Jewel of Istanbul: The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque of Istanbul (also called the Sultanahmet Mosque) was commissioned in the early 17th century by the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed. With five main domes, six minarets and eight secondary domes, its design is the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development, incorporating Byzantine elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia and traditional Islamic architecture. Designed to outshine all other mosques in the city in size and splendor, it is considered as the last of the great mosque of the classical period.

Worshippers, pilgrims and tourists come here in their millions each year to gaze in wonderment at the domes and the sparkling light and color inside (particularly, the blue of its interior). Unlike classical European architecture, no images of any creatures -real or mythical adorn the Blue Mosque in accordance with Islamic custom; instead the walls are alive with ornate patterns, plants and flowers intertwining in the vivid glaze of the ceramic tiles. There are, however, plenty of Islamic calligraphy; indeed they are some of the most extraordinary examples of monumental calligraphy to be found anywhere in the world, so much so that a visitor can almost feel the mosque was built as a running script enshrined in stone – writing at its most powerful in every sense.

As one enters the building, one sees a quotation above the door which hints that you are about to enter a very special place. Inside, more Quranic calligraphy guides the thoughts of the faithful, reminding them that it is Allah who supports the heavens and the earth. As you leave the complex, via the doors of the courtyard, and go back into the day-to-day world, there is another message, which says you should take with you the state of purity that you have gained inside, through prayer. It is as if there is a written program here telling you how to experience the building and be the better for it.

The splendid Sultanahmet or Blue Mosque overlooking the Marmara Sea, Istanbul, Turkey.
The magnificent arabesque blue tiles that adorn the Blue Mosque.
The elegant calligraphy, which decorates one of the expansive domes of the Blue Mosque. Barely readable because they are positioned so high, the decorations make the point that writing is not always intended to be read. It can be symbolic in the way art often is. Islamic calligraphy is nothing less than an attempt to represent the divine in visual form, though not as human. It puts God on display as his word. It is God revealed in sublime writing.

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