The Sultan Ahmed “Blue” Mosque is an incredibly large and complex structure, especially when one considers that it was built in the early 17th Century. Up to 10,000 worshipers can gather under its multi-domed roof.
And note the extensive use of early 17th Century electric lighting throughout! Just kidding. That stuff wasn’t added until a little while later, I’m sure.
We’re about to leave behind the Blue Mosque for a building with an even more impressive history, at least in my view. So before we proceed on our short five-minute stroll to the northeast, let’s take a last look at two of those six minarets:
After touring the grounds around the Blue Mosque and traversing the Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Park (Sultan Ahmed Archaeological Park), we arrived at Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia has a very complex and fascinating history. Since its completion in 573, Hagia Sophia has been a Christian cathedral (1054), a Greek Orthodox Cathedral (from 1054 to 1204), a Roman Catholic cathedral (1204 to 1261), yet again a Greek Orthodox cathedral (1261 to 1453), and finally an Ottoman imperial mosque until its conversion into a museum in 1935.
One would think following conversion to an Islamic place of worship that vestiges of Hagia Sophia’s Christian beginnings would have been purged. Not so. Although the fall of Constantinople, as Istanbul was then known, was accompanied by a brutal treatment of the conquered, many of the church’s Christian mosaics and decorations remained, and later steps were taken to carefully preserve them with the restorations of 1717 and 1847.
I would like to take a moment to discuss the people of Istanbul . . . and many other Islamic nations I’ve visited over the years. Almost without exception I’ve found the Muslim citizens of these countries to be incredibly friendly and helpful. For instance, when Ursula and I visited Egypt with our two young daughters in 1984, an elderly gentleman inquired as to our country of origin. When we replied that we were from the United States, his eyes lit up and he promptly invited us to lunch . . . his treat! Below is a photo of Ursula with a citizen of Istanbul who, upon hearing us speak, asked if he might act as a guide for a tour of the Blue Mosque. Think a resident of Istanbul would receive similar treatment while visiting, say, New York City? Neither do I.
The “secret” to such experiences with locals, no matter where you go, isn’t really much of a secret. Treat people with respect. Don’t verbally make apples-to-oranges comparisons between your country and destination you are touring. Be open to new experiences, from culture to cuisine. Don’t be flashy, ostentatious, or boisterous. In other words, don’t be The Ugly American.