question that these mosaics are covered, plastered over or are kept from the public," Kalın said.

A police officer stands guard as preparations at the Hagia Sophia continue for the July 24 opening.

He said other mosaics of Jesus and other Christian figures did not pose an obstacle for Muslim prayers because they are not located in the direction of Qiblah. But he did not say whether they would remain uncovered at all times.

Outside prayers, Hagia Sophia will be open to all visitors and tourists and all mosaics will be uncovered, Kalın said.

Noting that the floors will be carpeted, the spokesman said that COVID-19 precautions would be in place during the opening and onwards, only allowing a limited number of visitors in at once.

Erdoğan visits Hagia Sophia ahead of its reopening as a mosqueErdoğan visits Hagia Sophia ahead of its reopening as a mosque