On our first day in Istanbul, after arriving at 4:30 on a Sunday morning and heading straight to a nap we went for a walk to reconnoiter the neighborhood. What a neighborhood! Within 5 to 10 minutes easy walk we passed the Topkapi Palace, the massive Hagia Sophia, a large open square and came, face on, with the incredible Blue Mosque.
Which as you can see from the picture just above above, is no more blue than the Danube at Vienna. What gives it its name is inside...a little bit the fabulous blue glass, but mainly the over 20,000 blue-tinted tiles from Iznik (today's Izmir).
Laid out in beautiful patterns and repeats, they hide (so we were told) a contractor's secret. Because of the budget constraints (see below) the tile-makers had to live with the original price, even though the cost was creeping up. Simple solution...best tiles, the original ones, nearest the floor. As the height rose, the quality fell. Not that you'd ever notice unless you were one of the workers constantly maintaining and restoring.
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So the budget issue. Ahmet I had won a war with Persia around 1600, reasserting Ottoman dominance. But unlike previous wars that had made the victors rich enough to pay for new mosques and palaces, this was a tough victory, and Ahmet celebrated pretty much by draining the rest of the treasury to pay for his mosque, nearly provoking a revolt. So big cost overruns were out of the question, since they would have required new taxes.
But the resulting mosque, still in use as a mosque, is an unquestionable masterpiece. Its cascades of domes and vaults, held between its six minarets (that's how you know a big deal...more minarets) is arresting, even when seen against its across-the-park neighbor, Hagia Sophia. Its architect was Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, pupil of Sinan, considered the greatest of all Ottoman architects. The influence of Hagia Sophia (below) can be seen in it; in turn its influence can be seen in hundreds of others, including the Taj Mahal.
The inside is as rich and impressive as the outside. Like mos mosques, there is no furniture, leading to broad vistas and in many cases, richly carpeted floors. Because it's an active mosque, we had to wait while prayers were finished before we visited, but there's plenty to see outside, including the washing facilities outside. In the winter. Ouch. Only the Sultan's ablution fountain was inside, and devout Muslims must wash hands and feet before entering and praying. The Sultan's is the bottom picture.
While waiting to enter, we attended a lecture by a young woman in the mosque's education building. We were expecting to hear a lot about the Blue Mosque; instead we listened to a talk on the role of the mosque in religious life for Muslims. It was quite interesting.
On our way back to the line to enter, we acquired a guide of sorts. He approached us and asked, in excellent English, where we were from and what we thought of the mosque and Istanbul. He offered to lead us through "No money, no, no..." and, being at that point more polite than hesitant, we didn't say no and didn't say yes. He walked with us through the visitor entrance, helped my wife get her head-scarf on right, and described many things within. And then, as we were leaving and ready to head for dinner, came the other shoe. Of course, he said, he would love to have us come and see the beautiful carpets in his brother's shop, just around the corner, no need to buy of course, but if we wanted to.... Sadly, we wouldn't and didn't, and he soon found a new couple.
Because Islam frowns on depictions of people in art, calligraphy, especially of passages from the Quran, occupies an important role in decor. In fact, in many churches converted to mosques, such as Hagia Sophia, beautiful calligraphy covers ancient mosaics...what a bind to be in!
Passing by this portico, we entered the main courtyard of the mosque, with a central fountain, and plaques along the galleries showing the history of the mosque, the history of Islam, and an effort to show that Christianity, Judaism and Islam are all one and all Islam. I'll leave the theology to others, but I'd guess that's a hard sell.
Ultimately we approached, and passed, this major entrance that is reserved for those who come to pray, and passed around to the side where the visitor entrance is.
There, Joan was equipped with a head-cover, and we passed under an extravagantly-tiled ceiling and on to the inside. That's our "guide" behind Joan.
Inside, you just can't stop taking pictures and looking up and around. The chandeliers, whose incredibly long wires appear in almost every view, add to the interest.
Here we recognized arches that reminded us strongly of the Mezquita in Cordoba. When you dabble in history and art, it's sometimes hard to keep things in order; Cordoba fell to the "Reconquista" in Spain a hundred years before Constantinople fell to the Turks and 300 years before this mosque. Architectural models are long-lived!
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