Thursday, March 15, 2012

Istanbul was once Constantinople... - Part One: Mosques

We had been wanting to visit Istanbul, Turkey ever since we moved to Germany and we finally took our chance in February.  We spent about five days in this incredible city and we're going to share it with you in a series of posts.  The first of these posts will cover the major mosques that we visited, since this was a very new experience for us.  In this post I will highlight the Blue Mosque, the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, and "   " Mosque, as well as etiquette while visiting.

So mosques are obviously a place for muslim worshippers to get together and connect with God, but they are so fascinating to me since we've been through so many European cathedrals with such a stark difference in architectural styles.  I'd hate to say that I'm bored of cathedrals, but visiting mosques was almost a breath of fresh air to be exposed to something nearly unknown to me.  Marisa and I saw plenty of them in Morocco, but Istanbul seemed to be much more liberal and open to allowing visitors to come in and take pictures and see just what goes down inside the mosques.  Here are Istanbul's top three:

The Blue Mosque was built in only 7 years (1609-1616) under Sultan Ahmet's rule by his architect, Mehmet Aga, who is also known for re-building Kaaba in Mecca (holiest shrine in Islam - huge black cube).  This was Ahmet's finest achievement under his rule in the Ottoman Empire.

Blue Mosque - sporting its six minarets, even though only one is needed for the call to prayer.

Blue Mosque - inner courtyard

View of the ceiling of Blue Mosque - mosques are very open structures, ornately decorated with geometric shapes and calligraphy since it is forbidden to adorn them with pictures of objects that may be idolized.

This view gives you a better idea of the height of the walls.  These chandeliers are suspended from the highest point of the ceiling, with lots of natural light flooding the space.  The entire floor is carpeted with spaces marked for individuals to take their place during services.

Inner courtyard of the Blue Mosque - there are typically fountains outside where worshipers can clean their hands and feet before entering.

Yet another view of the Blue Mosque from an outer courtyard.

The Blue Mosque at night.

The Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent is next on our tour.  It was built by the guy its named after in 1557, taking only a decade to finish.  The architect was the famous Mimar Sinan, and this was his masterpiece.  It was difficult getting a shot of the outside, since it rests on a hill in the middle of a neighborhood.

Cemetery with mausoleum in the background, where Suleyman is buried.

The interior of Suleyman is not as over-the-top as in the Blue Mosque, but it is just as breathtaking.

View of the Golden Horn/Bosphorus Strait from the mosque.

Our last mosque was the Rustem Pasha mosque which is known for its quaintness and beautiful tilework inside.  It was also built by Sinan in the 16th century, as were about 20 other mosques under his guidance.  It's named after one of the Grand Viziers of Suleyman and it was a nice little gem to look at.

Interior tilework of Rustem Pasha

When visiting mosques, keep in mind a few basic rules:

1.  Shoes should be removed before entering.

2.  Proper attire should be worn inside - heads should be covered for women.

3.  Don't act a fool!  Just like you would in any cathedral that you visit, you don't talk so loud and show a little respect.

Some things that you will notice are:

There's always a central prayer niche which the worshipers face, since it indicates the direction to Mecca from that particular mosque.

Typically men and women are separate during worship.  The women stand in the back behind a latticed divider while men stand up front closer to the prayer niche.  They say that this is more of a practicality during worship so that the men aren't distracted.

Marisa's showing us the respectful way to visit a mosque.

In the next post we'll be talking about some exquisite mosaic work found around Istanbul.

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