Turkish Delights for the Soul

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Turkish food merges Middle Eastern, Central Asian and Balkan (southeast European) influences. Turkey’s capital, Istanbul, feeds the traveler’s soul with the same healthy mix of religious fervor rooted from its Islamic and Christian identities. And while a great majority of the Turks are Muslims, even some of its most iconic Muslim landmarks bear Christian imprints.

asianTraveler Magazine went to Istanbul for a taste of these Turkish spiritual infusions. Browse through our grand images of the capital’s three famous mosques and be filled with knowledge on what to seek when you take your own Turkish journey.

The Blue Mosque

History: A nineteen year-old sultan by the name of Ahmed I ordered the construction of the Blue Mosque in 1609. The Turkish military was suffering from successive defeats against Persia at the time. The young sultan then realized that this might be due to the fact that no new mosque has been built in the city for forty years. He believed building a new place of worship might appease Allah, and his order was very soon carried out. The mosque was finished after seven years, in 1616.

Where the mix is: Much of the grounds upon which the Blue Mosque was built used to be the spot where the palace of Byzantine emperors once stood, since Istanbul (formerly called Constantinople) used to be the capital of the Byzantine Empire. This empire is characterized by its Orthodox Christian faith.

What’s inside: Over 20,000 hand-made ceramic tiles with more than fifty tulip designs line the lower levels of the mosque’s interior. The tiles are mostly colored blue, hence giving the mosque its one-of-a-kind hue. Entwined designs of lilies, carnations and roses decorate the columns. Natural soft light showers the mosque through its 260 windows.

Hagia Sophia

History: The Hagia Sophia was originally built as a cathedral by Byzantine Emperor Constantius I in 324-337 AC. After two centuries of fires and revolts, it was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian I. The new cathedral was so grand that it gave rise to a legend of celestial powers helping out the workers. After surviving an earthquake and plunder, and with the Ottomans conquering Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II ordered its conversion as the Aya Sofia Mosque in 1453, with the addition of four minarets.

Where the mix is: The mosque was secularized in 1935 as a museum. In 2006, the government allowed that a small prayer room within the complex be established, to be shared by Christian and Muslim staff. The minarets have also been recently used again to call out for the Muslim prayers, twice daily in the afternoon.

What’s inside: A team from the Byzantine Institute of America worked on Hagia Sophia in the 1930s and uncovered centuries-old artworks. The team had to see to it that they maintained a balance of restoring both Christian and Islamic artworks, especially since much of the Islamic artwork and calligraphy were drawn over Christian mosaics and frescoes during the invasions.

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