Before my recent trip to Turkey, I sought tips from a friend who had been there before. "Turkey is one of those countries you can't visit just once," she said. "You have to go several times!" Once I had arrived, I understood what she meant - and J only got as far as Istanbul!
The history' of Istanbul-previously known also as Constantinople and Byzantium - starts before 600 BC. The city is one orthe world's great melting pots and always has been, its development inf1uem:ed byancicnt Eg} ptians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Genoese, Ottomans and modern Turkish cultures. This is why the Turks have ahmys been good at religious tolerance - an attitude that eflected in their architecture.
When the Ottomans won Constantinople from the Christians, they didn't destroy the churches of the infidels, they simply converted them into mosques by plastering over the Christian elements. Remove the plaster and voila! The beautiful mosaics are intact underneath.
The most famous example is the Hagia Sophia, which began as an Orthodox patriarchal basilica (360-1261 AD) serving first as the cathedral of the Byzantine Empire and then, between 1204 and 1261, of the Latin Empire. "W'hen Sultan Mehmet conquered the city in 1453, he ordered this gigantic imperial church be turned into a mosque through the addition of minarets. the mihrab (a niche indicating the qibla or thc direction to Mecca), a mimbar (a pulpit) and other Islamic elenlents. After Mustafa Kemal Atatu rk reinven ted Turkey as a republic in 1923, this famous chu rch - cum-mosque underwent another transformation, and officially opened as a museum in 1935.
Close by the Hagia Sophia is the SultanAhmet Mosque, recogn ized as one of the most beautiful mosques in Turkey and in the \I'orld. Buill between 1609 and 1616, it is popularly known as the Blue Mosque because of the 20,000 superb blue tiles that line its interior, each decorated with elaborate floral designs. Grand in size, the Blue Mosque gazes at Hagia Sopia across a park dotted with fountains. These two massive monuments, products of the two empires that made this city great, dominate the city cente[' today just as their builders had intended centuries ago.
The third mosque I visited was the Yeni Mosque (also called the New Mosque), another Ottoman Imperial mosque constructed in 1597 at the order of Safiye Sultan, the wife of Sultan Murad III. Situated on the Golden Horn close to the swarming Spicc Bazaar, it is another must-see.vVhe['e Hagia Sophia is famous for the size of its dome, the Yeni mosque is noted for the sheernumber of its domes: 66 domes and semi-domes in a pyramidal arrangement, plus tw'O minarets. Like the Blue Mosque, the Yeni was part of a complex with adjacent structures to service both religious and cultural needs
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