May 20th, 2010


Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, Istanbul

In 1609, in the reign of Sultan Ahmet I, construction began on a monumental mosque in Istanbul, built facing the Hagia Sophia. It was opened for worship in 1617. I visited in March of this year.

The architecture is based in part on the Hagia Sophia, but externally, I think, it surpasses the church in beauty – perhaps because the Hagia Sophia has been repaired and buttressed many times due to earthquakes, and inside and outside it looks distressed. The mosque is 1000 years younger and in better shape.

I took this photo of the mosque from a restaurant in the top floor of a nearby building. Notice the seagull overhead and the Bosporus in the distance.

The exterior of the Blue Mosque is graced by a cascading half-domes, and the outward harmony is repeated inside. The 20,000 hand-made ceramic tiles feature more than 50 different designs. In addition, there are two hundred stained glass windows. The ceiling and walls are painted with arabesques and calligraphy, and carpets cover the floors, but somehow it all combines to create a feeling of peace and amazing beauty. Some of the artisans went on to work on the Taj Mahal.

Non-Muslim tourists are allowed to enter – women wearing head scarves, and both sexes subject to a dress code – but they must remain behind a railing in the back.

Meanwhile, in the gardens behind the mosque, actors were gathering to film a television show. Residents seemed excited to recognize some of the actors, who in turn were pleased to pose for photos with their fans.

— Sue Burke