Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Magical Istanbul Now and Past: My Jumbled Impressions

The architect Sinan (1489-1588) designed and built some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. He also inspired others, including the famous Blue Mosque, or Sultanahmet mosque, depicted above, which was designed and built by the architect Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, a student of Sinan just after Sinan's lifetime, in the style Sinan invented.

Sinan was a featured character in the novel The Architect's Apprentice by Elif Shafak.  I was reading the novel when I saw the above photo of the Blue Mosque.  So my thoughts of Istanbul past and present are very mingled: my enjoyment of this rare and myth-like book... my memories of the fabulous sights I saw during my two trips to Istanbul... and the beautiful collection of photos taken in a rare snowstorm this week.

The snowstorm photos were posted on Facebook here  by Seref Ozen, a dealer in fabulous rugs. We visited his shop near this mosque in 2006, and I became his Facebook friend soon after that. The Istanbul that exists today, like the city in the novel is a magical place, unfortunately also full of problems maybe not that different from the ones in the novel.

Mihrimah's Mosque, designed and built by Sinan, is one of the many buildings discussed in The Architect's Apprentice.
On our 2006 visit, this mosque was closed because of earthquake damage, but we saw this view of the exterior.
Mihrimah was the daughter of Sultan Suliman the Magnificent and wife of the Sultan's official Rüstem Pasha. She plays a major role in the fictitious tale told by Elif Shafak. In the novel, the architect's apprentice, named Jahan, has an ongoing relationship with Mihrimah throughout her life -- entirely invented, and entirely wonderful to read. He's actively involved in the building of a number of Sinan's masterpieces, including the two depicted here. He's also the trainer and caregiver of a very intelligent white elephant, who becomes an endearing character in the tale.

I loved the plot, the human characters, the animal characters, and the descriptions in this novel, which is so charming that the reader doesn't have to stop and think about whether it's true to historical fact -- other than imagining the beautiful sights, aromas, and relationships, in the magical city of Istanbul.

Interior of the Rustem Pasha mosque: also by Sinan.
Photo from our 2006 visit.
I might write another post about the fantastic food writings in this novel, but for now, this is what I'm thinking about.

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