Today was full of fascinating information about mosques, stories about the architect Sinan and the Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, and a whole lot of walking! We started the day by taking a short walk to the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque was constructed for Sultan Ahmed, the sixth sultan of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, the Blue Mosque is characterized by six minarets-representing the fact that Ahmed was the sixth sultan. The mosque was built from 1609 to 1616 in an effort to give the city something by which to remember the young sultan. The mosque is very large, but it is not the biggest one in Turkey or even in Istanbul! From the floor to the tip of the dome, the mosque stands about 130 feet tall, and is about 70 feet wide.
When we walked in we were immediately surrounded by thousands of beautiful blue tiles: 21,043 of them, to be exact. These tiles are called Iznik tiles, after the city in which they were made. The tiles, when they were in production, were only made for the sultans, and no one else was allowed to own one. This makes the Blue Mosque special, because it is covered in Iznik tiles dedicated to Sultan Ahmed. Because of the special way that the tiles were made, they still gleam in the light and appear as though they were only recently painted.
We also learned that the Blue Mosque intentionally competed with the Hagia Sofia, which is right across from the Blue Mosque. While the Roman-constructed Hagia Sofia had mosaics when it functioned as a church, the Ottoman-constructed Blue Mosque is covered in blue tiles (blue being a color used to connect the east and the west). The Ottomans wanted to be able to prove that they were able to build their own grand structures instead of always converting Roman churches into mosques for Ottoman purposes. I think we all agree that the Ottomans accomplished this goal--the Blue Mosque is simply fascinating!
We then took a 40 minute walk across town. The walk was well worth it, though, because it led us to the Suleymaniye Mosque, the largest mosque in Istanbul. Standing at about 150 feet from floor to dome and about 80 feet wide, it is truly amazing. The mosque is dedicated to Suleyman the Magnificent, one of the most powerful sultans of the Ottoman Empire. It was built by Sinan, an architect who built 300 mosques during his career, from 1550 to 1557. The mosque is in an area called a kulliye, which is an area with a mosque, hospital, school, bazaar, and Turkish bath. The area supports the mosque financially, since the state does not contribute money to mosques.
The inside of the Suleymaniye Mosque had a different feel than that of the Blue Mosque. It was much more peaceful and serene, probably in part because there were not Iznik tiles covering the walls. While there were a few tiles, the Suleymaniye Mosque was much simpler in decor. One important feature in this mosque is that its "elephant feet," which are huge pillars used to support the dome, were blended well with the walls. This is good because it gives the impression that there is only one room, which symbolizes the belief that there is one God. Symmetry is also important in the Suleymaniye Mosque because it creates a harmonious environment in which one can pray.
We quickly realized that the architect, Sinan, was a genius. In the Suleymaniye Mosque (as in other mosques), oil lamps were used to illuminate the room before light bulbs. Sinan took advantage of the air circulation in the room and collected the smoke from the lamps in an area called the smoke room. Because the smoke was collected here, he could recycle it and use it to make the black paint used in some of the calligraphy in the mosque. It was so incredible learning about his architectural techniques!
Our visit to the mosques today was a wonderful experience in which we not only got to feel and absorb the atmosphere of mosques, but also got to see the connections between the east and the west and the history and importance behind these buildings.