Historic Istanbul is dominated by its many large and small mosques. Some of the buildings date back through the 1,000-plus years of the Christian Byzantine era, which ended when Constantinople (Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Moslems in 1453 AD, and were repurposed for the new religion and culture. The Ottoman architects, at the bidding of the fabulously wealthy and powerful sultans, followed the basic Byzantine design of square houses of worship (not the cross-shaped Western churches) topped by domes, and added new flourishes: an open floor (no pews or chairs), no visual representations of God or his prophets, duplicative and symmetrical patterns of ornamentation, adjacent community buildings, and of course, the Moslem minarets. I could go on and on.

There are four mosques in these photographs:

  • Sultan Ahmet Mosque: The first six photographs are from the rooftop restaurant of our small hotel. This mosque, built 1609-1616, is commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque because of its blue interior tiles. I shot from this roof-top vantage point several times over four days at dawn and dusk, in color and black/white. The minaret and dome of Firuz Aga Mosque are in the foreground.
  • Suleymainiye Mosque: Built on the orders of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in the mid-16th Century by the architectural genius of Mimar Sinan, it is a spectacular building and interior space.
  • Sultan Mehmet Mosque: Another Sinan creation from the late 16th Century, it is tucked away in a quiet working-class neighborhood near the major tourist sites.
  • Aya Sofia: Built as a Christian Byzantine basilica by Emperor Justinian in 537 AD two centuries after Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome and renamed the city Constantinople, the building was later an imperial mosque under the Ottoman Empire and is now a crowded museum.

The Islamic call to prayers (the adhan): Many of historic Istanbul's mosques are active houses of worship. Beginning before first light in October (when the sun rises late) and sounding four other times a day in the form of brief unaccompanied chant-like phrases broken by pauses, the muezzins’ invitations to the faithful to come to prayers ring through the city. The calls are always live, coming from an imam or another male leader of the mosque. The muezzin are trained as callers and their adhan are amplified by loudspeakers on the minarets.

I pre-supposed the calls might be something of a nuisance, more sounds from a noisy city to be tuned out. Not so. The devotion, joy, and subtle and practiced musicality of some of the callers was evident. It was also not unusual to hear muezzin from neighboring mosques tacitly acknowledge others' calls, one pausing while a second from a nearby mosque calls a new phrase, only to pick up again when the second one pauses. Wonderful. The adhan, typically five to eight brief and repeated phrases, elaborates on variations of the Shahada, the Islamic statement of faith: There is no god but God. Muhammad is the Messenger of God. Hasten to prayer.
View at dawn of Sultan Ahmed Mosque from hotel terrace. Minaret and dome of Firuz Aga Mosque in foreground.Sultan Ahmed Mosque in background. Minaret and dome of Firuz Aga Mosque in foreground.Sultan Ahmed Mosque in background. Dome of Firuz Aga Mosque in foreground.Sultan Ahmed Mosque in background. Dome of Firuz Aga Mosque in foreground.Minaret of Firuz Aga Mosque in foreground. Sultan Ahmed Mosque minarets in background.Sultan Ahmed Mosque in background. Minaret of Firuz Aga Mosque in foreground.Suleymainiye MosqueSuleymainiye MosqueSuleymainiye MosqueSuleymainiye MosqueSuleymainiye Mosque, doorwayRustem Pasha (foreground) and Suleymainiye mosques from the Galata BridgeSuleymaniye MosqueAya SofiaAya Sofia and an old wooden structure dating to the Ottoman period.View from hotel terrace of Aya Sofia at dawn.Sultan Mehmet Pasha MosqueSultan Mehmet Pasha MosqueSultan Mehmet Pasha MosqueSultan Mehmet Pasha Mosque