Appreciation – Istanbul Pt.17 – Carpet and Kilim Museum

After visiting the Topkapi palace, leaving via the Imperial Gate or Bab-ı-Humayun, I saw a grand looking gate immediately after the Topkapi palace entrance, just before the Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III, within the compounds of Aya Sofya. It is the entrance to yet another museum in the city – Carpet and Kilim Museum. You would be amazed how many museums are clustered in this area! Istanbul is really a city where you can just stand in one place and find a historical place or a museum somewhere nearby. This museum happens to be quite hidden to be honest, although many banners and posters let by-passers kow about the museum, but then again, one would easily miss it, thinking that the carpet museum would be inside Topkapi.

Unfortunately and strangely enough, this museum does not accept the Museum Card I had just bought. Considering that it is in the same compound and very near to the Topkapi Palace you would think that the management of this museum is the same across all the places. However, the entrance free is very cheap (10 Lira if I remember well) and you get access to a very beautiful selection of antique carpets in Turkey, and I think it is money well spent and worth your time, if you like to know more about carpets, which is one part of Islamic art as well.

The carpet museum was placed at where the imaret (soup kitchens) of Hagia Sophia used to be. Therefore you can see old ovens among the carpet displayed here. There are three separate rooms displaying carpets and kilims ftom the different regions and eras of Turkey, but if you are not careful you might miss the galleries as they are in separate buildings. You just need to follow the prompts closely to make sure you don’t miss anything.

The first gallery displays carpets from Beylikler (principalities) as well as early and classical Ottoman times. The second one houses more Ottoman Era Central and Eastern Anatolia carpets and prayer rugs, while the last gallery exhibit large Usak carpets and prayer rugs. Here you can see very large carpets that are used in homes as well as cuma carpets for mosques. In these galleries you can also read about the history of the carpets and the way they are made, as well as the motifs in the carpets and the kilims and their meanings. Some of the carpets are also hung above the old ovens like personal prayer carpets, to help you appreciate those carpets better. Some of the carpets are hung from the ceilings, exhibiting the size of these carpets, which is a very impressive feat considering they are all handmade. All of the carpets are from the 14th century up to the 19th century.

This museum is indispensable if you want to learn about the difference between the types of carpets on exhibit as well as help you to decipher and discover the motifs used in each of the carpet. I think it would be a nice museum to visit if you have a child with you so you can play find-the-motif games with them. You can entertain them and educate them along the way. If you have a high interest in Islamic art though, this museum is a must visit.

Appreciation – Istanbul Pt.16 –Topkapı Palace

Starting from this post the pictures will be a bit different than my previous posts. WordPress had changed their formatting so I am trying to get accustomed to this new method.

The next day, I went to the Topkapi palace just next to the Hagia Sopia. The palace was really just next door to the museum – a left turn from the Sultan Ahmet Square with the Hagia Sophia on your left past the beautifully decorated Sultan Ahmet III Fountain and you will arrive to the first gate of the palace.

The palace, like any Royal Palaces around the world, is a sprawling estate overlooking the Bosphorus strait. It was constructed by Sultan Mehmet six year after he conquered Constantinople, in the 15th Century. It was the seat of the Ottoman Empire until mid 19th Century, when the then Ottoman ruler, Sultan Abdul Mecid I moved the court to the newer Dolmabahce Palace. However Topkapi palace still remained to function as a Library, Mint and Imperial Treasury. When the Ottoman Empire dissolved in the early 20th Century, the newly established Republic of Turkey declared the Topkapi to be a museum, just like Hagia Sophia.

The palace is divided by three distinct courtyards separated with three gates. When you first arrived at the palace, you first come to the Imperial Gate, known in Ottoman Turkish as Bab-ı-Humayun. This is where all the guests arrive and where you can access the first courtyard. If I can remember well, this space is open to the public back in the days, so anyone can come into this courtyard freely. Here you are greeted by security personnel and depending on your timing, there would be a queue going into the palace through this gate. In this first courtyard you can see another Byzantine Church, Hagia Eirene, or Aya Irini in Turkish. The church is considerably smaller than Hagia Sophia, but it size contributes to the charm. The drum of the conical dome is in my opinion, charming, it its execution. When the skyline of the city is dominated by tall rounded semi spherical domes, the conical shape of the Aya Irini is refreshing. There was very little to note about the interior of the Church. It was very plain, except for the black on gold cross above the Templon, where the altar of the church would be. The church itself is like a miniature version of Aya Sofya, with most of the original fittings intact. You can see how the Templon of the church in Aya Sofia would look like without the Ottoman addition of Mihrab and Minbar .

Back in the first courtyard, there are cafes and beautifully manicured gardens. As I had come in the early spring, flowers started blooming around the courtyard. I saw several people having picnic in the grounds and enjoying the scenery. Here there are also cafes mostly in the vicinity of Aya Irini. However, I did not bother browsing through them as I was not hungry yet and it was probably very expensive. You can also go to the Istanbul Archeological Museums from here. There is also the souvenir shops, but there are so many people there I chose to bypass it entirely. You can also get tours and audio guides from this area

After walking through the first courtyard you will eventually come across another gate. This gate is called Gate of Salutations, or the Bâbüsselam, is where one would enter to the second courtyard. This space acts as a crossroad to many of the palace’s facilities such as the kitchens (Now housing the ceramics and kitchenware exhibitions from the Ottoman times that includes curious Chinese earthenware) and the entrance to the Harem (Which I missed entirely…next time I will visit it!). On the grounds there were also several Byzantine era excavations including parts of the old Byzantine palace found under the walkways. This courtyard is a lot smaller than the first courtyard as this is the courtyard closer to the Sultan’s personal apartments, so it is not as public.

As you make your way through the courtyard you will come across the third and final gate, the imposing Bâbüssaâde, The Gate of Felicity. This is the most inner part of the palace where the people can go…on certain occasion and permission. This is where The Audience Hall is located, directly in front of the Gate of Felicity. In this area there are several galleries including the as well several kiosks including the Baghdad, Sofa and Yerevan kiosks, a library and a small mosque. All of them are highly decorated and if you study the kiosks you can realize the ever changing artistic tastes of the Ottoman Sultans. You can see the Oriental tastes that are heavily influenced by the Chinese and Persian arts to the European Baroque and Rococo tastes which is emblematic of the end of the Ottoman Empire. Unfortunately in most of these galleries and kiosks photography was not allowed so I could not take anything while visiting these places. Towards the end of the palace you can take in a beautiful view of the Bosphoros Strait. There is a restaurant there as well where, by this time I was quite famished, enjoyed a rather expensive meal. But the view itself was quite worth it. By the end of my self guided tour it was past afternoon already. I then made my way out of the courtyards (accidentally bypassing the Harem ) and went to my next destination which is the Istanbul Archeological Museum.

Eid Mubarak

Today is already the fifth day of Syawal and I hope it is not too late to say


of course this year, Eid for this year is very different. We couldn’t go out to visit our friends and relatives, and celebrations are a bit more muted than what we had before.

But I guess this is a chance for us to reflect the reality of Eid celebrations – it is a day of worship to God and to celebrate our success of fasting for the entire month of Ramadhan. Eid for most of the time I remember had been a chaos of consumerism, the real meaning of Eid had been lost. This is especially true around this region where Eid became a show of wealth and excess. Imagine stretching a single day of celebration to a whole month. That is exactly what happened here.

Nevertheless, I hope you had a great celebration with your closest family and friends. May the pandemic end soon and the world return to normal as soon as possible.

Appreciation – Istanbul Pt.15 – Eyup District

After spending half of the day around the old walled city of Istanbul, my Istanbullite friend asked me to come with him to Eyup District, an area of Istanbul a little father away from the center. Apparently Eyup is the area where the more religious of the population come. For what reason? You need to read this post a bit further, as I take you into my train of thought, and what I had learned that day.

We discussed about going to this district the day before when we were in Edirnekapi at Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, but I really have little idea about it because my mind keeps wandering off ; this is what happens when you let a history buff surrounded by thousands of years worth of ancient stories and artifacts. I remember walking by the old wall of the city and stopping by a small Korean curiosity shop, but that was it. Seriously if you want to see me in trance, just keep me in a castle or an old mansion or something.

Eyup district, as I learned, is even further than Edirnekapi. To get there, I had to use the Metro to a stop, then hop on a Dolmus (Mini bus) to go to the main square of the district. Thinking about it, I am quite amazed that I could manage to go through all that without knowing the local language (at that time, I had very rudimentary knowledge of the Turkish language, culture and social norms) and again being so very spaced out. In Istanbul, there were lots and lots of things to look out for – fountains, mosques, tombs ancient buildings, all having thousands of years of history among them. Although, thanks to today’s technology, I was able to guide myself, all alone, to a new place in Istanbul altogether.

So this is *what* I think happened. From Sultan Ahmet Square, I took a metro line towards either Pazartekke or Cevizlibag (see, I dont even know the name of the place I was going. Please don’t be mindless as I was) where I end up to a mosque. I didn’t know what is the name of the mosque, but it was large and beautifully decorated. I took a few pictures, so if you know what is the name of the mosque please leave a comment. After offering my prayers there, I went outside to find a really busy junction road. Again, I did not know how I got into a dolmus. I entered one and just asked the driver Eyup in which he nodded. Again, without sufficient knowledge of the social norms and culture of Turky, I just took a seat without realizing I had to pay! A rather stupid mistake I know, and I only paid after seeing a woman entering the dolmus pay the driver. I handed him a 5 Lira note (always have small notes with you in Turkey!) and we are on our jolly way to Eyup.

When we arrived there were a lot of people coming to the main square of the district, in front of the mosque. I suspect nothing, as I thought that it was a common occurrence – after all, we are visiting a city of several million people. We went into the entrance of the mosque where there was even more people going in and out of the compound. I suspect something, but still I thought that it is nothing out of the ordinary.

We went to the cemetery part of the mosque first. There were a lot of people again here entering the tombs. As I walked along with the crowd, I learned from my friend that apparently this is the tomb of one of the closest companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Abu Ayyub Al Ansari, referred to by the Turks as Eyup Sultan. According to history, he died of dysentery during the first Arab siege of Constantinople in 674AD, a long time before the conquest of the city by the Ottomans.

Armed with the new knowledge I approached the tomb of Abu Ayyub Al Ansari, surprised by the fact that I am in fact approaching one of the Prophet’s closest companion here in Istanbul. The tomb was severely packed that I could not really fully appreciate the beautify of the place. I can see very fine examples of traditional Iznik tiles , as well as a glimpse of the tomb itself, in a gilded cage behind thick curtains. The place was dark and illuminated with lavish chandeliers, and because of the crowd, it felt very claustrophobic. I can also see several different tombstones, but I do not have the chance to approach them or learn more.

After offering Fatihah for the soul of the companion of the Prophet, we promptly went out to the courtyard of the mosque-turbe. Outside there were a lot of people still, but at least we can have a breather. In this courtyard there was a big fenced garden in the middle amongst beautiful Iznik tiled walls. As we tried to make our way out of the building, people were giving out sweets and gifts to visitors. Another surprise during this visit is that we came during one of the Kandili, the holy nights in Islam, which is not heard of in our part of the world. During my time there it was Regaib Kandili, the night where Muslims here believe is the night when the Prophet Muhammad was conceived. This tradition i really a tradition is this part of the world and the Balkan, dating back from the Ottoman times. We have never even heard of this kind of celebration. As an act of devotion, Muslims here come to holy sites such as Eyup Sultan Mosque in Istanbul to offer special prayers for this particular day (and night)

As it is closing the Asar Prayers we went to the mosque to offer the prayer. The mosque is of course, packed full of worshippers, but I cannot help but the be in awe with the beauty of the Eyup Sultan Mosque. It seems like the mosque is constantly renovated throughout the Ottoman times and perhaps even today, as I see clashes of aesthetics in both of the tombs and mosque. While the tomb is heavily decorated in Iznik tiles , the mosque itself have baroque inspiration throughout. The painted decoration and the calligraphy looks new, as if they were made just yesterday. But perhaps it was jut the efforts put into the conservation of the holy site. The mosque itself looks smaller than many of the imperial mosques that I had visited, but it looks grand and airy. Plenty of windows around the main prayer halls reminds me of Suleymaniye Mosque, and the light colours of greys and whites coupled with deep cobalt blues and shiny golden decorations and calligraphy further accentuate the ethereal feeling this mosque presents itself.

After the prayer service we then headed uphill of Pierre Lotti amongst the many graves and tombs littering the hillside where we have a beautiful vista over Istanbul, and then we went back via a cable car, then down to the main center of the district, among many historical buildings and tombs while the sunlight descended upon us.


The beautifully decorated mosque I went to before heading towards Eyup District
Another view of the Mosque with the Mihrab and the Mimbar as well as the upper galleries. Anyone have an information about this mosque please leave me a comment!
The main square of the Eyup district with the entrance to the Tomb complex on the left and the mosque in the distance.
The entrance towards the Tomb complex. If I remembered correctly, women can enter the mosque here from the gate on the right,
Inside the Tomb complex, in front of the Tomb of Abu Ayyub Al Ansari. You can see the beautifully made iznik tiles, a much better quality than I had seen anywhere before this
The beautifully decroated Eyup Sultan Mosque, with blue decoration and gilded calligraphy.

The Complex Geometry of Islamic Design

I had seen this video several times before this on Facebook, but I didn’t thought of posting it on this blog before!

This is a beautifully made video of a short introduction to the world of Islamic Design and art. If you are interested in Islamic art you should find this a very interesting insight indeed.

It is a lesson by Eric Broug, one of the most prominent teacher of Islamic art and design. I had recommended his book once, and this video should show you why his works are quite popular with Islamic art enthusiasts.

Nuzul Al-Quran

Nuzul Al Quran or the revelation of the Qura’n is celebrated all over the Muslim world every 17th of Ramadhan each year. Here in Brunei it is usually marked with a mass gathering in the International Conference Centre, led by the Sultan himself. But due to the situation we are having nowadays, we do not have that kind of gathering this year but instead we had a whole slew of Islamic TV programmes shown on the national channel.

To commemorate the Nurul Al-Quran on this blog though, I would like to invite you to take a look to several samples of beautiful Quran Illumination samples from all around the world.

Since the original compilation and the formal printing of the Holy Book by Caliph Uthman, The Quran had been under the special attention of the Muslims. It was always treated with dignity and respect, and special care were made in its representations. Whether it was written on the walls of a mosque or as a physical book, it is always done beautifully and with absolute care and reverence.

In the physical copies of the book, you will see beautifully bound covers and elegantly made illumination, particularly in the first pages of the Quran. Here are a few selection of these examples of artistic piety.

Qur-0301-2b-3a large6inchx300dpi.jpg
From Iran :
Single-volume Qur’an from Iran, probably Isfahan – dated 1101 AH (1689–90 AD) copied by Muhammad Riza al-Shirazi (main text) and Ibn Muhammad Amin Muhammad Hadi Shirazi (supplementary texts), possibly for the Safavid ruler, Shah Sulayman (wikipedia)
File:Copied by Mehmed Şevki Efendi - Qur’an - Google Art Project.jpg
From present day Turkey :
The first pages of the Quran, Copied by Mehmed Şevki Efendi 1829, a prominent Ottoman calligrapher
File:Qur'an Carpet Page; al-Fatihah WDL6807.pdf
From present day Egypt (Mamluk) :
A part of a damaged Carpet Pge for a 14th Century Mamluk Quran
Ningxia Museum Koran manuscript with cowhide cover.jpg
From China :
Koran manuscript with cowhide cover on display at the Ningxia Museum in Yinchuan.
From India :
A richly decorated Quran copied by Dara Shikok, The first son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan
File:Unknown, India, early 18th Century - Single Volume of Qur'an - Google Art Project.jpg
From India (again) :
A single Volume of the Quran by unknown copier, made in India in the 18th Century
From the Malay Peninsula (In this case, present day Malaysia or Thailand) :
This exquisite illuminated Qur’an manuscript probably comes from the northeast coast of the Malay peninsula, either from Kelantan in present-day Malaysia, or from Patani in southern Thailand. Made in the 19th Century.

Appreciation – Istanbul Pt.14 – Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)

I finally went to the crowning glory of Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia. You can see this majestic behemoth of a beauty quite literally from anywhere in the city of Istanbul, sice it sits on top of one of the hills of the city. The soaring minarets and gargantuan dome and semi domes overlook Istanbul like a mother raising her hands heavenwards in a protective gesture.

And she is rightfully the mother of Istanbul. Built in 537 by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I over the ruins of an older church , It has seen city in its course of history, from Constantinople to Qistantiniyya to Istanbul. She also had seen herself dedicated to different sects and religions, from a Byzantine Cathedral, to Greek Orthodox, to Roman Catholic, to Islam and finally secularized in 1935 by the newly established Turkish Republic.

When you first approached the museum you will be astounded by how expansive the building is. Realizing that it is almost 1500 Years old makes it even more unbelievable. Knowing that this part of the world is quite prone to earthquakes makes the church-turned mosque-turned museum even more impressive. When you think about it, if there would be a particularly violent earthquake shook Istanbul at that time and then, God forbid it won’t ever happen, the minarets would fall over and crush everything in its vicinity.

There was a very very long queue going into the museum. Understandably, it is one of the most famous museum in Istanbul or even the most known museum of all Turkey, so everyone visiting the city would want to visit this incredible site. Thankfully with the new Museum pass I just purchased from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, I managed to bypass everyone and went directly to the security kiosk. After security check I went to the entrance of the museum. Before entering the site there was a coffee shop and lots of people were there enjoying the afternoon under the shade of the Hagia Sophia. On the grounds there were also remnants of the old church that was there. Carved marble cornices, broken pillars, stone lecterns and other tidbits were scattered upon the grounds, with fats stray cats happily strolling and lounging on the artifacts.

I did not waste my time in the coffee shops as one look at the prices immediately put me off. Instead I walked directly into the museum. Before entering the main hall, in the true style of Byzantine cathedrals, there was a forecourt or a corridor, or in this case called the Narthex. Here you can see several placards about the museums history throughout the ages as well as extracted elements from each era. There was also a very large stone sarcophagus lying in the corridor leading up to the gift shop which is on the right side of the Narthex, apparently it was of an Empress’s. You can also see 9th century mosaics on the top of the main doors depicting Jesus and the churches’ benefactors prostrating before Christ.

As you walked through the Imperial doors with the cross clearly torn away, and noticing the age old stone flooring now smooth because of the number of the visitors thoughout history, You cannot help but the crane your gaze upwards towards the high soaring dome. I know I did and I actually gasped in awe. The left side of the museum was barricaded due to the restoration works. A pity as that might be, it was no distraction to the majesty of this sacred space. I think this is how Justinan I felt when he first step foot in his church and proclaimed “Solomon, I have surpassed thee”.  In the middle of the dome was a calligraphic medallion from the Ottoman times, citing the Nur chapter of the Qur’an. Indeed, when you walked into the space, light was in abundance – as if the whole building was a dedication to light and everything it brings. Indeed the name Hagia Sophia means the Holy Wisdom, and you can feel that as you are bathed in light the church-mosque afforded.

Going directly to the Apse, you pass by the Omphalion, the circular design in the floor where Byzantine emperors were crowned, a Muezzin Mahfili and Mimbar, both an Islamic ottoman addition, before stopping in front of the Mihrab and gazing before the mosaic of Virgin and Child up high above the apse.  Underneath the Mimbar, you can see a curious Iznik tile depicting the Kaaba and Mecca.

Not being able to go to the right hand side from the Apse, I went to the left side corridor, where there were more Ottoman additions to the building, such as the gilded caged kiosk that is the Sultan Mahmud I Library, as well as old tall mobile wooden ladders for cleaning the church. Tall mighty columns with metal clasps hold the gallery in the left corridors. There was also a curious marble jar, although I couldn’t gather any more information about the jar that is large enough to fit a man in, as there were crowds around the placard. If you see on the ceiling you can see Byzantine era floral decorations over faded crosses, apparently a product of the iconoclastic era of the Byzantines.

I then made my way to the second floor from the Narthex via a very, very, VERY high ramp. The ramp was large and wide, and the floor was very slippery , again from the sheer number of visitors going up and down these ramps. The space was dark and cold, and dotted with small windows every now and then over the floors.

After what seems like an eternity in a cold damp area, you once again be bathed in the abundant light on the second floor. In the galleries of the second floor you can see more of the Byzantine remnants of the church such as the Deesis, a 13th century mosaic depicting Jesus flanked by his mother  Mary and John the Baptist. Also you can see an older 11th Century mosaic depicting Jesus and Empress Zoe. An impressive marble doors called the Door of Heaven and Hell stood separating the wes t and south galleries. The grave of Enrico Dondolo, the Venetian Doge who died in 1205 was also here, although this carved site is relatively recent, done in the 19th century.  The gallery was decorated with the same Byzantine decorations  of geometric patterns and floral motifs over faded crosses, like the one you can see in the lower half of the museum.

I took a bit of time exploring every available nook and cranny of the museum, Although I truly believed that I did not explore enough of this place. After the visit it seemed that I missed one of the mosaics because it faced the exit of the museum. Perhaps next time, I will bring a tour guide with me so I can learn more of this place.DSCN0997

The first thing you will see upon entering the main hall. Glass chandeliers hung from the tall ceilings, Islamic calligraphy in medallions mingle with Christian iconography.



The main dome of the Hagia Sophia. Sorry for the overexposure, but this only shows you how the moque-church is so full of light. The calligraphy in the middle is from the Quran, The Nur Chapter. Underneath it is presumably a mosaic of Jesus, however uncovering it means dismantling and possibly destroying the calligraphy.


The Mihrab of the Hagia Sophia, an Ottoman addition. Note that it is slightly to the right – this is because the Qibla (Mecca) faces a slightly different direction from Jerusalem, which this building originally faces.




The Mimbar, another Ottoman addition. The colouring and the materials used for this Mimbar almost seemed like it was built originally for the mosque-church.


A mosaic of the Tughra of Sultan Abdul Mecid. This is displayed in the inner (I think( Narthex of the Hagia Sophia, along with other curious artifacts, including a sarcophagus of an empress.


The Library of Sultan Mahmut I. The gilded cage reflects the same opulence the Hunkar Mahfili (which was bariccaded when I visited) was given near the Mihrab of the Mosque. This library can be seen on the right hand side of the Hagi Sophia’s main hall as you enter.



An Iznik tile panel supposedly featuring an illustration of The Kaaba and Mecca…but why is it replaced with a floral motif pattern?  This is found underneath the Mimbar, although I cannot approach it closely as it was off limits. Thank goodness for 30x Zoom camera.


The icon of The Virgin Mary cradling an infant Jesus juxtaposed with the absolutely massive calligraphy medallion bearing the name of Allah.


The writer, on the balcony overlooking the main hall.  You can see the barricades on the left side.