Wednesday, February 19, 2014

94. The Mosques of Istanbul

stanbul boasts many mosques - some tiny in the crowded laneways - others grand and imposing. Most are closed to non-Muslims - however there are two " Imperial " mosques that are open to tourists outside prayer times - and these are the ones I visited. Entering the mosques, one has to observe certain formalities - like removing your shoes - and women wearing scarves ( and wearing a provided gown if their clothing is deemed inappropriate ) - and we are required to stay behind a barrier - so that faithful can use the building for prayers at all times. 



The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I and is still popularly used as a mosque. 

The main entry gate into the outer court ...

A heavy iron chain hangs in the upper part of the court entrance on the western side. Only the sultan was allowed to enter the court of the mosque on horseback. The chain was put there, so that the sultan had to lower his head every time he entered the court to avoid being hit. This was a symbolic gesture, to ensure the humility of the ruler in the face of the divine.


Main gate from outer to inner court ...

Side entrance for non-Muslims ...

Into the inner court ...

inside the inner court ...


After the unfavorable result of a war with Persia, sultan Ahmet Ier decided to build a big mosque in Istanbul to calm God. It would be the first imperial mosque for more than forty years. While his predecessors had paid for their mosques with their spoil of war, Ahmet Ier had to remove the funds of the Treasury, because he had not gained remarkable victories – this caused the anger of the Muslim jurists at the time. 





The mosque was built on the site of the palace of the Byzantine emperors, in front of the basilica Avasofya ( Hagia Sophia - at that time, the mosque the most worshipped in Istanbul ).





At its lower levels and at every pier, the interior of the mosque is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, made at Iznik (the ancient Nicaea) in more than fifty different tulip designs. The tiles at lower levels are traditional in design, while at gallery level their design becomes flamboyant with representations of flowers, fruit and cypresses. The price to be paid for each tile was fixed by the sultan's decree. While the cost to produce the tile increased over time, the payment by the sultan did not, and as a result, the quality of the tiles used in the building decreased gradually. 


The upper levels of the interior are dominated by blue paint. More than 200 stained glass windows with intricate designs admit natural light, today assisted by chandeliers. The many lamps inside the mosque were once covered with gold and gems - all of which have been removed or pillaged for museums.

The ablutions area along the outside if the mosque ...


In preparation for formal prayers - and before entering the mosque - male worshipers are obliged to wash certain parts of their bodies whilst reciting prayers … 
Wash the right hand up to the wrist (and between the fingers) three times, then similarly for the left hand. 
Rinse the mouth and spit out the water three times and rub the teeth using the finger. 
Gently put water into the nostrils with the right hand, pinch the top of the nose with the left hand to exhale the water. This is performed three times. 
Wash the face (from the hairline on the forehead to where facial hair begins and ear to ear). This is to be performed three times. 
Wash the entire right arm, including the hand, up to and including the elbow three times; then the left arm three times. 
Pass fingers of one hand between the fingers of the other hand. If wearing a ring it should be moved freely to allow water to pass under it. 
Wet hands should be passed all over the head; then the first finger of the right and left hand should be moved in the right and left ears respectively and in the same operation thumbs should be passed around the ears; then pass the backs of the hands over the hind part of the neck only. Hands should not be passed around the fore-neck as it is prohibited. This is only done once.  
Starting with the right foot, wash both feet from the toes up to and including the ankles thrice. The little finger of the left hand should be passed between the toes of both the feet beginning from the little toe of the right foot and ending with the little toe of the left foot. 
And whilst doing this – one must be reciting certain prayers ….


After all that I need a refreshing mint tea and a good sit down ....


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Next came the imposing The Süleymaniye Mosque. This is an Ottoman Imperial mosque and is the largest mosque in the city - and one of the best-known sights of Istanbul as it rests atop of a hill and can be seen for miles around the city and harbour. 

Photo taken from the Galata Bridge ...

The mosque was built on the order of Sultan Suleyman ( Süleyman the Magnificent ), and the construction work began in 1550 and finished in 1558. 





Ablutions area ...

Inner court ...

The Süleymaniye was ravaged by a fire in 1660 and was restored by Sultan Mehmed IV. Part of the dome collapsed again during the earthquake of 1766. Subsequent repairs damaged what was left of the original decoration of Sinan ( recent cleaning has shown that the architect experimented first with blue, before turning red the dominant color of the dome ). 


During World War I the courtyard was used as a weapons depot, and when some of the ammunition ignited, the mosque suffered another fire. Not until 1956 was it fully restored again. 



The main dome is 53 meters high and has a diameter of 27.5 meters. At the time it was built, the dome was the highest in the Ottoman Empire, when measured from sea level, but still lower from its base and smaller in diameter than that of Hagia Sophia. 


Barrier keeping non-Muslims out of prayer area ...


Lattice screen behind which women have to stay during prayers ...

even mosque carpets need vacuuming ...

As with other imperial mosques in Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque was designed as a kulliye, or complex with adjacent structures to service both religious and cultural needs. The original complex consisted of the mosque itself, a hospital, primary school, public baths, specialized Ismalic schools, a medical college and a public kitchen ( imaret ) which served food to the poor. Many of these structures are still in existence, and the former imaret is now a noted - expensive - restaurant. The former hospital is now a printing factory owned by the Turkish Army.





View from Mosque wall looking down to Galata Bridge and up the Bosphorus

Both these buildings are quite beautiful, and as a non-Muslim, it was an interesting visit to explore such imposing places of worship.