The mosaics of the iconic Hagia Sophia in Istanbul will be covered with curtains or lasers during Muslim prayers, said spokesman for the Turkish Justice and Development Party (AK Party).
The Christian icons would be discovered and open to all visitors at other times, and entry would be free, Omer Celik of the AK party said on Monday, without explaining further.
Last week, a Turkish court ruled that the conversion of the 6th century Byzantine site into a museum in 1934 was illegal.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the building was a mosque and said the first prayers would be held there within two weeks.
The move has sparked international criticism and concern, notably from Greece, the United States and Russia, as well as from UNESCO, which is currently examining the structure’s World Heritage site status.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara was surprised by UNESCO’s reaction and would let him know what steps should be taken regarding Hagia Sophia, which was a Byzantine church for nine centuries before the Ottomans do not convert it into a mosque.
Turkey is sensitive to the protection of its historic character, he said. “We must protect the heritage of our ancestors. The function can be this way or that way – it doesn’t matter, “Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT Haber.
On Monday, the leader of the Italian far-right party, Matteo Salvini, organized a demonstration outside the Turkish consulate in Milan to protest the decision.
“I would stop all forms of financial aid to the Turkish regime, and I would put an end once and for all to any hypothesis of Turkey joining the European Union because we have given more than 10 billion euros to a regime that turns churches into mosques and I think they have exceeded the limit, “he said.
Salvini’s protest came a day after Pope Francis said he was “very saddened” by Turkey’s decision.
Responding to the pope’s remarks, Celik said at a press conference in Ankara that the greatest disrespect for Hagia Sophia in history had been committed by the papacy.
He said that Orthodox Christians and Hagia Sophia suffered for years during a “Latin invasion” led by the papacy in the 13th century, when the crusaders looted the cathedral.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said on Monday that Hagia Sophia is an internal affair and that no country can interfere in the sovereign affairs of Turkey.
“Hagia Sophia will continue to embrace everyone with its new status, preserving the common cultural heritage of humanity,” he said, according to a report from the Anadolu agency.