(Updates to this post will be done periodically as apparently, WordPress doesn’t allow for multiple photos and if I do, the post won’t be able to be published)
(Another update – turns out I had to resize my photos 45% smaller to be able to be uploaded here.)
As some of you might know, I was in Istanbul in the end of March and early April of 2017. Istanbul was and still is my dream destination. Istanbul and generally Turkey is a treasure trove of Islamic art and architecture. One might argue that Turkey is the best place to study Islamic art and architecture due to the sheer volume of the sights that are available there, although this would only ring true if you only study the regional Islamic art and architectural style which is Turkish – a rather separate and special entity in the world of Islamic art. You might not find traditionally Arabic or Moroccan Islamic art for example, in Istanbul. This is mainly due to their own art and architecture are essentially defined and very much developed that one can instantly recognize and differentiate the art and architecture of Islamic Turkey and other Islamic art and architecture. The Turkish are also very proud of their identity ; that also helps the Islamic Turkish art and architecture to flourish independently without being chained down to other Islamic art identities.
Istanbul and Turkey in general, given their very extensive history, is not only a mecca of Islamic art and architecture, but also other cultures as well. Before the arrival of the Ottomans, the Romans and then the Byzantines settled in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul. In additional of these cultures, other people came in to settle in Turkey such as the Greeks, the Jews, the Armenians etc especially after the conquest of Constantinople (Old name of Istanbul) making Turkey and in particular Istanbul a melting pot of different cultures that reflects in the art and architecture of Islamic Turkey. I might feature a few samples of these delicate amalgamation of different cultures and how they would reflect in contemporary and historical Islamic Turkish art and architecture.
For this series, I would feature the Islamic art and architecture I found in Istanbul (and other cities I had visited in Turkey) both in chronological order and landmark-by-landmark basis. For this post, I would like to feature one of the most prominent landmark in Istanbul and perhaps the whole of Turkey, the first one I visited – the six-minaret Sultan Ahmet Mosque or more commonly known to foreigners and visitors and the Blue Mosque.
Completed in 1616, the mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I. The mosque was built in fron the the Hagia Sophia, which by then was still the Imperial mosque of the Ottomans since the conquest of Constantinople. It was referred to as the Blue Mosque because of the 20,000 blue Iznik tiles lining the interior of the mosque. The architect of the mosque was Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, a pupil of the master Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan. The mosque was staggeringly large and tall and the main dome is so impressive, any and every visitor who came through the threshold of the mosque will instinctively gaze up the heavens to see the majestic main dome of the mosque. The grounds are also breathtakingly beautiful and serene even by the end of the cold winter months. It is said that you can see the mosque from anywhere in Istanbul, and given the sheer size of the monument, it is not difficult to believe in such rumour.
The author in front of the courtyard door of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. The complexity of the pattern is breathtaking
Pardon the awkward pose, this is requested by my friend. The marble six fold pattern in exquisite, and this is the first thing you see when entering the courtyard, if not your gaze to be fixed on the mosque itself.
The facade of the mosque itself. Once you entered the threshold of the mosque’s main gate and into the colonnaded, domed courtyard, this is what will you inevitable see. The gentle, majestic cascading domes of the mosque is quintessentially Ottoman Islamic architectural feature. In the middle of the courtyard there is a small Sardivan (A small water fountain, here serves as an ablution fountain) and here in the mosque’s courtyard there are exhibits about Islam in Turkish and English. The mosque actually serves as an Islamic information centre, where visitors who come to visit the monument can also learn about Islam by attending various Islam related talks as well as reading Islamic books given for free and visiting the exhibits.
The interior of the mosque, seen from the front rows of the prayer hall in front of the Mimbar (Pulpit, can be seen here on the right side). All visitors of this grandiose mosque will instinctively gaze heavenwards to the lofty majestic dome as they enter the main prayer hall. The dome seemed to be floating above the worshipers and visitors when in reality it is being held aloft by four thick buttress pillars. The delicate and exquisite blue and red tiles decorating the main hall made the whole scene even more ethereal. One might wonder how the Ottomans can make such beautiful works of art in such a grand sacred space . Below the dome, next to one of the grand buttress pillar is a platform where the muezzin would stand before a prayer and called out the Iqama. This is one of the unique feature of Ottoman mosques, whereas no other mosques in other parts of the Islamic world features the same element.
Some examples of Islamic geometric motives mosaic in the mosque. These could be found in front of the bay windows of the mosques. Some of them were hidden by the prayer carpet but these were the exposed ones in the mosque.