Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invited world leaders, including Pope Francis, to attend the opening of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque on Friday July 24.
Between 1,000 to 1,500 people are expected to attend the first Muslim prayers, including world leaders from Azerbaijan and Qatar.
Erdoğan published on Twitter his short visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site on Sunday to oversee conversion work.
The transformation of the ancient basilica into a mosque is expected to be completed only two weeks after Erdoğan’s decision.
Since 1934 the site was only a Museum. Previously, for nearly five centuries was a mosque, and for ten centuries the most important church for Eastern Christians.
No damage will be made to the Hagia Sophia's Christian art and architecture, but its mosaics will be covered during prayers.
This has been the only reaction from the Vatican.
I think of Hagia Sophia and I am very saddened.
Days later, Greek president Katerina Sakellaropoulou asked the Pope “to use his influence to raise the awareness of the international community about the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque”.
She says Erdogan’s decision “undermines the foundations of tolerance and deepens the rift between cultures and religions”.
In any case, Turkey says that although the Hagia Sophia will be converted into a mosque it will still be open to people of all faiths, or of no faith, to visit. But, of course, only out of the schedule of Muslim prayers.