CONSTANTINOPLE – Mosaics of Christian figures in Constantinople's ancient Aghia Sophia cathedral – converted into a mosque – will be covered with curtains during Muslim prayers, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said,
Work on conversion is ongoing after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the change and was given the power to do so by the country's highest court which deferred to him, indicating he is the law there.
The move has brought international condemnation, including from Greece, but Erdogan, unsanctioned by the European Union for provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean, has shown he doesn't care one whit what anyone thinks.
Turkish officials earlier said the the mosaics would be concealed with either curtains or lasers when the first prayers are held on July 24 so that Muslims won't have to see the Christian figures as they pray.
Erdogan overturned a 1934 decision by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey, who had turned the cathedral into a museum after it became a mosque when the city fell to the Turkish invaders in 1453.
The court said what Ataturk did was unlawful but Greece said Erdogan was playing to his hard-core ultra-religious base in making the decision to convert the 6th Century
In an interview with broadcaster NTV, Kalin 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, the news agency Reuters said.
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 didn't say if they would be permanently covered to remove any visible traces of Christianity.
Outside prayers, Hagia Sophia will be open to all visitors and tourists and all mosaics will be uncovered, authorities have said and admission will now be free for tourists instead of requiring a paid ticket. Erdogan went there July 19 to review the work.