Mosques of Istanbul

As soon as we had arrived in Istanbul, it was apparent just how many mosques there are all over the city. Hundreds, probably thousands, line the skyline in any given direction. And what’s more, they all seem to carry an incredible amount of history with them. A stark contrast to the very new, glamorous mosque we had seen in Abu Dhabi just the week before.

On our first day in Istanbul, we spent most of the day wandering and ended up at one of the more well known mosques there, the Suleymaniye Mosque. It sits on top of a hill, where it can be seem from all different points around the city.
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It was a huge structure, surrounded by a beautiful green that somehow reminded me of a university campus.Istanbul108

Once we stepped inside the courtyard, we were surrounded by arches.
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And inside, the domes created a cloudlike cover of color and pattern.

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Because images are not allowed in Islamic places of worship, instead of painting murals or frescos, verses from the Koran and the names of the prophets are written in beautiful Arabic calligraphy inside and out.

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Lanterns (now retrofitted with CFL bulbs) hang from long cables attached to the very high ceilings. This allowed the candles to be lit easily from the ground (before electricity was available).Istanbul138

And as we left, we were treated to this incredible view!Istanbul158

The next day we went to visit an even more famous mosque, the Blue Mosque, or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Located right across the park from the Hagia Sophia (which will get its own post very soon!), it is most easily distinguishable from a distance because of it’s 6 minarets. Mosques here usually have only four minarets, but legend has it that there was a misunderstanding and instead of the gold capped minarets the Sultan asked for (the work for gold is “altin”), the architect built him six (“alti”) minarets. Oops! Lucky for him the Sultan liked them.Istanbul301

Inside the courtyard, the scene was very similar to the Suleymaniye Mosque’s courtyard, but boasting taller, wider arches with a more airy feel to them.Istanbul309

Admittedly I expected the inside to be more blue (there were plenty of other colors to accompany the blue details) but it was nonetheless an incredible collection of pattern.Istanbul319

One of the historical facts I find interesting and very apparent in this part of the world is that while Europeans had begun to perfect the human form by way of religious depictions of Jesus, Mary, and other biblical icons, art in Islamic countries was all about color, pattern, and calligraphy (being that they were not using human depictions of important religious figures, but rather their written names). Istanbul324

This makes for some beautiful decorative details. Seeing the way they handled pattern has really made me change the way I think about pattern in general. A few more photos to show you what I mean…Istanbul325 Istanbul333 Istanbul336 Istanbul344 Istanbul345

The reason the Blue Mosque picked up this nickname is because of the amount of Iznik tile used throughout the interior. The tile order for this project was so massive that the Sultan forbade any tiles to be produced for any other purpose until this mosque had been completed. There are over 20,000 of these tiles in the Blue Mosque.Istanbul347 Istanbul348

It was indeed quite a treat to have spent some time inside this mosque, an incredible work of art in its own right.Istanbul351

After a long day of walking all over the city, I caught a glimpse of this tile wall peeking out over a balcony above us as we walked by.Istanbul457

We wandered up the nearby staircase, toward the tile, and discovered the Rustem Pasha Mosque. It was almost hidden, sitting in the middle of a densely built area.

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Inside, we were the only tourists sharing the space with a couple of Islamic worshipers. Some of the details inside were quite different from Suleymaniye and the Blue Mosques, like this wonderful carved and painted wood ceiling detail.Istanbul460

And the decorated dome overhead was just as spectacular, perhaps especially in that it occupied such a small space.
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More so than the Blue Mosque, we felt enveloped in blue Iznik tiles. They were everywhere, covering just about every flat surface from floor to ceiling.Istanbul464

And among the tile, some beautiful marble and painted pattern details.Istanbul468

No surface seemed untouched by decorative detail, not even these ceiling panels. Istanbul472

As the sun was beginning to set, we felt privileged to have happened upon this small, seemingly hidden, spiritual space. We were so tired when we entered the prayer room, feet throbbing from walking all day, and yet this space brought us a surprising sense of peace. It was a wonderful place to rest for a few minutes.Istanbul476

What do you think of all this pattern and detail? Do you like it?

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Istanbul: A Boat Tour On The Bosphorous

I’m so excited to start posting about our trip to Turkey! I’m starting with Istanbul, which was such a cool city, and HUGE! Even being from Los Angeles, Istanbul felt huge. We barely scratched the surface while we were there and we’re already dying to go back!

After arriving early in the morning and walking all over the city on our first day to start getting a lay of the land, we were understandably quite exhausted. But we were so excited to be there we didn’t want to waste a moment of our time in Istanbul! So we decided to take a boat tour on the Bosphorus around sunset. It was so beautiful, and really gave us a sense of just how enormous and widespread this very old city is.

The Bosphorus is the world’s most narrow international waterway, and separates the continents of Europe and Asia. As a city, Istanbul exists in both contents, connected by bridges and boats.

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The port we shoved off from was a busy hub, filled with similar tour boats as well as smaller boats that I would liken to LA’s food trucks; people on very rocky boats cooking up a storm. Fish sandwiches, kabobs; you name it, they had it.Istanbul172

As people were getting settled on the tour boat, one of the people running the tour walked around offering juices and Turkish tea for the equivalent of 50 cents a piece. Turkish tea, served in these little glasses, was a staple of pretty much any meal or social interaction in Turkey, and helped warm us up in the cool breeze coming off the Bosphorus water. Istanbul171

As we started to pull away, we got a great view of Galata Tower on the European side of the city, which was a very important landmark for us as we tried to find our way around the city. (We were renting a Homeaway apartment right next door, so it was so helpful to be able to see Galata Tower from a distance and know whether we were heading in the right direction!)Istanbul190

I love this photo as we pull away from the European side of the city, the Turkish flag flying at the stern of our little ship.Istanbul175

There was a lot of boat activity on the strait. Tug boats, shipping freighters, and of course lots of tours like the one we were on.Istanbul182

The light houses have the same sense of architecture and history as much of the city.
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We made a brief stop at a port on the Asian side. Much like you would expect from any waterside town, homes have been packed in from the water’s edge all the way up the side of the hills and mountains.Istanbul188

This port was a little less busy than ours was, but was still poised to take hundreds of people on tours up and down the waterway.Istanbul180

There were plenty of incredible landmarks and historically significant sites to see all along the water’s edge. This is Dolmabahce Palace. Built roughly around the year 1850, it served as the administrative location of the Ottoman Empire for most of its life.Istanbul198

The Rumelian Castle (Rumelihisari) is a fortress on the European side of the city built by the Ottomans in the 1450’s before the sultan conquered Constantinople.Istanbul203

This was only one of several weddings we could see from the boat tour! Now a Four Seasons hotel, Ciragan Palace was built in the 1860’s and also functioned as an Ottoman palace. Such an extravagant, embellished design on the face of the building!

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Another result of the Ottomans, Kuleli Military High School was Turkey’s first military high school (founded in the 1840’s). Now it’s used by Istanbul Technical University.Istanbul192 Istanbul193

We loved seeing so many different pockets of the city. All over, there seemed to be so many wonderful areas to explore.Istanbul216

We passed under the Bosphorus Bridge right as the sun began to set. This is one of two bridges connecting the European side to the Asian side of the city. At the time it was built, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Istanbul222

As we headed back to where we began, the warm sunset was just beautiful. Our Galata Tower home-away-from-home peeked out in the distance over the city.
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We were able to catch a great view of the Suleymaniye Mosque on our way in too. (We had been there earlier in the day… but more on that in another post!)Istanbul238

There was so much color throughout the city’s architecture, and the colors were really highlighted in the golden hour light.Istanbul242

Just before we docked, we noticed a huge array of seafood restaurants underneath the very bridge we had walked over earlier in the day. There were so many options, I don’t know how you would even begin to choose one!
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After the tour and a quick dinner, and as we made our way back through the crowds and toward the bridge that would take us home, the area seemed to come alive in the darkness. Street food vendors were everywhere, and the bright lights sparked our curiosity at the very least. Istanbul259

There were even people selling t-shirts and clothing along the pavement.Istanbul263We encountered several mobile street vendors on our way home. We definitely got a sense that there is a huge amount of activity in this city after dark!

Overall, the boat tour was a great way to get a broader sense of what Istanbul is really like as a city. When I look at a map and what we were able to do on foot, I realize how very little of the city we were able to visit (even though it felt like we REALLY packed in the sites!) I was grateful for this view of the city, which gave me a much more accurate idea of the scope of it!

Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque

While in Abu Dhabi, we took some time to visit the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi’s grand mosque. This was the first mosque I had been to, and quite an extravagant one for me to make my introduction with. (This mosque is worlds away from the seemingly ancient mosques we visited in Istanbul the following week.) As I mentioned earlier this week, Sheikh Zayed was the president of the Emirates and the beloved leader who was responsible for the oil lease arrangement that ensured the wealth of their country and its natives. This enormous structure is a striking symbol of both that extreme wealth and of their dedication to the Muslim religion.

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This mosque is the source of the daily prayer for the entire city. Unlike the centuries-old mosques of Istanbul, which seemed to almost compete for your attention, in Abu Dhabi the call to prayer is broadcast out to all of the surrounding mosques in one unified declaration.

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The outside of the mosque features pools of water meant to shows the mosque’s own reflection when lit up at night.

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The floors and columns throughout are climbing with vines of inlaid stone floral designs. An incredible variety of stones  were used for these designs, and they are the most colorful ornamentation on the grounds.

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Gold leaf is also used in detailing and on columns, highlighting the opulence of all the materials used.

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When you first walk into the lobby area, before entering the courtyard, you immediately begin to get a sense of the scale of this enormous place, with high ceilings and the even higher inset undersides of the domes. Each dome is ornamented like lace, and each seems to be of a different design than the last.

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A little bit of a precursor to our trip to Istanbul, there were also a couple walls of Iznik tile designs. We would be seeing lots and lots of this in Turkey!

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Even the ablution room (where worshipers go to wash their hands and feet before prayer) is an incredible place, built almost entirely of green marble.

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The entire structure is constructed of white marble. Between the marble and the bright, hot sun, when you enter into the courtyard you feel like you might be in a glowing white dream world.

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There is an incredible amount of detail carved into the marble, again in the form of these beautiful, lace-like vines.

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Each dome is topped with a crescent moon, an important symbol for Islam.

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The lobby at the entrance to the prayer room boasted a different kind of design. Almost a combination of the inlaid stones and the carved white marble, these flowery vines used the same tremendous variety of stones but were embossed rather than inlaid.

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The chandeliers throughout use Swarovski crystals, including this one in the lobby, and were surrounded by even more elaborate ornamentation.

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You are greeted by more gilt gold as you enter the prayer room.

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The grand mosque’s prayer room is large enough to house 40,000 worshipers at a time.

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Upon entering the room, the first thing you will notice is the giant Swarovski crystal chandelier, estimated to be the third largest chandelier in the world. It’s also surrounded by a tremendous amount of beautiful ornamentation, some carved and some inlaid.

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It seems that little goes untouched by ornamentation here. Inlaid mother of pearl, carved marble, and gilt gold details can be seen throughout.

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Not even the wood elements, like the carts that hold copies of the Quran for worshipers or the wood panels that line the room, are free of this incredible detail and craftsmanship.

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The wall opposite of the entrance is not only peppered with the names of the profits (written in Arabic), but the detail around them glows from daylight being subtly let in from the outside through the vine-like designs.

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The carpet that lines the floor in the prayer room is the world’s largest carpet, handmade by more than a thousand people. It is one piece that covers the entire floor, and is even made to perfectly fit around the flower-petal column bases.

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The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is otherworldly, a sight I am so glad we took time to experience while we were there. A product of architects and designers from around the world, the craftsmanship is impeccable and the use of materials and ornamentation seems to be of another era altogether. It’s hard to imagine this was just recently built (in 2004). It’s such an integral part of the Abu Dhabi horizon, it seems that it should have been there forever.

What are your thoughts on the ornamentation and inlay?

This Week I Loved… Travel Edition: United Arab Emirates

(aka This Week in the UAE We Hope To Have Seen…)

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (Photo Credit – http://visitabudhabi.ae)

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UAE Pavilion (Photo Credit – http://www.constructionweekonline.com)

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Emirates Palace (Photo Credit – http://commons.wikimedia.org)

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The Arabian Desert (Photo Credit – http://www.nature.com)

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The Burj Khalifa (Photo Credit – http://architecture.about.com)

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Ferrari World (Photo Credit – http://www.bestdubaiholidays.com)

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Sunset Yoga (Photo Credit – http://www.timeoutabudhabi.com)

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Next week we’ll be moving on to Turkey! Stay tuned to follow us along on our journey.