Sitting with Sultans again – Return to Istanbul
Last week I had the opportunity to return once again to the city of Istanbul (My posts about my previous journey can be found here).
After having revisted the places I saw previously there were a few items on the itinerary that I missed out on the last time which I intended to see this time around. The main thing was the Suleymaniye Mosque which was closed for refurbishment on my last visit. The Masjid is very similar in grandeur to the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque, with a very similar design. The main difference is the colour of the interior is a lot brighter and the decoration simpler than the Blue Mosque, which for me made it a more pleasing house of worship. Also given the fact it looks brand new given the work done just adds to its beauty, here are a few photos which won’t do it much justice:
The other main new item on the list was Eyup (Ayyub) Sultan Mosque, which houses the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the companion of the Prophet (ﷺ) who fell in the first Muslim attempt to conquer Constantinople. Ashamedly the reason why I missed it out on my first visit to Istanbul was because the Lonely Planet guide had a very small section on it which I didn’t see before (How touristy of me). The tomb is currently undergoing refurbishment and there’s only a small passage in front of a small window from which you can see the tomb. It’s one of the main religious centres of Istanbul, so it can get quite busy, the vast majority of visitors are women (As was also the case at the tomb of Sultan Mehmet Fatih), so many native men choose to send their salutations from a distance, (and it may be also recommended for both men and women depending on how busy it is).
The last new thing we visited was Dolmabahce Palace, the Sultan’s ‘new’ palace which was built in the 19th century to be more in line with European influence. Whereas the Topkapi Palace was centred around an Islamic influence, and its main source of decoration were subtle yet striking Iznik tiles, Dolmabahce is testament to the degradation of the Ottoman Sultanate in its later years. It’s over-indulgent, over-fancy and quite frankly tasteless. The closest thing I can bring to comparison in my mind is tacky Gulf Arab indulgence if it existed in the 18th century. Today we have stupidly tall skyscrapers, and oversized boring shopping malls, back then they had Dolmabahce. Take for example in comparison the fact that above nearly every door in Topkapi there is a prayer written in beautiful calligraphy for the blessing of the person who walks through it. In Dolmabahce the only calligraphy are a few pieces thrown on the walls here and there to remind the occupants they’re Muslims. Think cheap framed pieces in Muslim living rooms, just not very cheap. The Great Hall of the palace however is mind blowing in its size, you don’t imagine a place so big to be inside the palace from the outside, and was an upside to the visit.
Overall I enjoyed my second visit to Istanbul, it’s a city I wouldn’t mind revisiting again in the future in a few years with different people. To see all the main sites requires around three whole days, if you have a spare day then you can spend it wasting time in Dolmabahce. After Andalusia, Istanbul remains my favourite destination to visit, it has plenty to offer both Muslims and non-Muslims, and I would throughly recommend it to anyone.