on July 7, 2010
The sight of western tourists – most specifically British and American – on holiday in foreign climes never ceases to amaze and amuse me. I remember when I lived in Beijing, seeing tourists decked out in outdoor gear and hiking boots for their trips to the local tourist attractions, such as the Forbidden City and Temple of Heave.. It generated an urge deep within me to scream at them, "Beijing is flat! Where do you think you are?" I felt similar emotions when we visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.To enter the mosque, there are two entrances. One for local guests and one for 'foreign' guests. This is actually a little misleading as, in reality, it is for Muslim and non-Muslim visitors. Naturally, on our visit, my mother and I headed to the non-Muslim entrance. At this point, I will clarify that even though we were about to enter a mosque, Turkey is a secular republic, in which women can wear what they please. In fact, many of the younger generation actually enjoy the liberty to wear as little as they please. However, if you were to view some of the other visitors, you may have thought we were in Saudi Arabia on our way to Mecca. There were two English women in their thirties wearing long flowing skirts, shawls around their shoulders and elaborate head-scarves – it had all clearly been purchased for the occasion. They were clearly impressed at themselves for coming so well prepared. The guard at the door smiled at them indulgently and then handed my mother a small shawl to cover her arms. That and removing one's shoes were the only dress rules in force.The outlandish dress sense of some of the other visitors aside, the Blue Mosque is beautiful, but a little disappointing. From the outside, its dark domes and bright minarets are decidedly striking. We were also lucky enough to visit on a day when the weather was very changeable. When we arrived it looked as though we would be in for a heavy shower. As a consequence, the sky was charcoal grey. This complimented the mosque's dark domes wonderfully, giving it a fantastically ominous look. After leaving, things had changed completely. The clouds had parted and the bright sun beat down on the mosque accentuating the white of the minarets and main body.The exterior of the mosque is stunning. However, the grounds and courtyard are a little disappointing. The courtyard is very bland and compares poorly with Eminou Mosque – on the shores of the Golden Horn - which offers a lot more colour and vibrancy. The interior is impressive, but for its scale rather than any wondrous beauty. The roof is tiled with delicate symmetrical patterns and extravagant chandeliers hang down above worshippers. However, there is little that anyone who has visited other mosques in Turkey or in other parts of the Islamic world would find astounding.The Blue Mosque is truly stunning from the outside, but slightly less impressive inside. However, it is still well worth a visit. Entrance is free, but visitors are asked for a donation. For those worried about offending local worshippers, there are shawls on offer. Women are required to wear these to cover their arms.
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