Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, the splendor of an Empire

The mosque is called the blue mosque because of the hand-painted blue tiles found on the interior of the mosque.

Lights bath the mosque in blue at night, giving further credence to nickname Blue Mosque.

And this grand mosque was built by perhaps the youngest sultan to ever take the throne – Ahmed I.

Ahmed was a young man when he came to the throne. Born in 1590, he ascended to become sultan at the age of 13. This was because Ahmed was not meant to become the sultan at such a young age. His father Mehmed III had ascended the sultanate in 1595, and went on to kill his 19 brothers and half-brothers as well as his own eldest son. Leaving the young boy Ahmed.

Mehmed III was however a relatively idle ruler, since he accumulated power through violence and bloodshed and did nothing with it. Leaving the administration of his empire to his mother and viziers. Now this had nothing to do with the fact that the Ottoman Empire was going through a period of peace. In fact, his empire was at war with Austria throughout his reign. Mehmed led heroic campagins against the Austrians and won in some battles despite the odds being against him. Excessive, drinking and eating however led to a weak constitution and the sultan eventually died in 1603 at the age of 37.

His 13 years old son, Ahmed would succeed the throne with his grandmother (the real governor at the time) still alive. His first act as Sultan was to however break with tradition. Prior to him, the eventual successor to the throne would have his brothers and potential pretenders to the throne killed in battle or executed, Ahmed was sent to live with his grandmother instead. This might not have been because Ahmed was especially kind but for more political reasons – a 13 year old within are children would leave the dynasty ruined if he had died too, a successor had to be kept alive to ensure the survival of the dynasty. That precedent however was set, and royal fratricide was put to an end in the Ottoman Empire.

Ahmed’s reign began well, but the good times did not last. His empire was at war on two sides – a long standing war with the Austrians in the north and a new front against the Persians in the east. The former war ended in an inconclusive stalemate while the latter war ended in humiliating defeat for the Ottomans. Disaffected locals rose up in rebellion that took years to suppress. All this happened before Ahmed even turned 21.

The young sultan needed something to reassert Ottoman power (read: his power) and his rule. And he decided to build a large mosque in the heart of the city. Unlike his predecessors who financed mosques through conquest, he financed the war from his nations coffers (read: deficit spending). His choice of location was on the site of an ancient Byzantine palace drawing the ire of the ulamas of the day.

Ahmed’s mosque was to be greater than the church near by, it was to reveal the power of Islam, but more importantly, the fact that this young man was the true sultan.

According to Wikipedia, “The Sultan Ahmed Mosque has five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. The design is the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development. It incorporates some Byzantine Christian elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. The architect, Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, synthesized the ideas of his master Sinan, aiming for overwhelming size, majesty and splendour.”

Ahmed died the year his mosque was completed however from medical conditions. Leaving a history of his regime being more about peace and Islam than his predecessors.

A legacy that continues to last till this day through a still active mosque and an active tourist site, even while the ravages of time have seen the Ottoman Empire come to an end.

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