March 1, 2000
Turkey wasn't always a Muslim country. In the beginning of the 11th century, the Seljuk's posed a threat to the Christian Byzantine Empire and created the Great Seljuk Turkish Empire. Islam has been a prevalent force in the area ever since. After the decline of the Seljuks, Turkey went back and forth between Christianity and Islam -- enough to make your head spin. Take three centuries of weak Empires rising and falling, and throw in the Crusades -- any country would get a bit confused! Finally, around the 14th century, the great Ottoman Empire moved in -- and these guys weren't messing around! The Ottomans took Bursa in 1326 and made it their capital. In 1453, Mehmet the Conqueror took Constantinople, turning the last Christian stronghold in Turkey into a shining symbol of Islam's rising prominence. Istanbul was created.
The most famous of the many mosques of Istanbul is by far the incredible Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, or the Blue Mosque, as it is more commonly known. Even though I've walked by the Blue Mosque every single day that I've been Istanbul's Old City, I still find myself in awe over its beauty! Sultan Ahmet I had the Blue Mosque built with the intentions of overshadowing Justinian's architectural marvel, the Aya Sofya, which sits directly across the street. Walking between the beautiful church and mosque, I'd have to say Sultan Ahmet achieved his goal. The Aya Sofia is beautiful, don't get me wrong, but the Blue Mosque's dizzying display of domes and minarets, harmoniously melding together, immediately draws your attention away from what once was the greatest church in Christendom. The Blue Mosque is awesome.
Since the Blue Mosque is such a popular tourist attraction, they allow non-Muslims to enter the mosque, but only through a side entrance, and not during prayer times. This can make things a bit difficult since Muslims pray 5 times a day! When Brian and I first arrived at around 11:20am, the doors were already closed for the midday prayer. The sign posted the opening and closing times, but it was obviously not strictly adhered to, since it said it closes at 11:45am for the midday prayer! So we left to visit Topkapi Palace, and returned at 3pm, since the sign said it would re-open around 3:15pm.
Unfortunately, the inside wasn't as amazing as the we expected. First of all, it was still cold! Its massive, dark, stone halls were almost as cold as the outdoors! Secondly, the Blue Mosque's secrets are instantly revealed upon entering. Although the Blue Mosque was built over 1000 years after the Aya Sofia, it's not the architectural masterpiece of its predecessor. Unlike the daring Aya Sofya, whose gigantic center dome is free standing, the Blue Mosque's center dome is held up by four massive pillars. The inside is still beautiful, and the stained glass windows diffuse the light to create a serene glow on the blue tiles which line the walls (the blue of the Blue Mosque). But any serenity the Blue Mosque is supposed to instill in the visitor is ruined by the spectacle of flashes as tourists struggle to get a clear photo of the intricate paintings on the high domes. No wonder they keep us out during prayer times!
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...email@example.com
You Be the Judge…
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