Lizares: Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque

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By Luci Lizares

Thursday, April 10, 2014

AS WE roamed the streets of Istanbul getting from one mosque to another, we saw a Baklava pastry shop. Baklava is a rich, sweet dessert made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey.

It is believed that baklava may have been developed in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapi Palace based on a Central Asia Turkey tradition of layered breads. With thousand of helpers in the Topkapi kitchen, for sure there were enough pastry chefs who could whip up a truly Turkish delight.

We passed by a “shooting” in progress of some local network. A teleserye, perhaps? And in the park were regular couples with the ladies in their black burqa. We passed by the Obelisk of Theodosius which was transported from Alexandria, Egypt by the Emperor Theodosius in the 4th century and erected to where it is now.


Finally we got to Hagia Sophia and the queue was not as long. Built by Constantine the Great, the Hagia Sophia began as St. Sophia, the Church of the Holy Wisdom. It was the most important church of the Byzantine Empire for almost a millennium before the Muslim Ottomans turned it into a mosque after their 1453 conquest of Constantinople, as Istanbul was then called.

Although the Islamic religion does not permit graphic images in a place of worship, the Byzantine mosaics were so exceptional that they were not destroyed.

Hagia Sophia reflects both Christian and Muslim traditions. Circular wooden frames bearing the names of Allah, the Prophet Mohammed, his two grandchildren and of the first four caliphs adorn columns under the main dome, close to a Christian mosaic depicting the Virgin and the Child in the apse of the former basilica. Since 1935, Hagia Sophia was opened as a museum by the Republic of Turkey.

Hagia Sophia is famous for its massive dome and considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It was the world's largest cathedral for almost a thousand years, until the Seville Cathedral was constructed in 1520. Its architecture became an inspiration for more Ottoman mosques of Istanbul.

From Hagia Sophia we went to the Blue Mosque built by Sultan Ahmet when he was only 19 years of age. It took seven years of construction and sadly he died a year before its completion. However, he is buried outside the Blue Mosque with his wife and three sons.

The Blue Mosque has six minarets, which is unique as most mosques have one to four, at the most. In addition, it has a cascade of domes, which seem to spill over the central dome. Its ceiling is lined with 20,000 blue Iznik tiles which gave it the name Blue Mosque. The interior has 260 windows which are filled with 17th century stained glass. Most of the originals have been lost and replaced with as they say, "inferior replicas."

As this was a mosque, we were all required to put covering on our heads.
I truly like the interior of the Blue Mosque. It may be a mosque but it has so many Catholic images and icons. Pope Benedict XVI visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in 2006. He removed his shoes as he entered, paused for a full two minutes, eyes closed in silent meditation. He “thanked divine Providence for this” and said, “May all believers identify themselves with the one God and bear witness to true brotherhood.”

On that note, we bid farewell to Istanbul and thanking Divine Providence for this great gift of visiting this fascinating city, Istanbul! Thank you, Lord!

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on April 10, 2014.


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