The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, is an Ottoman 17th century imperial mosque. The design blends traditional Islamic architecture with Byzantine elements from the neighbouring Hagia Sophia Mosque.
The Hagia Sophia Mosque was built a thousand years earlier as a church by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
After the city (formerly known as Constantinople) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the city’s Grand Bazaar was built to stimulate the Ottoman economy. Comprising 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops, it became a major engine of Silk Road trade. Today, a staggering 90 million people pass through the Bazaar each year.
The Bosporus, the narrow strait that separates the two halves of Istanbul, and Europe from Asia, ensured that it was not only overland trade routes flowing through the city. The Bosporus was and remains one of the busiest sea lanes in the world.
Konya marks the final resting place of the 13th century Persian poet, Islamic theologian and Sufi mystic, Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. Sufism, sometimes defined as ‘the inward dimension of Islam’, dates back to early Islam and takes many forms.
Rumi introduced to his followers the practice of whirling as a physically active meditation. Through the act of whirling, dervishes turn towards the Divine presence, grow through love, desert their egos and strive towards perfection. They then return from this spiritual state better able to love and be of service to the whole of creation. The tall felt hats they wear represent the tombstone of the dervish’s ego.
Dervishes whirl at the Galata Mevlevi House in Istanbul; one of Turkey’s few remaining dervish lodges.
Eastern Anatolia was once part of the Christian kingdoms of Armenia. It is home to numerous churches, some dating back to the 10th century, such as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Lake Van.
North of Van, past Mount Ararat where Noah’s Arc is believed to have come to rest, lie the ruins of Ani which was once one of the world’s largest cities. Located at a key junction of the Silk Road, it was known as ‘the city of 1001 churches’. The destruction caused by the Mongols in 1236 and by an earthquake in 1319 means that only a few vestiges of that city remain.
Numerous caravanserais survive in this region. For thousands of years, these were the places where travelling merchants would rest, wash in the hammam (bathhouse), pray in the mosque, treat their injured or ill horses and camels and share news. Typically they were built every 30km — a day’s journey apart — and they formed the backbone of the Silk Road trading networks. There were also used to quarantine travellers before they entered cities in case they carried the plague.