A Tale of Two Towers

Aya Sofia

The Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque stand opposite each other across Sultanahmet Park as if in an eternal duel for the most imposing structure in Istanbul. Each has its arsenal of advantages: the Aya Sofia has an additional 1000 years of history, the distinction of having been a church, a mosque, and a museum, and one of the most spectacular domes in the world. The Blue Mosque on the other hand has a sumptuous assortment of small domes surrounding the main dome, and an almost unparalleled six minarets pinning down the corners of the courtyard

Blue Mosque

The dome of the Aya SofiaBut to be honest it really isn’t a competition, since each edifice excels in its own distinctive way. The Aya Sofia’s exterior is not very inspiring; the paint is faded and chipped in places and the dome viewed from outside seems like just any other mosque. But I dare you to enter within its walls and not be amazed. The dome soars impossibly above the main hall as if Allah himself were holding it up. The mosaic work which has been done, stripped, and redone over the past 1400 years according to the whims of the ruler are hauntingly beautiful. Even though during my visit the dome itself was being restored and there was a series of scaffolding filling the atrium, you still couldn’t help but be amazed at what the Romans were able to accomplish so long ago.

Minaret of Aya SofiaOn the other hand the Blue Mosque is a beauty to behold from outside. The many small domes complement and reinforce each other in a composition of serenity and dignity. Viewing it from across the park creates an especially nice panorama as the green of Sultanahmet park contrasts against the blue of the mosque itself. The inside is also quite beautiful, though not as impressive as the Aya Sofia. The walls are decorated with Islamic motifs and patterns and seals praising Allah, but it doesn’t have the same weightless quality that the Aya Sofia does.

The most amazing moment to witness these two mosques is during the call to prayer. Sitting in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, you can here the singers from the minarets of the two mosques call out and respond to each other, and the melodies of the two weave together into an intricate and inspiring call to worship (even for an atheist).

Gate and minaret of Blue Mosque


~ by therandomoracle on April 21, 2008.

2 Responses to “A Tale of Two Towers”

  1. Awesome trip. You should call it “Traveling Through the Middle East by Stomach”. It reminds me of my travels in years past. I also tried to stay up for the nightlife in Tel Aviv (which starts around 3) but couldn’t seem to manage, and I also had dinner at Manta Ray. I didn’t know about Bahia, so that’s on my list for next time (though there is a Bahia temple down here in the EV).

    Spectacular pics. Just one thing missing: you!!

  2. Adding my ugly mug to the pictures would only ruin them! 🙂

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