Our first stop of the day was the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque is just a short walk from our hotel; however, this short distance seemed much longer in today's cold and rainy weather. Nonetheless, we all opened our umbrellas and braced ourselves for another day of adventure.
Sultan Ahmet I commisioned the Blue Mosque to be built between the years 1609-1616 by Mehmet Aga. Its name comes from the 21,000 ornate blue tiles that are found decorating its walls and ceiling. Turkey is quite famous for these beautiful blue tiles. In fact, the color Turquois was actually named by the French because of the prevelence of this beautiful shade of blue found on Turkey's tiles. Besides the beautiful tiles, the Blue Mosque is also ornately decorated with Arabic inscriptions. It notably has six minarets, two more than most mosques, as Sultan Ahmed I was the Ottoman Empire's sixth sultan. While the Blue Mosque has a central dome like many other mosques, Mike pointed out that the pillars holding its dome are not as well hidden as they are in other mosques, like the Suleymaniye Mosque.
After the Blue Mosque, we happily boarded our bus to escape the rain and headed to the Suleymaniye Mosque. We have read about the architecture of the Suleymaniye Mosque in our class reader, and so I think many of us were excited to see its splendor in reality.
The Suleymaniye Mosque was built by Sinan, one of the Ottoman Empire's greatest architects, in the years 1550-1557. Interestingly enough, both the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque were built in seven years to refelct the Islamic belief that the world was created in six days and God, or Allah, rested on the seventh. The Suleymaniye Mosque was built and named for Suleyman the Magnificent; however, it is as much a tribute to Sinan's brilliance as an architect as it is to Suleyman's percieved "magnificence." As opposed to the Blue Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque is decorated with tiles, marble, and stained glass. It is known to have the best acoustics of any mosque in Istanbul thanks to the detailed efforts of Sinan.
While we all missed Saba and hope he is on his way to a speedy recovery, it was interesting to hear a different tour guide's perspective on the mosques. Atakan gave us a very detailed description of Islam, discussing the five pillars, the different branches, and the ways in which Muslims use mosques to worship. He also discussed some controversial ideas, such as veiling, the separation of men and women during prayer, and the perceived "radicalization" of some Muslims. Atakan then talked about Islam in the context of Turkey's secular nature and current political climate of the nation. Overall, it was very interesting to hear his perspective on Islam and Turkey's relation to the religion.
To our surprise, Mike and Lynn decided to treat us all to a nice lunch of apple tea and mezes, or Turkish appetizers. These included a cheese plate, a selection of dips, some stuffed vegetables, and a shrimp dish. It was delicious! Over lunch we discussed what we had read last night and what we saw today. We talked some about identity and religion, especially in regard to how we decide who is "us" and who is "other." We also talked about the different interpretations of Islam and the story that Turkey and its people want to tell us about Islam.
After lunch, we were in for another surprise. The restaurant where we ate was built on top of an old Roman palace. We got to go downstairs and explore the ruins that were hiding just below our feet during our meal. This is just one of the many hidden wonders that Istanbul houses in its historically and culturally rich environment.
After a morning full of exploring, intellectual discussion, yummy food, and crazy weather, we all walked back to our hotel in the snow to hibernate for the afternoon.