The sun started setting behind the Blue Sultan Ahmet Mosque, as soon as I exited the doors of grand Hagia Sophia. This has to go down as one of my most memorable moments as I stood between some of the world’s most astonishing monuments, admiring the golden hues being casted on the high walls.
This religious edifice, is in fact considered as the 8th Marvel of the World and is unquestionably unique. Nonetheless, its interiors are somehow confusing; whilst I was trying to take a few shots, I questioned whether it is a church or a mosque. A fellow tourist, who seemed to be following my steps around Istanbul’s Old District, told me that it has both Christian Orthodox and Islamic influences. Its construction, dating back to the Byzantine Empire; (The Age of the Roman Empire in the East,) managed to survive the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and continued its rule for an additional thousand years with this Holy Church of Wisdom standing proudly on the highest point in the city centre. It was only in 1453 that it was eventually converted into a mosque, when this long lasting realm was then conquered and defeated by the Ottoman Empire. In 1935, it was then converted into the museum as we know it today.
Since its architectural style and interiors are quite perplexing, it is recommended to go through a brief historical guide prior to the visit. This helps visitors get a better understanding of these long lost empires, and to unravel the historic facts behind these exceptional details.
From Byzantine rulers, to Ottoman sultans, towards the transition into the Turkish Republic, not forgetting the neighbourhoods of Jews and Armenians, Istanbul has ever since gained its title as ‘a melting pot of cultures’. However, this religious and cultural diversity is not only reflected in city’s monuments, but in the whole city’s atmosphere in general. In fact, the various influences are also revealed tastefully in the local fine cuisine, as well as in the street food culture.
The Blue Sultan Ahmet Mosque, is by no means less significant than the older relics, and is also frequented by locals during daily prayer times. Its construction was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I, back in the 17th century, who was meant to reassert Ottoman power after the crushing loss against Persia. Its uniqueness mostly lies in its interiors as this mosque is incredibly lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles produced in Iznik city (the ancient Nicaea), in more than fifty different tulip designs. An impressive chandelier hangs right at the centre, above the red velvet carpets where devotees sit during prayer time. The upper levels of the mosque’s interior are dominated by blue paint, hence its most common name; The Blue Mosque, where more than 200 stained glass windows with intricate designs can be spotted.
Despite its grandeur and opulence, this must be one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited. The prayers whispered in the background make the whole experience even more engaging as you are truly able to absorb the energy when sitting down under the big marble columns.
As I was making my way back to the hotel during a particular evening , I got lost walking in and out of the shops with the thousands of coloured glass lamps hanging down from the ceilings just like precious gems. The oriental carpets adorning the floor and the genie in a bottle style lamps, seriously made me feel like walking into one of the ‘Arabian Nights’ tales.
There are many areas in Istanbul where one can choose to stay. The Golden Horn and Galata areas are ideal for those looking to experience an excellent nightlife and the typical bars of the city. My main interest was the historical area – the Sultanahmet district resulted as the perfect spot. There is a vast selection of accommodation to choose from, starting from budget hostels to the most exclusive boutique hotels with exquisite interiors.
Nonetheless, it is important to mention that only up until a few centuries ago, tourism was still relatively unknown to this city, except for some hippie backpackers who enjoyed crossing through, towards their route to Middle East.
For those, who unlike me do not get easily beaten by a full day of sightseeing, as night falls, there is no better place to be than at the waterfront, right on the Bosphorus strait. Where else, to admire the shore of this beautiful city between two continents; where the west meets the east.
I must admit, at first I felt quite uneasy being in Istanbul; right in the same square where just a year ago buildings rattled, and people lost their lives to one of the most dreadful terror acts ever. Even though in the last few years the city has experienced frequent waves of extremist acts which left the whole world shocked, at present, it seems that Istanbul’s state has been restored, with hundreds of tourists roaming its streets once again.
It was time to leave this delightful place – home of tulips and of Sultans’ tales and legends. Whilst I was waiting for my airport transfer at the hotel’s lobby, my eyes fell on some delicious Turkish sweets which were accompanied by a scroll. It recounts a vivid tale evoking an old princess story, or perhaps history?
“It is in the midst of the tulip madness, back in April 1728, Sultan Ahmed III’s beautiful daughter Zeynep Sultana is only fifteen. She is stretched out on the blue satin sofa, framed by abundant bouquets of tulips. It’s her most important day, where she is to be married to Mustafa Pasha. She is adorned with beautiful clothing and jewellery. Her earrings resemble the shape of the flowers surrounding. The wedding was grand and lavish and their future even brighter.”
This tale left me completely stunned, adding onto my fondness towards this breathtaking metropolis. Absolutely distinct, and unlike any other city I have ever been.
© 2018 – VIDA Magazine – Mandy Farrugia