In 2010, from a post on my website: I am still attempting to master the path of professional gypsy, more practice is necessary; but until then, please enjoy my latest adventure to the beguiling city of Istanbul. Adventure beckons and a random invitation from an old dear friend, Gwenda come with me, leads me back to Istanbul. All our original clients visited, it was kind of a joke, that many would pass each other in the Blue Mosque.
For centuries described as the intoxicating meeting between East and West, Istanbul has served as the capital of three of the greatest empires in Western history and is on the legendary gateway between Europe and Asia. These days, the city is on the thrilling edge of age-old tradition and modernity.
Wherever I travel, I’ve always been obsessed with ancient colorful tiles, in Portugal, a museum is devoted to tiles. Spanish floor tiles with vibrant splashes of color, geometric swirls, and patterns. Italian tiles have long been regarded as some of the most beautiful in the world. Arabian influences and pottery design influenced many European countries. Turkish ceramics are among the oldest in the world and greatly influenced both the design world and global manufacturing methods. In the 13th Century, tiles were used to decorate only the important places of prominence, such as palaces, mosques, and tombs. Tiles were extensively used in places of worship; the floor and wall tiles used in Mosques helped the sound resonate during prayer. The specific type of tiles used for this purpose were usually Iznik tiles.
The most popular sites in Istanbul brimming with tiles include: Hagia Sophia – filled with 30 Million Gold Tiles. A little smaller and harder to find is the Rustem Pasha Mosque. One of the smaller mosques in the city, it was built by Rustem Pasa in 1561 and is noted for the very fine tiles covering the interior and exterior walls. An Ottoman mosque located in the Hasırcılar Çarşısı (Strawmat Weavers Market) in the Tahtakale neighborhood of the Fatih district of Istanbul, Turkey, near the Spice Bazaar.
The Rüstem Pasha Mosque is famous for its large quantities of İznik tiles in a very wide variety of floral and geometric designs, which cover not only the façade of the porch but also the mihrab, minbar and walls. There are approximately 2300 tiles arranged in around 80 different patterns. These tiles exhibit the early use of Armenian bole, a tomato-red pigment that would become characteristic of İznik pottery. While this red hue is applied more thinly on most of the tiles, it was applied heavily on the tiles near the qibla wall and appeared scarlet in color. The bright emerald green color is only used in a panel added above an exterior doorway later, and a study of the qibla tiling indicates that turquoise was the greenest hue available to the mosque’s builders prior to the addition of that emerald green. Some of the tiles, particularly those in a large panel under the portico to the left main entrance, are decorated with sage green and dark manganese purple that are characteristic of the earlier ‘Damascus ware’ color scheme. No other mosque makes such a lavish use of İznik tiles; with later mosques Sinan used tiles more sparingly.
After you’ve sorted through the trinkets and textiles in the Grand Bazaar, mosey to the Spice Market. Rustem Pasha Mosque (Rüstem Paşa Camii) is a hidden gem of a mosque that some describe as a miniature Blue Mosque, without the crowds. It’s a little tricky to find but it’s well worth it – the stunning beauty of the interior is matched by the feeling of finding a little oasis amid a hectic area.
The mosque is open from 10 am-6 pm every day but is closed to visitors during prayer times. There is no Rustem Pasha Mosque ticket price, but donations are welcome.
Finding Rüstem Paşa Mosque isn’t obvious, but it also isn’t impossible. Head past Yeni Camii (New Mosque) towards the entrance of the Spice Bazaar, but turn right when you reach Mehmet Efendi Kurukahveci (Turkish coffee shop). At the end of this road, there is a small entrance to the mosque on the right-hand side that you will have to climb stairs to reach.
Arriving in Istanbul for the first time, one is unprepared for the dazzling mosques and minarets, the sparkling Bosphorus Strait, your grade school history classes come to life: Constantinople, Byzantine architecture, the supremely elegant Sultan Palaces, Mosques with a dizzying array of blue tiles, soaring vaulted ceilings; oh, and did I mention the muezzin calling out the five-time daily call to prayer. In Istanbul, many of the mosques do not use a taped prayer call; each haunting rendition is individually sung, I find it very calming and reflective. Here, finally, I was allowed to visit a mosque.
Excellent restaurants, the Spice Market, exploring the Grand Bazaar, a week covers all of Istanbul, if you have more days, we can add Cappadocia and many other fascinating beautiful sites in Turkey. Sufi dancers mesmerize audiences in a small venue, music underground in an ancient water cistern, ancient hammam, a temple to the ancient soak and scrub ritual – so many activities besides enjoying the historic venues.