We arrived at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport at 1am. After a six hour flight from Abu Dhabi, I was more than ready to just get to the hotel and go to sleep. We hopped into the van to the hotel and I prepared to snooze until our arrival. However, our driver drew my attention to Sultanahmet Cami, or the Blue Mosque. There it was, just inside the walls of the Old City of Istanbul, perfectly lit and gleaming. This is the reason why so many make the journey to this city on the cusp of East and West.
After a few hours sleep, we awoke to the call to prayer. Having lived in Abu Dhabi for a few months, the call to prayer is not a surprise. However, the clarity of the call in Istanbul is phenomenal. Perhaps it’s the water of the Bosphorus Strait, perhaps it’s the walls and buildings of the ancient city, or perhaps it’s the uniqueness of this Occidental/Oriental marvel.
The Sultanahamet Cami is a working mosque, and entry is from the southwest side through a courtyard. It is referred to as the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles inlaid on the interior domes. Approaching this mosque is, in itself incredible, as the minarets tower over every other structure in this part of the city. Given the fact that it is, indeed, an active mosque, bags are provided for removal of shoes, shoulders and knees must be covered, and women must cover their hair. Shawls are provided for this.
The mosque was constructed under the order of Ahmed I, from 1609 to 1616. The design incorporates both Ottoman and Byzantine styles, and is considered to be last mosque designed during the Classical period. It was also built to house a tomb for the Sultan and an educational institute as well as a place for worship.
The interior of the mosque houses more than 20,000 handmade tiles in designs of flowers, fruit and trees. The upper level tiles are primarily blue in color. Over 200 stained glass windows let in the natural light, which is aided by wrought iron chandeliers. The combination of light and color reveals the reason this place is referred to as The Blue Mosque.
Thousands of people descend upon this place each year, both for worship and for tourism. The Blue Mosque holds all of the ancient history of this part of the world, and thus is still an important aspect of the history of Turkey. The Sultanahmet Cami demands great respect and awe, and, as an observer, you are certain to see why Pope Benedict XVI said that Turkey will be a bridge of friendship and collaboration between East and West.
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