ISTANBUL, Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has inaugurated a mosque in Taksim Square, Istanbul – the plans for which sparked a wave of protests in 2013.
Thousands attended the ceremony, with some praying in the square itself because the mosque was full.
The mosque features prominently next to a public space traditionally seen as a symbol of the secular Turkish republic.
It also dwarfs a monument to the republic, and its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
“Taksim Mosque now occupies a prominent place among the symbols of Istanbul,” Erdogan said after saying Friday prayers at the site. “God willing, it will stay until the end of time.”
He also told crowds that the mosque’s construction was a victory over protesters who had objected to Taksim Square having any sort of religious tone, adding that “nothing can stop this initiative now”.
Erdogan first talked about wanting a mosque in Taksim Square when he was the mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s.
“There wasn’t even a prayer room and the faithful had to make do with praying on newspapers on the ground,” Erdogan told the crowds on Friday.
Worshippers at the site praised the new mosque, which combines Ottoman features with contemporary design, and can accommodate about 4,000 people.
While Turkey is a Muslim-majority country, critics have accused Erdogan of actively trying to displace Turkey’s secular basis.
Plans in 2013 to build the mosque in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, in the Taksim Square area, sparked a wave of protests – both in the city, and solidarity protests across the world.
Spread over 2,482 square meters (26,716 square feet), its constructed area is around 16,000 square meters.
It also features the works of calligraphist Davut Bektas and miniaturist Adem Turan, with inscriptions from the Quran. The mosque’s prayer area has wooden wall panels.
Buff-coloured carpets specially woven in the western province of Manisa cover Taksim Mosque’s floor below six plates emblazoned with calligraphy of the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, and the four caliphs — Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman, and Ali.
An 8.5 metre-high (nearly 28 ft.) mihrab (prayer niche showing the direction of Makkah) is built into one of its walls, while a luminous chandelier of 60 lights and 12 meters in diameter (over 39 ft.) hangs from the mosque’s ceiling.