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Saturday, 9 May 2015

Blue Mosque Exterior

Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Is The Blue Mosque Blue?

The mosque is one of the defining features of Istanbuls skyline and a World Heritage Site.  It is better known as the Blue Mosque but is it really blue?  The exterior looks more grey than blue.  The interior does not look blue at all. This is not the Green Mosque in Bursa!  Perhaps we tourists should just call it by its proper name, Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Cami in Turkish.

It was built at the beginning of a long period of gradual decline of the Ottoman Empire.  At the start of the teenage Sultan's reign, both Austria and Persia had scored victories over the Ottomans.  The Persians in 1603 reclaimed Tabriz (Persia) and the Caucasus states of Georgia and Azerbaijan.  A 1606 treaty ended Austria's annual tribute-paying status and recognized them as a sovereign state (Hapsburg Dynasty).  There was no war booty in 1609 to finance such an extravagant building.  So why was such a grandiose mosque built?  One possible explanation was that the mosque was built to deflect criticism; in other words, it was a propaganda campaign and statement of power.  

Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Sultan Ahmed I came to throne at the age of 13: his mother was Greek BTW.  He broke with the 200-year-old Ottoman tradition of fratricide yes, all brothers were usually killed to prevent them from claiming the throne.  The tourist district where many of us live and visit is named for this sultan.  However, he wanted to leave something permanent behind so he would be remembered. He wanted to build a mosque that would be more magnificent than any previous one. 

Ahmed was directly involved in the design of the mosque.  Even in those days, it paid to get along with the boss.  Unfortunately for the first architect, he was executed by Ahmed.  The mosque was completed in 1616, just one year before Ahmed himself died of typhus at a mere 27 years old! 

The mosque was designed by architect number 2, Mehmed Ağa, a student of Sinan, the great Ottoman architect of Süleymaniye Mosque Dome-ination fame.  Mehmed Ağa also died in 1617, a year after the mosque was completed.

Hagia Sophia ... so close
Mehmed Ağa didn't strive for overwhelming size, majesty and splendour.  He designed the mosque to meet the expectations of his sultan to make a monument greater than the church (even though it was now a mosque) of Hagia Sophia, which interestingly is just on the other side of the Hippodrome.

Cascading Domes

The mosque was deliberately built on the site of the palace of the Byzantine emperors. This was controversial since it meant destroying the existing palaces of the Sultan's ministers.

For the spectacular sunlit view of the east or Hippodrome side come in the morning.  The Sultan Ahmed Mosque surely wins over Hagia Sophia for its exterior with cascading waterfall of domes contrasted by six pointed minarets.   


Blue Mosque Minarets

Ahmed's Minarets
Each of these pencil minarets has three balconies, like rings around each finger.  Imagine the old days when the muezzin had to climb a narrow spiral staircase five times a day to announce the call to prayer.
Most mosques have one or two minarets.  Mosques built by sultans usually have four minarets.  But Sultan Ahmed Mosque has six minarets.
Some travel tales say that when the number of minarets was revealed, the Sultan was criticized for trying to match the number of minarets in Mecca and that Ahmed ordered a seventh minaret to be built in Mecca. 
But evidence to support this claim is pencil thin since at that time there were only four minarets at the magnificent mosque of the Kaaba in Mecca.  It was long after Sultan Ahmed died that the holiest mosque of Islam was rebuilt.  In 1629, three more minarets were added so that the Kaaba was surrounded by 7 minarets.
Ahmed's Garden
If like us, you find that the interior is closed for one of the daily prayers, you could be waiting a long time.  In this case, look around the outside as well as down the streets to see the south and west facades.
The court is about as large as the mosque itself and has manicured gardens with - what else - tulips.
Ahmed's Arcades

The mosque is surrounded by a continuous vaulted arcade.  Below the arcade are water taps.  When the believers hear the call to prayer from the minarets, they perform their ablutions (washing) and then pray.
Also, you can walk down the streets to see the south and west sides of the mosque.

Doorway to High School

Because the east side was backlit, the alternative was to search out a view of the façade in the sunlight on the west side. 
Doorway to Heaven
 There were interesting things to see on the way.  There was a gateway into the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and a high school at a recess break. 

East Turkestan Restaurant

Along the "painted street" we saw Turkish writing on the buildings and wondered what it meant?  Kurtulus sirasi (text in the photo) means "during the liberation".  Where is East Turkestan that needs freedom?  We didn't think it was Eastern Turkey.  East Turkestan means the homeland of the Islamic Uighur people of Xinjiang province of China.  This is supposedly a restaurant owned by an East Turkestani expat.
Painted Street
So is the Blue Mosque really blue?  You have to check out the next post to find the answer. 
Next Post: Is The Blue Mosque Blue?

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