Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia has opened for Muslim Friday prayers for the first time since the museum was changed back to a mosque. High profile guests joined the crowds of worshippers at the ancient site.

Thousands of worshippers flocked to Turkey’s iconic Hagia Sophia for the first Muslim Friday prayers since it was once again declared a mosque by a decree from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan announced the move to convert the historic building back into a mosque earlier this month and a court ruling paved the way for this to take place.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site was previously a museum, documenting the landmark’s diverse religious history as both cathedral and mosque. The Byzantine-era building had been shut temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Friday prayers kicked off at the newly renamed Grand Hagia Sophia Mosque at around 1.15 p.m. local time (1015 UTC/GMT).

Erdogan arrived ahead of the ceremony along with the head of top religious authority Diyanet, Ali Erbas, and top ministers.

The high-profile guests wore face masks as a preventative measure against COVID-19. In total around 500 dignitaries were invited to attend.

Erdogan recited verses from the Koran before the prayers started.

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