When Jim and I recently travelled in Turkey, I was struck by the way it sounded. I wrote about how I love and miss the hypnotic effect of the muezzins’ calls to prayer. They echoed across Istanbul from hundreds of mosques’ minarets daily. It was beautiful.
I also loved actually going inside some of Istanbul’s many mosques. Religion is a huge part of the history and culture of Turkey, and there’s no better way to appreciate it then by checking out one of their places of worship, especially Sultan Ahmed’s Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) — also known as the Blue Mosque.
Here are four more reasons mosques are definitely worth a visit:
1. They’re beautiful: mosques can look pretty different from country to country, but within Istanbul most mosques have a distinctly Ottoman flare that was inspired in part by their earlier Byzantine counterparts, specifically the Hagia Sophia. The exteriors are characterized by a series of multi-layered domes and arches, and the interiors are covered in intricate tiled mosaic and fresco designs.
2. They’re filled with history: A lot of the mosques we saw were named after the people who built them, providing insight into the powers at play when they were constructed. The Yeni Valide Sultan Cami (New Queen Mother Mosque) is a good example: It sits on the edge of the Golden Horn and is known simply as the New Mosque. It was named the Queen Mother after the Sultan Mehmed’s mother who commissioned it. The Ottomans began construction on it in 1597 and finally finished in 1663, after a tumultuous history that included various changes of political power within the ruling family, the death of the architect, and the Great Fire of Istanbul.
3. They provide shelter from the elements: When we visited Istanbul in January, it was cold — like snow-on-the-palm trees cold. And we took any chance we could to warm up. Sometimes that meant getting a quick cup of salep on the go. Other times it meant ducking into a mosque for some quick shelter from the elements.
For example, we waited out one quick storm by stepping into the Süleyman the Magnificent’s Mosque.
4. They’re free: Unlike many churches in Western Europe that now charge fees, all the mosques we visited, including the famed Blue Mosque, were free. It’s a perfect way to get a little bit of the local culture for the budget-minded traveler.
— Laura Rowley