The Blue Mosque
LOCATED in the heart of Istanbul's historic Sultan Ahmet area, which has a high concentration of top sites of tourist interest and is always overrun by large tourist buses dropping one big batch of visitors after the other, is Istanbul's signature Sultan Ahmed (Blue) mosque. It is nearly impossible to visit Istanbul and not see this mosque; a proper comparison would be like going to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower or travelling to New York City and skipping the Times Square; a sort of thing that just doesn't happen (to regular visitors).
Built with the intent of rivaling the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), architects of the Blue Mosque pulled all stops trying to achieve the grandiosity of the Byzantine basilica, but were not quite successful in surpassing the design of a central dome of that nature, although success is, ofcourse, a subjective term. From the outside, the Blue Mosque is so impressive that one cannot but just stand there and appreciate the beautiful structure comprising eight smaller curved domes, six minarets, and one large central dome, making the building a masterpiece that draws upon elements of both Islamic and Byzantine design. This design was not revolutionary at that time, as you might expect, because Mimar Sinan, the master Ottoman architect, had built dozens of mosques based on a similar style, each of his structures improving upon the previous. One of Sinan’s students adapted the master achitect’s work for the construction of the Blue Mosque. Stepping inside, and I won’t go into too many details because the description alone would span multiple blog posts, one is confronted with a jaw-dropping magnificence of the prayer chamber illuminated with a circular string of subtle lamps hung from the ceiling above. Lavishly decorated with calligraphy, Ottoman patterns and intricate brush work, the interiors prompted me to think of one word: Blue. Designed with Iznik tiles, that gives it the distinctive blue colour, the slender curves of supporting pillars really makes the colour and the artwork pop out, in a way that made me feel as if someone from the sky was coming down talking to me, while I was overwhelmed and almost intimidated by the dimensions of the interiors. This discord really resonated with me and I made two subsequent visits to the Blue Mosque trying to attempt, in vain, to digitalize this beauty on the lens of my camera.
We have progressed so much; we can visit lands far away and photograph scenes and moments from our travels, but there is no way to capture the feeling of a place, something that can only be experienced in person, at a given place, at a given time, and I am only trying here, without getting too philosophical, to narrate in a verbose manner and to paint a visual imagery of my experience in order to communicate those feelings to you, my esteemed readers.
The Süleymaniye Mosque
DISTINCTLY identifiable on the Istanbul skyline, the Suleymaniye Mosque, commissioned by Ottoman emperor Suleiman the Magnificent, stands on top of a hill in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. There are various streets leading up to this hill and I ascended from the Eminönü side of the Golden Horn, a name given to a horn-shaped gulf on the European side of the Bosphorous over which the Old city of Istanbul is laid out. This being a common way to climb up the hill, the street passing through very non-touristy areas skirting around the Grand Bazaar, I got to see the real commercial side of Istanbul, something that I had overlooked in my quest to check off all the tourist sights on my list.
Since the mosque was closed when I reached there, being the time for prayers, I simply lingered around the courtyard admiring various little shrines, tombs and leafy grounds of the mosque. The spots around trees were busy, you know, with groups of people sitting at the base of a tree trying to escape the sun and talking to each other while waiting for the mosque to reopen. I noticed an empty tree inviting me to sit under its shade, an opportunity that I seized immediately, and I sat down writing my thoughts in my pocket sized diary. After some doodling I got up and went to the northern periphery of the courtyard, only to be braced with a stunning view of Istanbul and the iconic Bosphorous bridge spanning across two continents.
While it is hard to describe the Suleymaniye mosque, since I am good neither at articulating my thoughts nor at appreciating the architectural merits of a historic monument, it is not difficult to discern that I will, regardless of my expertise, go ahead and fill another paragraph with long sentences and clause separators. From the outside the façade resembles that of the Blue Mosque for the reasons mentioned above, but one must acknowledge its beautiful proportions and the fact that it was laid on top of an uneven surface. I did that. After entering through a seemingly ordinary side entrance one is suddenly exposed to a large central prayer hall with spectacular decorations, calligraphy and artwork, reminiscent of the Blue Mosque which we visited earlier, but certainly not as busy or vivid as you can probably tell from the pictures. The Sulemaniye mosque uses somewhat subtle colours, mix of several shades and feels more airy and lighter due to numerous little windows piercing through its dome projecting sunlight in the chamber below. I once again felt overwhelmed, which I usually do in large houses of worship, but the feeling didn’t send me into an elevated heartbeat mode, making me bit more relaxed and feel-at-home instead. I spent more time here, walking around the limited space available for tourists and trying to take pictures from various angles.

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