Kaaba Tiles (more questions than answers)

Ever since my recent visit to Istanbul, Kaaba tiles have been swirling around in my mind. I first discovered them during a trip to Turkey two years ago, when I thought that I’d get home and look them up on the magical interwebs and find information and images to sift through to my heart’s delight. Not so much. Before we go further, here’s one, from the Mosque of Rustem Pasa (in Istanbul):

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Kaaba tile, Mosque of Rustem Pasa, Istanbul

Just look at it for a minute – see the Kaaba (the black rectangle) in the middle? See the minarets around the outside? See how there are six? Well, a seventh one was added to the actual mosque that surrounds the Kaaba after the Blue Mosque (Mosque of Sultan Ahmed) in Istanbul was built with six minarets. Of course, the mosque at Mecca, the center of Islam, had to have one more. So a seventh one was built at the Al-Masjid al-Haram (surrounding the Kaaba and meaning “the sacred mosque”) in 1629. Does that mean that this tile dates to before 1629? It seems like it must, but as with most questions about these tiles, then again, it may not.

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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