Fatih Sultan Ahmet Mosque, and beyond...


Fetiye or Fatih?

As I said in the previous section, I then I set off by foot, to find the Fetiye Camii mosque which was formerly the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos, which has wonderful byzantine mosaics.

No such luck. I thought the Blue Guide map would be enough to find it, but my genetic predisposition to getting lost prevailed. I wandered for what seemed to be miles, through neighbourhoods of poor, poor villages (Anatolians? Kurds? Central Asians?) and eventually, in the middle of it all, there was a bus parked at its starting point. I tried to communicate that I wanted a ticket and went to the booth - the lottery booth by the bus. No, they still pointed, then I went on the bus. This bus had a booth on board...The bus eventually set off through crowded neighbourhoods traffic jams in lanes, and the people look very religious. Boys in caps and baggy pants, women in full chadors. I felt very isolated at this point, but I didn't feel threatened, just culturally, a million miles away from these people

Fatih at last!

I had the sense to get off, thinking I was near the Fatih Sultan Ahmet Mosque mosque, and I had! I went in through one of the side entrances. It huge complex - someline like 300 metres to each side, surrounded by gardens. Writing this diary up, weeks, details have fallen away. and I need to look at the guidebooks to prompt my memory. But that is what is so interesting about these places. Once your memory is jogged by a photo, or something in a book, each's special quality is remembered. I got there just as afternoon prayers were starting, so I only go to peek inside - more of the amazing Hagia Sophia variation.

And by the way - as with all the mosques I saw - there are big thick green vinyl and leather curtains which hang down over the open doorways to act as heat and wind shields. As well, though mostly sold to tourists, many of the mosques have soleless shoes which are used as substitute shoes - but don't count as shoes - for people using the mosques. I didn't see such in Jerusalem. As well, some women leave older wooden clog-type sandals outside of the doors.

The mosque had an enormous courtyard complex - kitchens, theological schools, graveyards, referred to as a kulliye. The complex was begun in 1463, designed by Sinan the Elder, about whom there is controversy - just who was he? Refer to Freely's guidebook!

But in this courtyard, outside the main entrance to the mosque, I caught some very private, sad moments, something I would never want to be observed at. There were plenty of men milling around before prayers, but then I spotted a coffin, draped in a green flag with koran upon it, pointing east, I think, to Mecca. Signs of grief were very restrained, and I couldn't spot any women. Maybe they were at home. A man was standing in front, praying, and others stood around, looking very sad.

Where were the women? Then I saw them sitting on the barred fence of the Ottoman cemetery to the side of the mosque. They were sobbing and singing hymns, but I did not know if they were in Arabic or Turkish. A picture would have told a thousand words, about the separation of the sexes, and Turkish restraint, but I did not dare. As I watched this, some very pesty kids came up and asked me for money. That was the only time it happened to me, actually.

I also went around to the tomb/turbe of Sultan Mehmet and his wife Gulbahar. People were standing by the windows, hands raised in prayer. On the tomb was a turban made from cloth, and I saw this in many tombs [photos]

I also think that it was at this mosque that there was Byzantine Church, fenced around and under reconstruction, right next to the mosque. However, I can't find it in my guidebooks, and I didn't make note of at which mosque. I saw it!! Details do blur over time, despite the excitement of new finds.

I walked out of one of the major side exits/entrances which was lined with further mosque establishment buildings. There were lots of men coming for prayer.

Valen's Aqueduct

I kept walking west, hoping to bump into Valen's aqueduct - and bang - I was at its start. All the area along the aqueduct, until the Ataturk Boulevard which cuts a swath under some of its major arches - has little car repair and parts shops, and even car yards - well, at least one car to a window, thus further contributing to congestion in Istanbul.

I went across the Boulevard (actually via a pedestrian underpass filled with little traders). There was a small park with early Byzantine ruins in it, and a closed up church. A rather frenetic American, who looked as obsessed as I was about getting details right, ask me why it was closed. I did not know either. He was virtually the only person I spoke to that day.

Schezade

A few more yards down the Schezade Caddesi, and I came upon the Schezade mosque built by Suleiman the Magnificent - also known as the Lawmaker, in 1543 in memory of his son who died of smallpox. - another of the huge variations of Hagia Sophia by Sinan.

Unfortunately, it was closed for restoration, and I could not go far in as there was scaffolding all over the place, but I wandered in anyway, and saw on one pillar the remains of a huge painted 'waw' - which has some religious significance (Sufi?) that I am not sure of. It appeared on a lot of local calligraphy that was on sale to tourists, together with modern watercolours and the like of Dervishes. I didn't manage to find out if the Dervish cult is still important in Istanbul.

There were also some lovely turbes in the grounds.

Just down from the mosque I passed a lovely Ottoman kiosk - which I should have taken a picture of. Ordinarily one would ignore them, as most are boarded up, or used as drink kiosks but actually, they were an important part of mosque life, serving as the repository of clocks, for the accurate scheduling of prayers. Well, there was an article about them in the in-flight magazine!!