No. The size, majesty and splendour of the Blue Mosque did not mesmerize me. Glancing at the chandeliers and the blue Iznik tiles did not enchant me. Walking past thousands of tourists, in fancy tour buses, watching them take pictures in their oh-so foreign attires did not in any sense reflect the glory or the significance of Istanbul’s incredibly rich history. Nevertheless, I refuse to walk into monuments from the 1600s and not be amused by it.
So I let imagination take control. The significance hit me when I pictured archeologists scraping off the Islamic embellishments of Hagia Sophia to reveal the mesmerizing Christian Ornaments hidden beneath. The significance hit me when I pictured the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire sitting on his bed-sized throne and turning the fountain on to drown the sounds of his secret meetings. I was eager to hear the deafening silence of the massive monuments, which simply didn’t make itself apparent with the onslaught of tourists. Its imagination that had to reveal the astounding beauty of Istanbul and when it did, it hit me hard. That is when I felt the frighteningly hollow heights of the mosques filled with the soft echoes of prayers and made me wonder how they had the man power to build such massive monuments. Its imagination that let me feel the sultan’s presence as my senses guided me into feeling the cool breeze while I rested in the Sultan’s garden.
Suddenly I started feeling the aura of the Ottoman Empire. Suddenly I started walking slowly, as though I was covered in heavy ornaments and had to carry the grace of the Ottoman Residents. Suddenly I felt the need to pull out a sword from nowhere and do something with it. Suddenly, I was beginning to feel it. With the blink of an eye, I returned to Istanbul 2012 and the magic and power of the Ottoman Empire disappeared. I checked the time on my Blackberry, clicked some pictures with my Canon camera and walked quickly to the tram and sealed my experience. But truly, the experience was in my head, the physical surroundings only helped the experience come alive. The monuments are very obviously deteriorating and visually, apart from the size and architecture, the monuments alone cannot mesmerize you. It’s the story behind it that truly does.
Some interesting things I learned during my tour:
- The more the number of minarets (slim tower rising from a mosque, ) in a mosque, the more prestigious the mosque was. When the Sultan built the blue mosque with 6 minarets, he was questioned for why he would making something equivalent to the mosque of the Kaba in Mecca. The Sultan overcame this problem by paying for a seventh minaret at the Makkah mosque.
- The blue mosque was an architectural masterpiece as it miraculously upheld the great central dome by using four semi-domes. The architect who built the Blue mosque had it written on one of the arches of the structure about when the entire building would need a restoration process: that is how much foresight he had.
- When the Ottoman Empire took over, they also took possession of past Prophets like the sword of David, Muhammed, and Moses’s stick. Those things are stored in the Palace, available for public viewing.
- The Sultan’s Palace was built in a way that he could be spying on anybody through hidden tunnels. The sultan had a fountain next to his throne that he would turn on to drown the sounds of his secret meetings.
- Entering the gates of a palace with a horse symbolically meant to conquer the area. So in the Sultan’s Palace, you had to walk the entire length of the Palace rather than riding on a horse because by using a horse, you’d be declaring the Palace conquered.
As for the people of Turkey: I did not sense any strong Turkish pride from anyone I talked to. To forcefully transition from an entire Ottoman Empire that was spread over three continents to tiny Anatolia tells you how trapped these people are under the weight of Turkey’s history. They’re nice people–heavy smokers. I enjoyed listening to their language, eating their food, and hearing them talk in broken English.
On another note, being back in Dubai, I had to write down my religion and religious sector on a piece of ID in UAE, and it made me realize how backward we really are and how much more forward-thinkers those people of the Ottoman Empire really were. Hats off to it all.