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Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Blue Mosque in 1969

By Pat Temiz who writes a community information website, Fethiye Times, for ex-pats living in southwest Turkey.

Bluemosque I vividly remember my first visit to Sultan Ahmet mosque (the famous Blue Mosque), only a few weeks after I arrived in Istanbul in 1969. It was Sheker Bayram, the holiday at the end of the Muslim fast called Ramazan in Turkey. It was a cold December day and I walked from my flat, up to Tunel, down to the Golden Horn, across the Galata Bridge and then up the hill to the mosque.

Once there,I was befriended by a Turkish man, also a teacher, who claimed to have learned his English from fifteen years of listening to the Voice of America.

He gave me a detailed tour of the mosque, which in those days didn’t have fitted carpet as it does now. Instead, the floor was layered with carpets of all sizes which had been left to the mosque by devout believers. The predominant colour was red and it was a delight to walk without shoes across layers of soft carpet. I noticed one bright green carpet in a prominent position in the centre of the floor and asked my guide why there was only one green one?

“Well,” he said, “a few years ago Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopa came on a state visit to Turkey and attended Friday prayers here. When he returned to his country he sent that carpet as a gift to the mosque.”

During the explanation, we had walked towards the green carpet and now he looked around to make sure no-one else was watching, knelt down, lifted a corner of the carpet to show me the knots visible on the back and whispered, “Quality is rubbish. Turkish carpet much better.”

The old, layered-carpet look of mosques has now sadly gone forever. In the 1960s, a mosque in Konya was undergoing renovation which necessitated the removal of the carpets and when the lower layers were revealed they were found to contain very old examples, often fragmented, dating back to the end of the Seljuk era in the 13th century.

The discovery was a "eureka" moment for art historians and the inevitable followed. As soon as the possibility of finding valuable carpets in mosques became public knowledge they became legitimate targets for burglary. Just as churches in Britain started locking their doors to prevent theft of silver and other valuables, mosques all over Turkey removed their individual layers of carpets in the 1980s and opted for fitted carpet instead.

Many valuable mosque carpets found their way to museums and I often wonder what became of Haile Selassie’s gift to the Blue Mosque.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Wouldn't it be lovely if some old lone Turkish Rastafarian has the green carpet in his home?

Your stories on Turkey are so delightful and informative. No tour of Turkey would give one the information that you provide. I have always wanted to see the Blue Mosque and other places in Turkey, but it won't happen now. I am grateful that I was privileged to see Ephesus while on a cruise tour. Thank you for sharing.

Enjoy your descriptions of sights I would enjoy seeing personally, but likely won't in this lifetime.

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