Where my thinking is worked out, often in real time…
Süleymaniye Mosque – Istanbul
October 16, 2011 was our last day in Istanbul. On the evening of October 13 at the tour Welcome Meeting our Istanbul guide had casually announced that we were not going to the iconic Süleymaniye Mosque even though it was on our itinerary. No reason was offered when I asked “Why?”
Determined (I, at least) to see it, Anita and I set off early on the 16th to take bus or subway across the Golden Horn from Taksim Square near our hotel. Our ship, the Louis Cristal, was scheduled to depart that afternoon and sail overnight through the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles Strait for the Greek island of Mykonos. We were to be picked up by bus at our hotel at 2 PM and taken to the Port.
This was the day of the 33rd Asia to Europe marathon – the only marathon spanning two continents. We expected limited services due to this important event, but not a total absence of any public transport or automobiles going near the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn. Confusion for about 40 minutes. Mixed opinions from locals – perhaps because the route has had three different versions during the contest’s history. Anita decided to go back to the hotel. I decided to walk – in the rain – the third rainy day.
I had chosen several things to see at or near the Mosque. The walk was about 4 km – an easy 50 minutes one way. Four hours to get there, tour and return seemed plenty of time…
My Minolta DSLR and SONY camcorder stayed dry under a light jacket in a trusty, very old camera case. Photos were taken with caution. Today, when I really needed one, no vendors were selling umbrellas. On both previous days there was no escape from an army of umbrella vendors. Spying a shop in the Mosque’s neighbourhood I chose a small, lilac (shrug) umbrella to shield my cameras from the rain. On opening it later, the thing turned out to be decorated with two little ears and a bunny face. The sight of a tourist protecting his camera with this thing produced many warm smiles among the Istanbullar on my return walk to the hotel. (I still have it and used it to take the macro photos for my snowy November 1st post. Ahh, the power of memories 🙂 )
The Süleymaniye Mosque was commissioned in 1550 by Süleyman the Magnificent, the 10th Ottoman Sultan, and completed in 1558. The architect was the unsurpassed Mimar Sinan, a man of great genius who built three hundred projects for three sultans in his lifetime. His large tomb is very near the mosque. Various misadventures and an earthquake in 1766 caused the mosque to be damaged and restored more than once – the last instance in 1956.
Being an imperial mosque (commissioned by a sultan), it was surrounded by a community of several institutions including schools, a hospital, a public kitchen that fed the poor, public baths and a college of medicine. As an imperial mosque it was also permitted four minarets. I was able to explore the remaining community buildings around the Mosque and photograph Sinan’s tomb. Unfortunately, access to Süleyman’s tomb complex was not possible the day I was there.
The return walk had a special, personally quiet aspect to it. I had gained even more respect for the cultural accomplishments of the Ottoman Empire. The effect of the morning’s stress gradually evaporated. There was time to explore a little and do some umbrella-assisted photography. Watching the fishermen on the Galata bridge and young, joyful couples on the route helped even more.
Though the marathon was over, no trams or buses were running, but I was able to take the subway for the last 800 m or so. Got back to Taksim Square and the hotel in time to order and consume a much-anticipated double scotch. Then our group was picked up by Bill McMahon, Irish by birth and Greek by marriage. One of Insight Vacations‘ very finest tour directors, I was about to learn, much to my relief.