Anyone remotely familiar with the skyline of Istanbul knows that the city is home to some of the world’s most impressive mosques. In these 2002 photos, the Monkey visits a few standout mosques and meets some friendly locals.
His earlier criticism aside, the Monkey was impressed by the Blue Mosque. It is more captivating on the outside than it is on the inside, but the sheer size of its site, its multiple domes, its six minarets (the first mosque after the Great Mosque at Mecca to have six), and its faint blue color (from the Iznik tiles that decorate it) cannot fail to stop the passerby in his tracks.
If this mosque or another doesn’t catch your eye, one will certainly catch your ear. One of the first things that strikes you in Turkey is the ezan, the Muslim call to prayer. Its half-tone pitches and insistent droning emanate from the minarets of the mosques five times a day, beginning at sunrise or thereabouts and ending with the evening prayer session. The music of the ezan, and the lack of church bells, reminded the Monkey in a most dramatic fashion that he had crossed from the land of the cross to that of the crescent.
Shaky photography, but the Monkey really wanted to show off the nighttime lighting of the Blue Mosque. By night, crowds of young Turks (no, not those Young Turks) gather to hang out in front of the mosque and its otherworldly illumination. A few early arrivals are visible in the background.
The Monkey at the Suleymaniye Camii, considered by many to be the finest Ottoman mosque. It was built in just seven years from 1550 as the centerpiece of a complex of religious buildings including medreses (Koranic schools), libraries, hammams, fountains, tombs, and an imaret (soup kitchen). All were designed by the greatest of Ottoman architects, Sinan, who as a child had been drafted into the janissary corps (a force of Christian children who were conscripted via the hated blood tax into service for the Sultan, often to police the regions of their birth). During his time in the janissaries, Sinan saw military action throughout the Empire, taking in the Christian and Islamic architecture along the way. Beginning as a novice yet ingenious builder of bridges and other civil engineering projects, he eventually won the favor of the Sultan and became the chief architect of the Empire.
The Suleymaniye complex was built at the behest of one of the most important Sultans, Suleyman (“the Magnificent”, or sometimes “the Lawgiver”). It was under his reign (1520-1566) that the Ottoman Empire reached its apex, conquering lands from Belgrade to the edges of Persia. The Suleymaniye mosque itself owes some structural debt to Aya Sofia, which Sultan Suleyman had ordered Master Sinan to restore some years earlier. Inside, however, it gives a sense of being more open, and the white marble walls make it brighter than Aya Sofia.
These two colorful characters were hanging around the Suleymaniye Camii offering visitors cherry juice from the elaborate samovar-esque vessels on their backs. The Monkey was thirsty and couldn’t resist the treat.
The Monkey found it intriguing that one of the men wore a fez, a hat more commonly associated with North Africa (he had also seen fezzes in the bazaars). In fact, the fez was introduced by the reformist Sultan Mahmut II in the the early 19th Century. At a time when the Ottomans were clinging to their Great Power status in a changing Europe, Mahmut felt the fez was more Western than the traditional turban and encouraged all Muslims but the clergy to adopt it.
On the grounds of the Suleyman Camii complex, the Monkey stopped for a photo with some interesting rooflines. In the distance across the Golden Horn, to the left of the small chimney in the mid-ground, is the Galata Tower, where the Monkey went to get some scenic panoramas of Istanbul.
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