Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey

The density of mosques on the ground in Sultanahmet reminds me of a poem I memorized bits of a few years ago by Bob Hicok which has a line, “When I go back to Michigan I drive through Ohio. //There is off I-75 in Ohio a mosque, so life // goes corn corn corn mosque, I wave at Islam.”  Here its the reverse.  So life goes mosque  mosque mosque bazaar.  I still wave at Islam.  Of course that density is for good reason, in the Ottoman days this was a densely populated area.  People needed to attend prayer five times a day and they needed to be able to hear the Muezzin without benefit of sound systems and electronics.  A new mosque should be planned at the edge of sound range from the previous one.  And then some of them were more ceremonial, or to commemorate specific events or people.  In any case, walking through Sultanahmet means walking past, or through, many beautiful Ottoman mosques and I have collected quite a number of them in my tourist peregrinations.

This first, is the first I visited in Istanbul (or anywhere, actually – I’d never been in a Mosque before I came here.  The Rüstem Pasha Mosque is a tiny jewel box designed by Sinan (you’ve already read about him, jump back) for the son in law of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, see my post on the neighborhood of Fatih for several other mosques by Sinan for Suleiman.  This is not the most visited mosque in Sultanahmet or even on the list thereof – its reached by ducking under an unlabled stone arch in a market street and following a winding stone stair up to a small but lovely portico.  The whole mosque is on a second story level and sits above a busy market place owned by the mosque as part of its endowment.  This is a common strategy for Islamic holy places (no moneylenders being kicked out of the church there) – to link market places and mosques – all the aspects of daily public life but this particular example makes that connection more clear.  The religious space literally exists on a higher plane from the more mundane aspect of buying and selling.

So here are images of both the bazaar adjacent to the Rustem Pasha and of the somewhat nearby Grand Bazaar.  I took less photos of these crowded shopping areas even though they were visually amazing because I hated to get my camera out and put a neon TOURIST sign over my head.  Also, many of the ones I did take were blurry – thanks to low light and jostling crowds  but this will give you some sense of the scene.

The New Mosque (which always makes me think of Oxford’s New College) was finished in 1597 as opposed to being built in the first rush of construction right after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

The Blue Mosque, more properly known as the Sultan Amhed mosque stands across the center of the old Roman hippodrome and next to the Hagia Sophia.  Its enormous and highly trafficked and I wish I’d followed Ozayr’s advice to visit it for the first prayer of the day at 5:30 to see it uncrowded.  On the other hand they no longer let people into the upper balcony so women pray in little gated off areas at the back which are not exactly picturesque.  My main impression of the space was enormity and crowds.  But it is a beautiful space.

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