Wednesday, May 14, 2014
The Blue Mosque
As a single traveler, I use my IPod to an advantage when confronted by boundary-crossing vendors. I either keep singing, ignore them, or speak loudly. They are perplexed when I say loudly, “Can I help you? Do you need a taxi? Do you need directions?” They are so used to throwing tourists into an uncomfortable area that I am able to get to them first and have some fun at the same time.
My first night in Istanbul was a bit rushed. The Hagia Sophia was closing and would be closed on Mondays so I scooted over to the Blue Mosque, which is still operative as a house of prayer. It is quite an imposing structure at one end of the Hippodrome where monuments and obelisks are erected to show military conquests.
The cascading domes and six slender minarets of the Sultanahmet Mosque (better known as the "Blue Mosque") dominate the skyline of Istanbul. In the 17th century, Sultan Ahmet I wished to build an Islamic place of worship that would be even better than the Hagia Sophia, and the mosque named for him is the result. The two great architectural achievements now stand next to each other in Istanbul's main square, and it is up to visitors to decide which is more impressive.
The Blue Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I when he was only 19 years old. It was built near the Hagia Sophia, over the site of the ancient hippodrome and Byzantine imperial palace . Construction work began in 1609 and took seven years.
The mosque was designed by architect Mehmet Aga, whose unfortunate predecessor was found wanting and executed. Sultan Ahmet was so anxious for his magnificent creation to be completed that he often assisted in the work. Sadly, he died just a year after the completion of his masterpiece, at the age of 27. He is buried outside the mosque with his wife and three sons.
The original mosque complex included a madrasa, a hospital, a han, a primary school, a market, an imaret and the tomb of the founder. Most of these buildings were torn down in the 19th century.
I decided to eat healthy on this trip as I planned on walking a great deal. Restaurants are everywhere with very healthy looking food. They appear to be great Turkish delights. The food appears fresh and it is not as heavy with oils as Arabic food is.
Turks are not Arabs. In fact, they do not like Arabs at all. It does not take long for that sentiment to spill forth from the mouths of Turks. Turks consider themselves modern and clean; Of course, they do like individual Arabs, but overall, they have great disdain for a variety of reasons.
Istanbul has a population on 17 millions with 9 million on the European side and 6 million on the less developed Asian side; Ankara, the next largest city has 7 million; the rest of the country inclusive 77 million. It is quite diverse.
Drivers obey traffic signs well. They drive excellently, but the roads are congested because of the enormous population. They are respectful when smoking and they seem to realize smoking is a health hazard and annoyance to non-smokers. It prides itself on being a cosmopolitan city and it thinks of its citizens vey well. They consider themselves polite, tolerant, and patient, while they make sure to point out that some aggressive vendors are simply trying to take money from wealthy tourists. It is European and Asian at the same time – an exciting blend.
Every street corner is beautiful and the end of one road opens up to another beautifully decorated street. Every street leads to another beautiful spot. No trash can be found on ground. There are even dispensers for cigarettes.
Great diversification in shops can be found. Parks are great for relaxation and pleasure. People are well groomed, well dressed, and handsome. They have an ease about them. Few wear birkas, hijabs, or other coverings. When you do see those coverings, it is usually from tourists. It is easy to be a single traveler here. If I were to live here, I could leave the language fairly easily because it is a European script. It caters to so many Europeans because it almost considers itself European. Many German and Slavic speakers are here and it is a beautiful blend of cultures.
As I retired for the night, I turned on the television. The portrayal of Catholics on television is very light. Many are depicted as fundamentalists who pray all day long. It is quite a comforting, clean image, yet it does not carry about the seriousness that being Catholic is all about. There are few English language channels – three that I could find.