Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, Two of the most iconic buildings in Istanbul also resonate worldwide as two of the most prominent and respected places of worship and architecture. Through their histories and reinvention, they have represented such opposite sentiment, yet lie only about 100 yards apart, like estranged sisters.
Hagia Sophia for most of its life lived as a Christian Church, and later, following a conquest of Istanbul, was turned into a mosque, and much more recently (well, 1935 is fairly recent when you consider the building’s history!) it was converted to a monument and museum. Grand, international and reinvented, it is a hotspot for tourists, and makes the top three on most people’s’ “To Do” lists when they visit. It’s prestigious and it’s a juxtaposition. The original Christian symbols remain along with the edifices to Christ and the Virgin Mary – set alongside the newer Muslim symbology and scriptures. It’s a clash of culture and history, yet it’s beautiful and staggering in its size, and very impressive; made up of a huge central dome with huge windows. Fantastic as a tourist spot, but my photographic instincts were drawing me elsewhere…
The Blue Mosque is through-and-through Muslim. The name comes from the stunning swathe of blue tiles around the walls of the interior. There’s five calls to prayer a day, and we weren’t allowed access at those times, but when we were, the difference between the attitude here when compared to Hagia Sophia is marked. Although I and my camera were welcomed, it’s much more a place of worship and peace. We were allowed to access the main areas, which is where I caught some wonderful shots of people praying – one of a solitary man praying caught my attention. The Blue Mosque journey starts from a courtyard, surrounded by tall walls with information and readings on – it is here that the men wash their feet, and heads are covered in readiness for prayer – this is also a custom that visitors must adhere to – Pat donned a headscarf. It is impossible to describe the true scale of the place – the colours. We could only imagine how it would look when it was full to the brim with people worshipping. There is still segregation between the sexes – the man prayed in the larger, more open rooms, and women off to smaller areas to the sides.
This is one of my favourite images of the two places – it was such a clash of old and new.
This tunnel (the only way I can think to describe it) has been worn down by thousands and thousands of feet over the years, all coming to pray, then BHAM! It’s 2015 and there are modern families, modern conveniences, mixing with the old traditions. It’s a poignant image I think, it shows that modern life and progression continue around the history embedded in the area.
I think of the two, my preference was The Blue Mosque for the people. There was such a feeling of calm, and quiet, respect and reverence. I was able to capture images that showed the heart of the people living here at this time, now, rather than historical artefacts, and I look forward to taking my next group of photographers there to capture the undercurrent of the area – tradition and religion.
Content by Keith Moss
Words by Kim West..