Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Wednesday, December 03, 2014
Red carpet of the Blue Mosque.

Anyone coming to Istanbul would picture on their mind a bird’s eye view of this huge mosque, at least that’s the most common photograph of several – if not all - tourism websites post on their main page about Istanbul.  The city’s universal icon or more appropriately, the tourism icon – Sultan Ahmed Mosque of more popularly known as the Blue Mosque is located, where else?, at the Sultanahmet district, the historical peninsula where most tourism sights are situated.

Almost every tourist coming to the city would not want to miss sitting at one of the benches facing the magnificent Hagia Sophia in front of this mosque and have their photo taken.  Well I have to admit, I did several times, either standing on the bench or squatting, aah, that was during my first few trips to the city.   But I still do frequent the mosque and its surroundings especially - and unavoidably - whenever I have friends or colleagues that I need to tour around places in the city.

Groups of herded tourists with their guides swarm the long square which used to be the Hippodrome of Constantinople at the side of the mosque briefing the fervently-looking tourists who paid for the walking tour that could have been easily explored on their own at their own pace.

With everyone starting to have a stiff-neck gawking above the domes inside the mosque, I often hear – and have memorized the line – of tourist guides muttering “The interior is full of lotus flower designs … because Lotus is the national flower of Turkey”.  My favorite so far, like it isn’t so obvious that even the red carpets they’re standing on are decorated with it.

The main big dome, interior of the Blue Mosque.

Contrasts of colors.

Dress Code:

Some holidaymakers wander around Sultanahmet in walking shorts and sleeveless shirts as if the beach is just a few stroll away.  That's fine, especially during summer time.  But when visiting any mosque, one must observe proper decorum and attire.   This is a place of worship of the Islamic faith and require different considerations.

Men should wear long trousers, T-shirts are fine, women on the other hand must cover their legs from down the knee, shoulders and their hair, although at times covering the hair becomes optional.

There’s always a long queue getting inside the mosque and when you get right before the security personnel at the gate, you have to pick one of those plastic bags to put your shoes before stepping on the clean carpet inside.  If one is not properly dressed, the mosque is ever-ready with garments such as scarves and full-body robes for both genders, that is to render respect to worshippers who come to pray and to facilitate tourism without denying anyone of entry to the mosque. Entry is free of chage as well as the use of garments to decently cover yourself.

The Blue Mosque is closed half an hour before and after prayer times, and one hour before and after during Salatul Cuma prayer or the Friday mass.

I always get passed the mosque entrance even during prayer times just by raising both my arms with my elbows on my sides when confronted by the security personnel.  Well, I don’t advise anyone doing that unless you know, at least, to recite the Surah Al-Fatiha (I know) otherwise, you’ll be busted.

View of the Blue Mosque from the fountain.

The mosque at night from Sultanahmet Park.

Why Blue Mosque?

Sultanahmet Mosque was built on the site of the Great Palace of Constantinople of the Byzantine Empire during their reign from 330 to 1081.  The mosque started construction in 1609 under the directive of Sultan Ahmet I to outshine the grandeur of the adjacent Hagia Sophia which still is one of the greatest surviving wonders of Byzantine architecture.

The main architect was Sedefkar Mehmed Aga, one of the protégé of the chief Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who – according to some tell-tale - raised six slender minarets on the mistaken perception that the sultan wanted altı minare (six minarets) to the mosque, when it is in fact, altın minare (golden minarets) that he asked.   That was not only rivaling the Hagia Sophia but have equated the number of minarets to that of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.  Was there no written direction of sort? 

No other mosques can put up six minarets which is strictly reserved for the Holy Mosque in Makkah, so to offset the perceived arrogance, the sultan added the construction of the seventh minaret to the existing six at the mosque in Makkah.

The mosque has one main dome and eight smaller domes.  The interior is elaborately decorated with more than 20,000 predominantly blue colored Iznik tiles in fifty varieties of tulip designs, and that’s where it derived its name – the Blue Mosque.

Did you know that the Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI had stood for a 2-minute meditation inside this mosque alongside with the Mufti of Istanbul, which was emulated by the current Pope Francis who made a visit recently in November 2014.  


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