Well, its been a busy couple of weeks, but I think I've found some balance with my new evening classes and everything else. I'll try to keep updating this more regularly again from now on!
Richie and I finally made it inside the Blue Mosque a couple of weeks ago and it was amazing and very beautiful. Sadly, the camera battery died during our visit, so I didn't get to take all the pictures I wanted to. I'll have to go again sometime to really have a proper photo shoot. Here are a few though, to give an idea of what it's like.
The inside of the mosque was so impressive. It is made of huge domes, supported by other huge domes and arches. There is beautiful, brightly coloured tile work, with blues and reds in floral or geometric patterns. The arches are decorated with some similar designs or with extremely artistic calligraphy, which was considered to be one of the highest forms of art in the Muslim world, since Islam doesn't allow pictures of God or saints, as they are considered forms of idolatry.
The mosques open and spacious feeling is enhanced by the fact that there are no seats or pews for people to sit. The floor is carpeted and Muslims say their prayers while standing and prostrating in the direction of Mecca, so seating is not a necessity. Another interesting feature of the mosque is the separate women's area. It is in the back of the mosque, separated from the rest of the space by a little half-wall, and this is where the women say their prayers.
I have to say I found it strange to be in such a beautiful place, where people were praying and hundreds of tourists were wandering around taking pictures of everything. I was one of those tourists, but I always feel strange taking photos in someone's holy space. I was also surprised by the lack of cultural sensitivity many of the visitors to the mosque exhibited. When entering a mosque, proper etiquette is to remove your shoes and women are expected to wear long skirts or trousers and to cover their heads with a scarf. For me, this isn't a big deal. You remove your shoes because the mosque is a holy place and also because this is what Turkish people do in their homes. The world is a dirty place, and they make a point not to drag in the dirt and filth of the street into the home or mosque. Seems logical to me. Also, since Muslims pray while kneeling on the floor, it also makes sense that you wouldn't want to get your 'Friday best' dirty while praying. As for head scarves, women in Western Europe and America used to wear hats or scarves in church, and in some places they still do, so it doesn't seem like a big problem to cover ones head for twenty minutes while visiting a mosque.
I was really surprised though that so many foreign women were not wearing scarves while visiting the mosque. It reminds me of conversations I've taken part in or over heard where Europeans and Americans are discussing Muslim women living in the west and wearing head scarves. Some people argue that Muslims should adapt to the cultures they are living in and change their ways so as to not offend the other people around them. I find it interesting that there were so many American and European people not respecting the culture that they were visiting.
Anyway, enough of my rant. The mosque was beautiful. We also got to see a sort of mausoleum where a number of sultans, their wives and children were buried. There were large coffins for the adults and small coffins for the children, all covered in green cloth (green being the colour of Islam). Coffins for men and boys had a white cloth turban on top. When you visit Ottoman cemeteries around the city, you see something similar. The tombstones will have a stone carving of a turban or fez or other types of headdress. These would have shown the rank of the man buried there. In the mausoleum, it was strange to see the coffins of sultans there in the small room, close enough to touch. They were very simple and unadorned. It was also sad to see so many tombs for small children.