The first time I heard the call to prayer, we were just stepping out of Hagia Sophia.
Not knowing what a call to prayer would be like, I didn't know what to expect when I read that you would hear them all over the city. At first I didn't even realize what the musical voice was that poured out from the minaret speakers. The echo of the voices felt very foreign but beautifully hypnotic.
I later learned that verses of the Koran are read back and forth by the muezzins of Hagia Sophia and the neighboring mosque, Sultan Ahmed Camii, or better known as the Blue Mosque. (Listen here.)
The Blue Mosque is considered to be one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. It was completed in 1616 (to put things in perspective, that's about 1000 years after the current Hagia Sophia structure was built) during the reign of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I. If you're in the old city of Constantinople, the magnificent domes and six minarets are hard to miss.
R and I made our way over to the mosque, where there was an entrance for visitors. After standing in line like Disneyland, we were allowed inside where the back half of the mosque was sectioned off for visitors.
It's interesting because the name Blue Mosque refers to the blue Iznik tiles that cover the walls. But my eyes were more drawn to the beautiful red carpet that covered the entire floor, where there were people praying in the front half of the mosque (although I'm guessing many were also non-local Muslim visitors because they were taking pictures and videos after praying, too).
Honestly, the visitors area was extremely crowded and I was ready to get out of there after 5 minutes. It was only the second mosque I'd ever been inside (coincidentally that was also with R), and the interior design and tiles were beautiful...but I think it was the crowds that did me in. I'm sure there is a much more calm and reverent atmosphere during the prayer and Friday worship hours, but at that moment I didn't feel a connection with the place.
But what I did love is the courtyard of the mosque. The architecture is fabulous and the breeze that flows through the arcade along the walls makes this place a perfect spot to sit and people watch. Staring up at the beautiful domes from below, it's incredible to think that someone built this massive mosque.
All in all, I think it was worth the visit, especially when you include the yummy baked potato we ate just outside of the Sultan Ahmed Park, which lies between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The guy at the food vendor made the largest and most colorful baked potato I've ever seen.
When we ordered, he cut open the baked potato and proceeded to mix the inside until it was more like a mashed potato. Then he asked us about toppings, most of which we said yes to. At one point he asked us if we wanted "American salad," which ended up being potato salad! I though the potato on potato concept was hilarious but it ended up being delicious. Really, you'd be surprised.
Here are some photos of the Blue Mosque and the crazy baked potato:
Sultanahmet Cami, 34122 Sultanahmet, Fatih, İstanbul, TURKEY
TEL: +90 212 518 1319
HOURS: Open to visitors outside of prayer hours