Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Blue Mosque and the Hippodrome

After leaving the Chora Museum, our bus drove us across town (through the ancient wall that used to surround the city and past the Roman aqueducts) to the Blue Mosque. While walking to the Mosque, we passed through the Hippodrome of Constantinople. The Hippodrome was a large racing-track (horse and chariot) when Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

In the center of the Hippodrome is the Obelisk of Theodosius. It was originally erected in 357 AD in Alexandria, Egypt and was later moved to the Hippodrome in Constantinople in 390 AD by Theodosius I.

It was originally 30m tall,but the lower part was damaged in antiquity, probably during its transport or re-erection, and so the obelisk is today only 18.54m. Between the four corners of the obelisk and the pedestal are four bronze cubes, used in its transportation and re-erection. Each of its four faces has a single central column of inscription, celebrating Tutmoses III's victory on the banks of the Euphrates in 1450 BC.

But enough of the history. The thing is massive. And amazingly beautiful. It's pure white and the carvings are extremely detailed. Don't be believe me? Check it out.

Next in the Hippodrome is the Serpent Column. Which has one of the coolest stories EVER.

Remember the movie 300? It was all about the Persian army invading Greece and the Spartans fighting back. Turns out, the Greeks won. And they melted down the shields and weapons of all the Persians they defeated and cast them into a huge bronze spiral column in the 5th century BC. And that column was then erected in the Hippodrome. Awesomeness.

So, now we come to the Blue Mosque.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) is the national mosque of Turkey, and is a historical mosque in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and the capital of the Ottoman Empire (from 1453 to 1923). The mosque is one of several mosques known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrash and a hospice. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque has become one of the greatest tourist attractions of Istanbul.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of the two mosques in Turkey that has six minarets, the other is in Adana. When the number of minarets was revealed, the Sultan was criticized for presumption, since this was, at the time, the same number as at the mosque of the Ka'aba in Mecca. He overcame this problem by paying for a seventh minaret at the Mecca mosque.

Prior to entering the mosque, we were told that we all looked ok (shoulders and upper legs covered), but we would be expected to take our shoes off. Our tour guide specifically told us that we would not need to cover our heads. She then distributed these nifty plastic bags from Carnival so we would have someplace to hold our shoes as we walked around the mosque. As she was handing them out, I swear to god, one old lady asked, "is this bag to put over our heads?"

I'll just let that one sink in for a moment.

When we stepped inside the mosque, I was first extremely surprised by the plushness of the carpet. Of course, if everyone is running around without shoes, it would kind of need to be. The next thing that surprised me, was how small the inside of the mosque seemed. Of course it was still several stories high, and we were only allowed in a small area, but it was surprisingly intimate. And with the thick carpets and the blue tile everywhere, it felt warm and comforting, more so than any other house of worship we had visited during our vacation.

The mosque contains over 20.000 handmade ceramic tiles and more than 200 stained glass windows. If you look at the third picture above, you can see how on the large column on the right there are tiny squares. Each one is a single hand-painted tile.

So, in short, the Blue Mosque rocks. I would have loved to take a full tour of it and hear all the history, but we were on a schedule and many more places to visit before the day was through! Coming up tomorrow: The Topkapi Palace.

And now apropos of nothing: why the hell am I craving Rice Crispies all of a sudden? Like every night before bed, I want nothing more than a bowl of Rice Crispies. WEIRD. But in other news, I have managed to resist the siren call of my Halloween candy. I'm giving myself Friday to pig-out, but until then I am being a good girl.

1 comment:

sultanahmet said...

Great pics.
Thanks for sharing.
We want to go Istanbul to.