During my 5-day visit to Istanbul, I had ample time to walk around, often aimlessly, to get to know the city. While some sights were on the must-see list (like the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace), I also “discovered” places not on my list. I quickly developed an interest in entering the many mosques I encountered (and there are plenty!). For a non-Muslim like me, they are worth exploring for their architecture / construction for sure but also for their interiors. The interior of mosques in Istanbul were different than the ones I had seen in Egypt (which were the only mosques I had ever entered at that point). What made the interiors different was their use of ceramic tile typical of Turkey (more on this further down…).
While I don’t remember all the names and locations of the mosques I visited (though I was writing about travel at the time, it was only in emails to friends and family), I will at least share some of what I saw so you get an idea of what I mean. But there is one that is a must-see for sure: the “Blue” Mosque.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka the Blue Mosque
Almost across from the Hagia Sophia resides the most imposing mosque I saw in Istanbul: the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
The Blue Mosque was built in the early 17th century so it is a “baby”, really, by Istanbul standards but, nevertheless, monumental inside and out. It boasts 6 minarets, one main dome, and many secondary domes. It has a courtyard as large as the mosque itself surrounded by arcades (apologies to architects if I am not using the proper term) with the fountains for the ablutions located in that space.
As is the case with mosques, its interior is a vast open space (unlike Christian places of worship with benches and chairs throughout) since the prayers are done by sitting and prostrating on the floor which, of course, is covered in rugs/carpets.
Can you believe that at the time Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI visited the mosque in 2006, it was only the second time a Pope had visited a Muslim place of worship? Not only shocked for ecumenical reasons but also thinking the beauty they missed seeing!
As I mentioned, what appeals to me about mosques in Istanbul is the use of ceramic tiles in many different styles and geometrical patterns and using a lot of blue (could it be the influence of the close-by Aegean Sea blue??). The writing in Arabic script that you see is actually verses from the Koran. I don’t read Arabic so all I can do is say that they add to the beauty of the place.
If you have never been to a mosque, it is good to know that you need to be properly dressed (no shorts, etc.) and that you will have to remove your shoes before you enter – please do not miss observing these rules!! Some mosques I have been to require you leave the shoes outside (not placing them inside your bag). A fellow traveler decided not to leave his shoes in the area that some attendant watches it because he didn’t want to pay (at the mosque close to the Golden Horn and the Grand Bazzar). When we came out, his shoes were gone. BIG LESSON LEARNED: don’t skimp. Attendants are just earning a living though, certainly, this one was a thief.
So discover Istanbul and its mosques if you visit! I leave you with a parting shot of one of these beauties: the Blue Mosque at sunset sporting a different color!