Sultan Ahmet Camii (The Blue Mosque)
My sister and I arrived in Turkey at the crack of dawn on Saturday, 5th November. After a long wait at the airport for our bags to appear, we finally dragged our suitcases to the first taxi where I tried to (unsuccessfully) settle on a price before we got in. It took me a while to understand what the driver was trying to tell me. They were all metered taxis. I silently cursed the online articles I’d diligently read and sheepishly allowed him to heave our bags into the trunk. We collapsed in the backseat, where we sat in silence as he drove us to Sultanahmet. The sea sparkled on our right, the still dormant shops and restaurants stretched on our left . We watched the sun rising over Istanbul.
Our room at the hotel was not ready when we arrived (6 hours before check-in! so we decided to explore the area. We walked up the cobblestone streets to Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square) — which was once the Hippodorme of Constantinople, the social centre of the Byzantine Empire. Before that little piece of history could fully sink in, I was hit with one realization after another. We were standing in front of the Blue Mosque! Facing the Hagia Sophia! The excitement (and perhaps the lack of sleep) was dizzying.
I anticipated quiet streets but was reassured by the hotel staff that it was perfectly safe to be out at that time. I did not expect large groups of enthusiastic tourists to be walking around with heavy cameras and tour guides! Buses dropped off more tourists and the street vendors seemed to appear out of nowhere. The number of people who were out and about at that time was astounding.
Here are a couple of pictures I took in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque.
The Sultan Ahmet Camii, known as the Blue Mosque, is the central element of the complex built by Ahmed I (1603-1617) and was completed after the sultan’s death in 1617. It’s considered to be the last example of classical Ottoman architecture. Elevated from the surrounding grounds, the mosque courtyard is entered through three portals with cascading steps. Here’s a picture of one of the side entrances leading to the courtyard.
Confession: I didn’t go inside the mosque. I was partly overwhelmed by the grand architecture but also disoriented after our red-eye. I also thought that I could check it out any time, after all it was right next to our hotel. Needless to say, I kept putting it off and eventually left Istanbul without seeing the interior of the Blue Mosque. Inexcusable.
I did, however, manage to get a picture of this fellow strutting around the courtyard.
This last photo (below) shows part of the Blue Mosque. I couldn’t capture all of its minarets because I was too close. You can see the large blue dome that covers the prayer hall as well as one of the smaller semi-domes.