The first day after we arrived, we decided to head directly to the center of the old town and visit the main sites. We took the tramway to the Blue Mosque. Walked over by mistake to the Hagia Sofia... walked back to the Blue Mosque. There wasn’t a long line. I had brought my new pashmina to cover my head. My black pants and long sleeve shirt were okay for the rest. I had to take off my shoes and carry them in a small plastic bag. Thank goodness for that carabiner hook I put on my purse... I could just hang that bag on it and forget about it for the duration.
I had great expectations for the Blue Mosque. It’s true name is Sultan Ahmet Mosque. It is a must-see in Istanbul, and it is renowned for its architecture and exquisite design. I was looking forward to visiting it and photographing it. Sadly, I have to say that the Blue Mosque was a bit of a disappointment for me and for Henry too. Not only was it crowded, but you couldn’t really get to see the architecture. Photographing it was difficult. The full ceiling was not visible because of some ongoing repairs. Fair enough, I thought. These things have to be done. What I found more unsettling, was how the whole visit was being managed, or not. People were just milling about, bumping into each other, jostling to get into the preferred positions for photographs... for selfies!!! Lots of selfies. We do selfies, Henry, mostly, likes to take a few selfies here and there, and we will even do them outside of a church or a mosque, but never, ever, would we do a selfie inside of a sacred space. I don’t know, I just find it disrespectful.
So, I felt a mixture of things, but mostly I felt really sad for any Muslim who was there, particularly those who were trying to pray. I thought it must feel like a bunch of strangers trampling on your sacred ground, people having no concept of what the space means to you. And I had to admit to myself: I am one of those people. We would not do a selfie, or take photos of ourselves in a place like this, but still, we photograph. And visiting would not be as interesting to either of us if we could not photograph. Anyhow, I used the time as best I could, I tried to capture the beauty of what I saw in images, and I did my best to do it in a respectful way. But I felt a real dilemma. Mixed, very mixed feeling: I wanted to be there, and I was a bit ashamed that I was.
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque is beautiful, the architecture is exquisite, and it is of great significance. For those reasons, I would encourage you to visit. In my mind, it still is a must-see. It would be a shame to be in Istanbul and not visit. However, perhaps approach the site with tempered expectations. Who knows? You might still be pleasantly surprised.
Fortunately, we went to visit Hagia Sophia next, and it truly redeemed my experience at the Blue Mosque. I’ll post on that next.