Appreciation – Istanbul Trip Pt.2 – Istanbul, the City of Mosques and Minarets

Istanbul is truly a city of Islamic prestige. Being the seat of the Islamic Ottoman Caliphate since its fall as Constantinople for more than 500 years, and where many decisions on the fate and charity of the whole of the Muslim nations were done and made, it was not at all surprising to see how that evidenced in Istanbul.

Everywhere you go, everywhere you turn, you are bound to find an Islamic treasure every step you take in Istanbul. Whether it is a grand, solemn Camii, a tall, soaring minaret, a peaceful Turbe, or a humble fountain, you are bound to find Ottoman treasures here and there while you are out and about in the former capital of the caliphate.

In fact, there are a lot of Islamic heritage scattered throughout Istanbul and even all of Turkey, it is near impossible to remember each and every one, even with the help of modern technologies we have today.

Take this one, a small mosque (In Turkish terms, a Mescid, due to the lack of a minaret) we came across in an unassuming civilian building near the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, across a funerary complex (which name or whose it was escaped my knowledge as well) It was on the second (or was it the third?) floor of the building, risen above the streets where you can see people walking by and living their daily life.

I feel like a Harem women looking down the streets because truly, this mosque is hidden. No one can see or realize I was in the mosque looking at them from the windows.

The mosque is apparently a modern, or at least 18th or 19th century, place of worship. Or perhaps the building itself was from that era, the time where the Ottomans were heavily influenced by their western counterparts. The mosque have little signs of being used often, as the carpets looks very fresh. Perhaps it was newly fitted? Or the people who maintains it keep them immaculate and cleaned very often? I would like to be positive about this. The fittings such as the windows seems quite modern, reminds of a building in the UK built during the mid 60s. Some of the windows have frosted glass in them, the kind you can find in a shower. The windows overlooking the streets, on the other hand are very large bay windows with plain clear glass, allowing you to see everything acoss the street.

The Mescid itself have a mezzanine floor, presumably for accomodating female worshippers. On that floor itself there were smaller windows looking out to the streets, offering an even better view to the outside.

The Minbar looks suspiciously modern, where the design of the pulpit is decidedly modern. The decoration did not befit the rest of the mosque. There was a circular medallion set in a middle of a repeated diamond shaped background, done in wood and painted a glossy white.

The Mihrab was more traditional. It was decorated in the same vein and colourway as the ceiling and the rest of the mosque. It was simple and not as flamboyant asmany other Ottoman mosque throughout Turkey. Despite the simplicity, one can appreciate beauty of the Mihrab from the usage of beautiful calligraphy in the middle as well as the pleasing colours used in the decoration. Above the Mihrab itself was a panel with a Quranic inscription popular with Turkish mosques for decoration – it was a part of Chapter 3, verse 37, where the mother of Maryam (Mary) went to Prophet Zakariyya (Zachariah) in his Mihrab.

The Saf (prayer guide lines) were at an angle, showing that the Mescid was, as we had suspected, dedicated after the completion of the building. The decoration used were uniquely Ottoman or at least inspired by it. The decorations were traditional Ottoman, however it was executed in the style and technique used by the 18th and 19th Century. They were painted, like the ones you an see in the larger, grander 19th century mosques in Uskudar. However there were no apparent influence from the western world – the decoration were Arabesque medallions, with beautiful gilt calligraphy ; typical Ottoman style decorative art. The embellishments were suspiciously fresh, as if they were done very recently. One can not help but to wonder, coupled with the very new looking carpet and fittings, perhaps the Mescid was in fact, a newly dedicated mosque. Perhaps the place was a former shop, or a former accomodation, and the owner perhaps, in an act of piety, decided to dedicate the place for the worship of Allah?

I will never know, for I had foolishly ignored the story behind this mosque. I tried to go there again a few days before I left Istanbul, unfortunately I couldn’t find it at all. My trip in Istanbul was in fact swift and insufficient evern though in reality I was there for almost 10 . One day I will return again and I will dedicate my time studying these precious pockets of Islamic heritage.


The general view of the Mosque. You can see the very large window overlooking the street, from which across you can see an older funerary complex


The Minbar. Decidedly modern and does not fit with the rest of the Mosque decoration. Perhaps it was newly made?


The ceiling of the mosque beautifully decorated in a calming light mint colour. Th middle of the ceiling was a gilt calligraphic medallion.


The adorable Mihrab, decorated in the same vein as the ceiling.


A little update – New Look!

Again a very long hiatus from me. I should be ashamed. However I am, considering now I have a bit more extra time in my hands and I need a little bit more compassion for life, I decided to revive this dying wordpress blog.

I updated the blog look a little. I have replaced the grey, modernist look to a more vibrant blue. The background image is my own creation, featuring the ubiquitous eight pointed star, some circular arabesques and a square kufic calligraphy that reads “Assalamu Alaikum”, Peace be Upon You, the traditional Muslim greeting.

I hope to be able to share with you the rewards I got from my travels in Turkey two years ago, and I hope to be able to travel more regionally and internationally soon to bring you my insights on the Islamic art in those region. Also as I work even more with my own traditional arts and custom and the realization of how influential Islamic art to our own traditional art, I will be making more posts on Malay and Bruneian Islamic influenced traditional art and culture.

I hope to add at least one post per month from now on…No more procrastinating!