Australian friend Jane, whose favorite city in the world is Istanbul, listed for Ruth and me the 3 most important places to visit—Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Süleymaniye Mosque. The last, she added, was far more impressive than the Blue Mosque. The Hagia Sophia became one of my greatest travel experiences. Topkapi Palace was closed on Tuesdays. Süleyman I was a law-making sultan, poet, and art lover. He founded the mosque named for him. He was called Süleyman the Magnificent. The same word should also be used to describe his mosque.
As soon as we got off the tram, men approached and beseeched us to hire them for a tour of the Blue Mosque. World-traveler Jane’s information is reliable, so we headed up the steep hill to Süleymaniye instead. As we neared an exotic, castle-like gateway, I spotted a sign that told me that this mosque was built during the Ottoman period with construction beginning in 1550. It was part of a complex that included a charity institution for the poor and orphans including Jews and Christians. The needy could stay here with no charge and were given food provided by public soup-kitchens. From the beginning this mosque was both a place of worship and a charitable foundation surrounded by a hospital, schools, a bathhouse, etc. It fed over 1,000 every day according to Eyewitness Travel Turkey. Both the mosque complex and its neighborhood are now part of a protected conservation area.
The mosque’s creator was a talented man named Sinan. Süleyman I named him chief imperial architect in 1538. Before he died at the age of 97, Sinan had built 131 mosques including the Süleymaniye.
Visitors who follow 7 basic rules are welcomed inside. #2 was “Please take off your shoes and place them in the shelf or put them in a bag.” #5 was “Please do not take photos and use camera during the pray.” Ruth and I put our shoes in a flimsy, provided plastic bag, and, luckily, it was not a time of pray so I could take the photo above. Unlike the Hagia Sophia, which has been a museum since the 1930s, Süleymaniye is an active mosque with men outside washing their feet before entering, etc.
The dome pictured above is both awesome and an architectural marvel. It’s height is exactly twice its diameter, which is 85 feet. Eyewitness Travel calls Süleymaniye “Istanbul’s most important mosque.” Now I know why. Jane was right.