Istanbul’s Mosque of Rustem Pasa + Mosque Interiors 101

I’ll be honest. I’d never heard of the Mosque of Rustem Pasa until I went to Istanbul. I had no idea what I was missing. Before we begin, let’s take a quick look at the beauty that awaits us:

Mosque of Rustem Pasa, 1561-63, Istanbul

Wow.  Breathtaking, isn’t it?

This mosque was built by the Mimar Sinan, architect to Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent and his successors. What Sinan did that was so groundbreaking was to use Hagia Sophia (built as a church in the 6th century in Istanbul, became a mosque in the 15th cent, now a museum) as a model for creating a dome that appears to float above the interior and fill it with light. He was so successful that most mosques built after that very closely copy Sinan’s concept. It’s unusual to find a mosque in a small town that isn’t clearly modeled on his mosques.

The Mosque of Rustem Pasa (ROOS-tem PASH-a) was built for Rustem Pasa (go figure) who was Suleyman’s Grand Vizier and was married to Suleyman’s daughter.  Rustem Pasa had died by the time the mosque was begun, but before his death, he successfully plotted with Roxelana, Suleyman’s wife, to cause the death of Suleyman’s favorite son. Suleyman had his son Mustafa strangled in 1553. Yes, strangled.

There’s a lot to say about this photo, but first take a look:

Mosque of Rustem Pasa, 1561-63, Istanbul

This photo shows several elements that are present in mosques, no matter where you are. The mihrab (MEEH-ruhb), the niche on the wall that the man is facing, shows the direction of Mecca and the direction in which people should pray. (The direction of Mecca is called the “qibla ” (KEE-bluh), and the wall that the mihrab is on is called the “qibla wall.”) In many of the mosques that we went to the mihrab was quite plain, but here, it’s covered in fabulous tile like the rest of the mosque.  Continue reading


Istanbul Archaeological Museums: The Museum of the Ancient Orient

I’m not going to yammer on and on in this post, because I really want to show you the absolutely incredible art that I saw last month at Museum of the Ancient Orient, part of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums.  A short introduction, then we’ll get on with it.

The Istanbul Archaeological Museums is made up of three museums: the Archaeological Museum, built in the late 19th century, houses the Alexander Sarcophagus and other sarcophagi found at the same site (more on that in a future post), an additional amazing sarcophagus collection, and items from many Turkish archaeological excavations including Troy (I could have spent all day in just that building); the Museum of the Ancient Orient, originally built as a school in the late 19th century, then transformed into a museum; and the Tiled Kiosk, built in 1472, originally part of the Topkapi Palace, and now a museum for Islamic ceramics and tiles.  Of course the grounds also contain a small cafe where I had my beloved tea, sitting next to a garden of columns, a large Medusa head, and other ancient statuary.

Head of Medusa, Istanbul Archaeological Museum courtyard, Istanbul

Before tea, I couldn’t resist going into the Museum of the Ancient Orient to see the animals from the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. (The Oriental Institute in Chicago has a couple of these on display, too.)  I had no idea how many other treasures I’d find there. I was seriously wowed by the Ishtar Gate animals, as I stood there sweating (the museum was very warm) and snapping photos. I suspect serious reconstruction work has been done on the dragon, but it’s so beautiful that I barely thought about it:

Dragon, Ishtar Gate, from Babylon, late 6th century BC, Museum of the Ancient Orient, Istanbul

Continue reading