Some of Hagia Sophias mosaics will be covered during Muslim prayers

The mosaic of the Virgin and Child in the apse of the Hagia Sophia Photo: Engin Akyurt

Muslim prayers are due to be held on Friday at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul for the first time since Turkish President Tayyip Ergodan decreed earlier this month that the heritage site would be turned back into a working mosque. On Sunday, after Erdogan visited the building to inspect construction work, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said that Byzantine mosaics depicting the Virgin Mary and the archangel Gabriel located in the direction Muslims face while praying, or Qiblah, would be covered with curtains, according to Reuters. When the Hagia Sophia is not being used by worshippers, the mosaics would be uncovered and the site would be open to all visitors and tourists, Turkish authorities previously said.

With its stunning golden background and details, the mosaic of the Virgin and Child is one of the most recognisable Byzantine works of art in the Hagia Sophia, which was originally built as a Christian church by the emperor Justinian in the sixth century. Installed in a quarter-dome on the eastern side in what was the churchs apse, the mosaic that visitors see today is believed to reconstruct an earlier work destroyed by iconoclasts. It was created in the ninth century under the emperors Michael III and Basil I, and likely heavily restored during the 14th century after earthquakes severely damaged the building. Depictions in arches of the two archangels Gabriel and Michael flanked the Virgin Mary, but only Gabriel remains.

Soon after Constantinople was sacked by Sultan Mehmed IIs Ottoman forces in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque, and in the next century, under the reign of Sultan Suleiman I, the Christian mosaics and frescoes were plastered over. An ornate mihrab, or niche pointing towards Mecca, part of a major renovation of the mosque by the Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspare and GiuRead More – Source