The Imperial Ottoman Mosque

The majority of the mosques in Istanbul, and those highlighted in this guide, are Ottoman Imperial structures. As their architecture is about the evolution of prayer space, there is no one floor plan per se, such as the cross plan of a Catholic church. However, you will notice several recurring elements:

  • avlu: A monumental courtyard preceding the entryway to the mosque.
  • hünkar mahfili: The sultan's loge, located in variable places and only in imperial mosques. This is where the sultan would (privately) attend services.
  • kürsü: Generally located to the left of the mihrab, this is where the imam sits when reading from the Koran.
  • mihrab: The niche indicating the kible, or direction of Mecca.
  • mimbar (or minbar): The "pulpit" from which the imam delivers his sermon.
  • minaret: The more minarets, the more prestigious the building/builder/namesake. The Blue Mosque, with its six minarets, is the only one in the world to match the number of minarets on the mosque in Mecca.
  • sadirvan: An ornamental fountain, usually at the center of the courtyard, for ritual ablutions. In practice, these are decorative, and worshipers use faucets available on the side of the mosque.
  • serefe: The balcony of the minaret from which the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer.

Some Imperial and philanthropic mosques were the centerpiece of an entire complex, or külliye, serving the community. This complex would include some of the following: hospital, soup kitchen, primary school, public bath, public fountains, tombs/mausoleums, and a market.

Etiquette for Entering the House of the Lord

Respect for places of worship does not only apply to mosques. The legacy of the Byzantine and Ottoman eras appears in dozens and dozens of churches and synagogues as well. These faiths are no less expectant of proper, respectful, and conservative behavior under their roofs. For women, exposed shoulders and thighs are a no-no in all three, and heads should be covered both in mosques, and for married women only, in synagogues. Men get a bit more latitude, but should also be respectful in their choice of attire when visiting a house of worship. For visits to the mosque, remember to take your shoes off outside the entrance and before stepping onto the carpets. Depending on the size of the mosque, you will either leave your shoes outside or carry them in with you (there are little wooden shelves at the back of the interior for storage during prayer/visitation). In general, visitors are told that mosques are closed to visitors during prayer time, but I have yet to be turned away and find this to be one of the more solemn and telling moments to experience. If you do enter during services, remain respectful and near the perimeter of the mosque, and refrain from wandering around.

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