How do you outdo the Hagia Sophia?
Last week I wrote about this stunning building in Istanbul, which began its life as a church, was converted to a mosque, and was finally changed into a museum. But in the 17th century, Sultan Ahmet I was determined to build a mosque that was even more beautiful than the Hagia Sophia. And in a further show of fearlessness, he had it built right next door.
Maybe it was his youth that gave him the fortitude to try. He was only 19 years old when he commissioned the building in 1609. The first architect was executed for a lack of vision, which provided plenty of incentive for his successor. One of the most stunning features of the mosque is the presence of six minarets, or towers, that grace the exterior of the building. Generally, mosques have four or fewer minarets, and it caused some consternation in Mecca, where the holy mosque also had six. To avoid political problems, the sultan sent his architect to Mecca to build that mosque a seventh tower.
The Sultanahmet Mosque (or the Blue Mosque, as it’s commonly known) is still a functioning mosque, and it closes five times a day for prayer. We planned our visit for mid-morning when it was open to the public. When we arrived, we all removed our shoes, and the girls and I covered our heads with scarves as a sign of respect. The interior was incredibly light and airy, probably because of the 260 windows that let in so much light. The intricate tile work was breathtaking: over 20,000 tiles line the walls and ceilings.
Which place of worship is more beautiful? I couldn’t choose a favourite, but I will say this: Istanbul is far richer for being home to both of them.
Thanks to Sacred Destinations, which helped to fill in some of the details I had forgotten.