ISTANBUL 

Hagia Sophia Mosque is set to reopen on July 24 for worship for the first time in 86 years with Friday prayers.

Some 1,500 people are expected to do Friday prayers at the opening ceremony, including such distinguished figures as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli.

In 1985, during its time as a museum, Hagia Sophia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Hagia Sophia is among the most-visited destinations in Turkey for both domestic and foreign tourists.

It served as a church for 916 years until the conquest of Istanbul, and a mosque from 1453 to 1934 – nearly half a millennium – and most recently a museum for 86 years.

On July 10, a Turkish court annulled a 1934 Cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its use again as a mosque after an 86-year hiatus. Before that, it had been a mosque for nearly 500 years.

On July 16, Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate signed a cooperation protocol with the Culture and Tourism Ministry to run Hagia Sophia after its conversion to a mosque.

Under the protocol, the Culture and Tourism Ministry will supervise restoration and conservation work, while the Religious Affairs Directorate will oversee religious services.

The architectural treasure will also be open to domestic and foreign tourists free of charge.

* Writing by Seda Sevencan in Ankara

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