Living in Istanbul as we did for a month, one of my strongest impressions was the feeling of living history. I don’t get that feeling much back home in the US. Especially in the west where we live, an “old” building means 50 years. But walking around Istanbul, you regularly see Mosques such as Sultanahmet and other buildings that are hundreds of years old. I was very conscious of the fact that my footsteps were echoes of footsteps of others walking the same streets for hundreds and even thousands of years. It’s an interesting juxtaposition – on the one hand Istanbul is very modern, fast-moving and exciting. On the other it’s filled with memories of a simpler past.
Part 1 of this Ancient Attractions post covered one of the world’s most important ancient buildings – Aya Sofya from 537 AD – plus the Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace. Part 2 of the post is dedicated to two more of Istanbul’s ancient attractions – Sultanahmet mosque and (my personal favorite) Suleymaniye mosque. Sultanahmet is located just steps from Aya Sofya and it’s a wonderful companion with a harmonious cascade of smaller domes around a massive central dome. Sultanahmet was finished in 1617 by master architect Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, during the reign of Sultan Ahmet I. It is popularly known as the Blue Mosque, because of the many blue tiles among the 20,000 tiles which were handmade in the Turkish city of Iznik. The blue mosque is not all that blue to my eyes! Rustem Pasa mosque has a more blue appearance inside. Sultanahmet caused some controversy back in the day – many thought the Sultan presumptuous for building 6 minarets (instead of the standard 4) around his mosque rivalling the mosque of the Ka’aba in Mecca, Islam’s holiest site.
Istanbul has so many mosques, at least one in every neighborhood we visited during our time – and in many neighborhoods you can hear the call to prayer from three or four mosques simultaneously! They are all beautiful in their own way, but for me the most gorgeous of all is Suleymaniye. Especially from afar, there is something about its architecture that brings me a feeling of calmness and harmony. Suleymaniye beaming in the morning sun is one of my most enduring mental images of Istanbul. The day we visited Suleymaniye was a busy-busy and very hot day in Istanbul. We climbed up and up from the bustle of the old city’s markets to the mosque on the hill, feeling the stress of a modern metropolis. Our first view of Suleymaniye was of the gardens surrounding it – an oasis of green grass separated from busy streets by a high wall. Inside, we found clusters of locals relaxing in the shady garden, chatting and laughing. To the calming silence we found in all of Istanbul’s mosques we were thus able to add the feeling of community and light spirits we found in the garden of Suleymaniye. A welcome respite at the end of a busy day!
Suleymaniye was completed in 1558, during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent, one of the most important figures in Turkish history who ruled for 46 years during the apex of Turkish world power. The architect was the greatest of the Ottoman world – Mimar Sinan who designed over 300 buildings. The world is still enjoying his creations!