Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan conducted the first Muslim prayers, attended by thousands in Hagia Sophia, on Friday since the controversial transformation of the legendary Istanbul cathedral into a mosque.
The highest administrative court revoked the status of the 6th-century monument as a museum on July 10, and Erdogan then ordered the building to be reopened for Muslim worship, which angered the Christian community and further burdened relations with Greece.
Erdogan, who wore an Islamic skullcap, recited a verse from the Koran before the call to prayer was heard by the four minarets of Hagia Sophia, AFP correspondents said.
Then the head of the State Directorate for Religious Affairs, Ali Erbas, delivered the sermon, which was broadcast live on Turkish news channels.
There were so many people who wanted to participate in the prayer, the governor of Istanbul, Ali Yerlikaya, said on Friday morning that the rooms in and around Hagia Sophia were quickly filled.
Aynur Saatci, 49, described it as a "historic moment" and told AFP that she was on vacation in Erzurum, eastern Turkey, but was coming back for the event.
"I immediately canceled my vacation and returned to Istanbul as soon as I knew we could pray in Hagia Sophia," said Saatci. "I am deeply moved."
Experts say Erdogan is trying to strengthen his religious and nationalist base, and many Muslims who participated in the prayer saw it as a milestone.
"This is the moment when Turkey breaks its chains. Now it can do what it wants without having to submit to the West," said Selahattin Aydas from Germany.
"We have been waiting for this for years. I am very happy. There could be sanctions against Turkey or the number or the tourists could decrease, but that does not change anything for me," said Hatip, a gift shop near Hagia Sophia, said.
In Greece, the churches "mourned" with their bells across the country, which were expected to ring around midday to protest the changeover.
Religious and nationalist groups will protest in Athens and Thessaloniki later on Friday.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)