Friday, April 18, 2014

Istanbul, Turkey: Hippodrome, Blue Mosque & Süleymaniye Mosque

Actual date of this event: 2-7 April

A visit to Istanbul isn't complete if you don't visit a mosque (double negative??). Luke and I chose to visit two mosques during our five day visit - Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Süleymaniye Mosque. This was a brand new experience for us, so we weren't sure what to expect. Note: I apologize for so many pictures!
{The Blue Mosque}
Mosques have specific prayer times during the day which happen to change from day to day. After doing research for the days we would be in Istanbul, I determined the best time to visit the mosques were between 9am and 12pm. We ended up walking all the way from Taksim Square to the Blue Mosque (2.7mi) which took an hour, but we were both really excited that it didn't matter (and it helped we had coffee in our hands the whole way there)! We arrived around 10am, and visited the Hippodrome first, which is next to the Blue Mosque.
The Hippodrome was the venue for the chariot races during the time of the Byzantine Empire. At that time, the arena was highly decorated, but today only a few obelisks still stand - Rough-Stone Obelisk, Spiral Column, and Obelisk of Theodius. In 1901, the German Emperor presented the Kaiser Wilhelm fountain which sits at the northern end of the Hippodrome.

The sun was low since it was early so we got some really nice pictures of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka The Blue Mosque) before we went in to visit. Notice that the Blue Mosque has six minarets - more than any other mosque in Istanbul.
We entered the courtyard which was big and open. Apparently, the courtyard is the same size as the actual mosque and the biggest of all of the Ottoman mosques. The courtyard had some posters with information displaying some history of the Muslim religion and the prophet Muhammed.

It was time for us to enter, so we followed the signs to the visitors entrance because only worshippers can enter through the center doors. Even though I had already done the research on the appropriate clothing to wear in a mosque, signs were posted for those who had not. Women must cover their hair with a scarf, and no shorts are allowed. I saw several women who were wearing bottoms that were "too tight" so the attendants at the door wrapped a shawl around them. Lastly, you must take your shoes off. It was very easy to do all of this as there was a small room just inside for you to prepare.

The one thing that really stood to me in its interior were all of the lights. Due to so many lights, loads of wires hung from the ceilings - something I had never seen before. Once I got passed the wires, I could see the rest of the interior. The central prayer area was very large, and 260 windows let in light. The blue tiles are the reason for its nickname.

After visiting the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, we visited the bazaars which I will talk about in a later post, but then went on to visit our second mosque - Süleymaniye Mosque. The mosque sits high up on a hill, so it seems to tower over the city! We saw it while on our bus ride from the airport, and both of us were thinking, "That thing is HUGE!!!" (hehe) When right up next to it, it was impossible to get a picture of the whole thing because walls surrounded it. Inside the walls and toward the back, we found a cemetery which is where the tomb of Suleyman and his wife are.

The tulips were in full bloom during our time in Istanbul. Two large patches sat outside of the courtyard, but little did we know we had way more tulips than this to photographs later on (at Topkapi Palace).

I prepared myself again for entering the mosque, but this time, visitors were able to enter through the center doors. I assume the Süleymaniye Mosque isn't as popular to visit as the Blue Mosque which is why were allowed to enter through these doors. Luke and I both agreed that we liked this mosque better than the Blue Mosque. Its interior was very crisp, clean, and very bright. It looked brand new, so maybe it had recently been restored?? The dome is almost as large as the Hagia Sophia's dome (more on that later).

When we left the mosque, we walked around the side where we got a nice little view toward the Bosphorus. It was a beautiful day, so we sat for a few minutes int he sun to while determining our next stop (which is when we went to Galata Tower).

Later on in our trip, Luke and I were chilling on a rooftop terrace with a great view of the Hagia Sophia (although we were not fond of the people that worked at this place). We saw in the distance a few other rooftop terraces, so we headed that way for views of the Blue Mosque. While we paid quite a bit for a few beers, the view was amazing! We were right next to the Blue Mosque, and we also looked out over the Marmara Sea. It was prayer time again, so while having our few beers, we listened to the prayer call for a few minutes (see video). Magnificent moment!!

It's so easy to have a good time in Istanbul!

Other posts from Istanbul: Galata TowerBeyoğluThe MosquesHagia Sophia & Basilica CisternTopkapi PalaceThe Bazaars & Galata BridgeKariye Museum & Theodosian WallBosphorus & Golden HornKadıköy

The current windows in the Blue Mosque are replacements, but the original stain glass windows were from Venice, Italy.

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