Blue Mosque of Istanbul: Blissful sight by the Bosphorus

Europe Contributor
Blue Mosque
© Sergii Kolesnyk |

How do you paint a picture of the Blue Mosque with words for someone who hasn’t seen it? I am talking of the world famous ‘Sultan Ahmet Camii’, as a pure Turkish person would call it. In the photographer’s world there is an expression: the magic moment.

Blue Mosque, blue sky and blue Bosphorus

When the sun receding beyond the horizon squeezes along with it, like a miser, the last drop of light, that is the moment which is generally known as the magic moment. The Adobe Photoshop software claims to be able to create seven million shades by mixing up just three: red, green and blue. The magic moment on the horizon above Istanbul’s Bosphorus, I thought, had shades that would make such software look like a child’s play.

But then why am I talking of the magic moment in a piece on one of the most spectacular mosques in the world? Because it is in such shades, beyond all words, that I had first the stunning, imposing Blue Mosque. But trust me, the colour of the vast dome of this legendary mosque was not blue at all. I also had occasions to watch this imposing edifice at various other times of the day. It was never blue but closer to gray! It took me some time, some reading into the architectural designing of the mosque, before I found the answer to the obvious question that bugged me: why on earth is it called the Blue Mosque. And honestly, I still believe it is a misnomer of sorts!

Blue Iznik tiles for the mosque

I learnt that it was built by the great Ottoman emperor Sultan Ahmet I. The foundation stones were laid in 1609 and the amazing structure was completed in 1616. It is distinct for being Istanbul’s only mosque for having six minarets, instead of the customary four. Each of these is 210 Ft high. The mosque has 13 domes: five big and six smaller! Well, I at least haven’t seen or even read about any other mosque with as many domes. More than 10 thousand people can pray together inside this massive monument.

And, what appears to explain it popular name, the Blue Mosque’s interior walls were designed with over 20 thousand blue Iznik tiles brought over from Anatolia. I can go on and on with data and information, quoting from endless number of articles and books penned on this architectural marvel. But that would really get us no where in the quest with which I had begun my piece: to paint the Blue Mosque with words!

Calligraphy inside Blue Mosque

Instead let us enter it. My heart still stops as I close my eyes and try to imagine the riot of colours that confronted me. Watching the Blue Mosque from the deck of a boat etched between the competing blues of the sky and the Bosphorus is certainly a breath-taking experience. However, what awaits you inside, on a sunny September day, as I had, can only be compared with God’s play with colours during the magic moment.

It took me several minutes to realise what really was happening: nothing but an interplay of lights from various sources, the primary ones being sunlight oozing through over 200 gigantic stained-glass windows. Then there was the huge spiral chandelier with hundreds of mild bulbs on it. Mingled with it were the shadows of the grand arches and pillars. Add to it the light reflected from the blue, green and red tiles, and intricate calligraphy spread all over in dazzling gold, painted by the legendary calligrapher Sayid Qasim Gubari. No photograph will ever be able depict the cumulative magic of this interplay of lights and shadows.

But you know, what’s truly surprising? A riot of colours as it may be, quite like the magic moment on Bosphorus, the ambience totally lacked both the agony and the ecstasy of the magic-moment-sky! The ambience inside was serene and calm. Serene and calm like an heartfelt prayer!


(Written by Author and Translator Nilanjan Hajra)

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