Istanbul has always been described as the crossroads of the East and West. Walking around Istanbul is like stepping into old world Europe, complete with ancient Roman ruins, cobblestones, and crumbling stone edifices. The only difference is that, unlike in Europe, everywhere you turn in Istanbul, you’re bound to see the characteristic domes and minarets of mosques. It is also virtually impossible to miss the reverberation of the azan (call to prayer) five times a day — at daybreak, noon, mid-afternoon, dusk, and early evening — anywhere you may be in Istanbul.
The mosques themselves look pretty nondescript and uninteresting from the outside — drab, cold, and grey. Just take a look at this mosque that’s just a few steps away from the Misir Çarşisi (Egyptian Market) — the Yeni Camii or New Mosque.
It doesn’t look like much but the sign indicating its age will pique anyone’s curiousity.
Walk into the courtyard and you’ll see this ablution fountain. (NB: Muslims purify themselves before prayers by washing their hands, faces, and feet.)
As you cross the threshold and enter the mosque, suddenly you feel as though you’ve stepped into Aladdin’s time — lush and thick wall-to-wall carpeting, lamps suspended from the ceiling, and the typical designs associated with Moorish architecture.
But wait! What is this? Stained glass windows! They’re just like the ones that you’d expect to find in Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. Except that these have Arabic words like Allah (Arabic for ‘God’) instead of depictions of Christian saints and angels.
Here is a short video that I took of the interior of the Yeni Camii, just to give you all a feel of the atmosphere inside.
My visit to Yeni Camii reminded me once more not to judge a book by its cover.
(P.S. I’ve written this post end-2010 right after a trip to Istanbul but completely forgot about it until I stumbled upon it as I was browsing around my hard drive for some other files.)