Welcome to our series to discover Islamic heritage and increase our knowledge about our fantastic history. Do you love to visit the mosque? We offer you a selection of four amazing mosques with a wonderful history and value in the heart of all Muslims.
Hagia Sophia the Imperial
Hagia Sophia mosque has more than 1600 years of history. The mosque’s name is Hagia Sofia or Aya Sofya. This mosque is located in Turkey, Istanbul, precisely in the district of Sultan Ahmed. Let’s know a little bit more about its history.
Aya Sophia is a former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral. Indeed, Istanbul’s name was before the Ottoman capture, Constantinople, and was the Byzantine empire’s capital.
Hagia Sophia’s construction
Hagia Sopha is the third basilica present on this site. Justinian, between 532 and 537, built the basilica. In 1204, Catholics ransacked and looted under cover of separation from the Greek Orthodox during the Fourth Crusade. Added to the many sudden earthquakes, it seems a bit miraculous of history that Aya Sophia is still present today.
Aya Sophia’s conversation to a mosque
During the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, the Basilica of Saint Sophia (divine wisdom) became a mosque and was renamed Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia). To concretize the fall of Constantinople and the Christians’ defeat in 1453, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror made a point of honor to celebrate the Friday service under the basilica domes, which then became a mosque. During the Ottoman period, Aya Sofya was an imperial mosque.
The four minarets’ construction was successively by the sultans Mehmet II, Beyazit, and Selim II.
Its conversation as a Museum
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey’s proclamation, Aya Sofya remained an active mosque until 1931. Nevertheless, since 1935, it is no longer a place of worship but a museum. According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey, Hagia Sofia is the second most visited museum in the country, with more than 3.3 million visitors per year.
Its re-conversion as a mosque
The Blue Mosque of Istanbul is one of the most famous Muslim places of worship. Every year, it attracts millions of visitors amazed by its magnificent architecture. Located in the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, it stands right in front of Hagia Sophia, a symbol of the East and West meeting. In 2020, Hagia Sophia recovered its original status as a mosque. Muslims can go there and pray every day.
Great Mosque of Xi’an
The Mosque’s construction
The Great Mosque of Xi’an is the oldest and one of the most renowned mosques inChina. The construction was in 742 during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). However, much of the current Great Mosque of Xi’an construction was during the Ming Dynasty and expanded during the Qing Dynasty.
At different times were renovations of the Great Mosque of Xi’an, especially during Emperor Hongwu of the Ming Dynasty. It is a famous tourist site in Xi’an. Also, Chinese Muslims (mainly the Hui minority) continue to worship there. Unlike most mosques in the Middle East or Arab countries, the Great Mosque of Xi’an is entirely Chinese in its construction and architectural style, except for some Arabic decorations. The mosque has neither domes nor minarets of traditional style.
Occupying an area of more than 12,000 square meters, the Grand Mosque has four courtyards, is 250 meters long and 47 meters wide. Arranged as a garden, it provides a feeling of serenity as one progresses in the field. The first courtyard contains a wooden arch nine meters high covered with glazed tiles dating back to the 17th century. In the center of the second courtyard, a stone arch stands with two stelae on both sides. One of them is the writing of a famous calligrapher named Mi Fu of the Song Dynasty. The other is Dong Qichang, a calligrapher of the Ming Dynasty. His calligraphy is considered a great treasure because of its elegant and compelling characters.
At the entrance to the third courtyard is a hall that contains many steles from antiquity. When visitors enter this courtyard, they see Xingxin Tower, a place where Muslims come to follow religious services. A phoenix is placed in the fourth courtyard. The main pavilion of the mosque contains the prayer hall. The walls are covered with colorful drawings. This room can comfortably accommodate 1000 people. According to traditional custom, prayer services are five times a day: at dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, at dusk, and at night.
This remarkable mosque dates from the 17th century. Sultan Ahmet, I ordered his edification to reaffirm Ottoman rule after a defeat against Persia and a peace agreement with the Habsburgs in Austria. It clearly shows his willingness to compete with the impressive Hagia Sophia, built a millennium earlier by Christians.
The works, entrusted to the architect Sedefhar Mehmet Aga, last from 1609 to 1616. They lead to the criticized demolition of several Byzantine palaces. The tradition was that the Sultans’ war booty financed imperial mosques. However, Ahmet, I decided to use it in the empire’s treasure and attracted the elite’s wrath.
Also, the construction of the mosque’s six minarets caused serious controversy in the Muslim world at that time. Indeed, only the sacred mosque of Mecca had this number of minarets. No other mosque had the right to match it. Faced with the pressure, the sultan preferred to pay for Mecca’s seventh minaret construction rather than to remove a tower from his masterpiece in Istanbul.
The blue mosque, an architectural jewel
In Turkey, this mosque’s name is “Sultanahmet Camii,” the mosque of Sultan Ahmet. It houses the tomb of its founder, as well as a Koranic school and a hospice. Its European nickname “blue mosque” comes from the dominant color of Iznik faience adorning its interior.
Hagia, Sophia directly inspired the construction plan. A majestic dome of 23.5 meters in diameter surmounts the mosque, 43 meters high. Four half-domes surround it and rest on four imposing columns, called “elephant’s legs.” More than 200 windows illuminate this exceptional building.
The vast outdoor courtyard consists of vaulted archways hosting a fountain. From here, you can contemplate the perfect symmetry of the harmonious architecture of the mosque. Its minarets and central dome are visible from Topkapi Palace and the Asian side of the Bosphorus.
Visit the great blue mosque in Istanbul.
Sultanahmet Camii is not only a monument. It is, above all, a place of prayer for Muslims. There are several elements to take into account to organize your visit if you are Non-muslim. In Islam, five prayers are held daily between dawn and dusk. The site closes several times during the day to allow the faithful to gather in peace. Schedules are available on the Internet, on the official page of the mosque.
Do not miss to include the most famous mosque in Istanbul on your road during your next trip to Turkey!
Al Azhar – Cairo – Egypt
Jawhar As-Siqilli was commander-in-chief of Al-Mu’izz Li-Din Allâh, the first Caliph of the Fatimid dynasty. He conquered Egypt and founded Cairo’s city; then, he began constructing the Al Azhar Mosque. The work started in the month of Jumâdâ Al-Awwal of the year 359 A.H. (970 C.E.) and completed in Ramadan of the year 361 AH (972 C.E.).
Al Azhar was the first mosque built in Cairo, and it is today the oldest monument dating from the Fatimid era in Egypt. The origin of his name was not unanimous. Nevertheless, it seems that the Fatimids called it “Al-Azhar” in honor of Fatimah Az-Zahrâ ‘, the daughter of the Prophet – peace and blessings of God on Him.
At the time of its construction, this mosque was likely an open courtyard, surrounded by three galleries, the largest being the sanctuary of five corridors. A transept, slightly higher, crosses the sanctuary’s middle, from the inner court to the Qiblah wall, and ended with a dome above the mihrab. The two corners of the corridor were near the wall of the Qiblah. Two domes of identical shapes covered them. Unfortunately, no trace of it left. Each of the galleries reaches three depths. The arches surrounding the inner courtyard rest on rectangular pillars, while all the other arches rest on marble columns of different sizes.
The restoration of the mosque
Around 400 A.H. (1009 C.E.), Al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah, the third Fatimid Caliph of Egypt, restored the Al Azhar mosque. All that remains of this restoration is a wooden door currently kept by the Museum of Arab Art in Cairo.
At the end of the Fatimid dynasty (6th century of the Hegira – XII century C.E.), the covered part was enlarged. A corridor was added on each side of the inner court whose arcades rest on marble columns. In the middle of the eastern hall and at the beginning of the transept is a dome whose interior is adorned with stucco decorations and friezes with Koranic inscriptions in Kufic script. Many stucco ornaments and Kufic inscriptions are still visible all around the arches of the transept.
After the Fatimid dynasty
After the Fatimid dynasty, the first extension was the At-Taybarsiyyah University, which is to Al-Muzayyinin Gate’s right, on Al-Azhar Square. This University was built by the Emir `Alâ ‘Ad-Din Al-Khāzindārî, commander of the armies, in 709 AH (1309 CE). The most important aspect of this University is its finely worked, remarkably proportioned marble mihrab. It has harmonious polychrome ornaments and a golden mosaic.
Subsequently, Aqbughawiyah Madrasah was added instead of At-Taybarsiyyah and the left of the Gate as mentioned earlier. The Emir Aqbughâ `Abd Al-Wâhid built it, who was the Ustadâr of Sultan An-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalâwûn, in 740 A.H. (1339 E.C.). The entrance of Aqbughawiyah Madrasah has a remarkable reputation for the beauty of its marble.
Towards the year 844 A.H. (1441 C.E.), Jawhar Al-Qunuqbâ’î built Madrasah Jawhariyyah on the north side of the sanctuary. It has two entrances: one on the side of the mosque and the other on the outside. The Emir built a dome over a tomb where he was buried. Despite its small size, the artistic wonders it brings together distinguish this Madrasah.
In 873 A.H. (1468/69 E.C.), Sultan Qayt-Bay rebuilt the main entrance between the Madrasah Taybarsiyyah and Aqbughawiyah, which overlooks the inner courtyard and to the right of which he also built a minaret. These two buildings, like the other works of the Sultan, have rich decorations. He added a gallery for the Maghrebians as well as some cabinets.
The construction of the minaret
In 920 A.H. (1514 C.E.), Sultan Qansuh Al-Ghuri built a high minaret at two peaks, next to Qayt Bay. The notable features of this minaret are the two separate stairwells from the first floor. They ensure that if two people climb both stairs simultaneously, they will not see each other until they reach the upper level.
The most substantial extensions brought to this mosque were those undertaken by the Emir ‘Abd Ar-Rahman Katkhudâ who, in 1167 A.H. (1753/4 E.C.), built:
- The large gallery behind the old mihrâb whose floor and ceiling level is higher than that of the oldest part
- A mihrab and a marble pulpit side by side
- The entrance “Baba As-Sa`dydah” at the end of the south wall overlooking the learning desk of the Koran
- A minaret to the right of the last entrance
- A dome over his tomb
- The entry “Bab Ash Shurbah” and a minaret next to it.
The Emir also renovated the facade of the Madrasah Taybarsiyyah and connected it to the Madrasah Aqbughawiyah by constructing a double entrance known as “Bab Al-Muzayyinin” and overlooking the Al-Azhar Square.
Around 1210 AD (1795 CE), Al-Wali Ibrahim Bey built a gallery for Sharqqah students. Muhammad ‘Ali Pasha Al-Kabir built another for Sinnariyyah students. The Khedive Isma’il ordered the demolition and reconstruction of the “Bab As-Sa’adah” entrance and the office it contained and restored the Madrasah Aqbughawiyah. Khedive Tawfiq rebuilt the gallery which had been added by ‘Abd Ar-Rahman Katkhudâ.
Continuously until 1310 A.H. (1892-93 CE), the mosque restoration took place when the Diwan al-Awqaf (Islamic Donations Directorate) revived the arches around the inner courtyard.
The latest renovation
In 1312 A.H. (1894 E.C.), the Khedive ‘Abbas II undertook the construction of the Abbasid gallery and renovation works:
- Renovation of the northern facade of the mosque
- Restoration of the wooden fence around the inner courtyard,
- Restoration of the marble floor of the sanctuary
- Renovation of the magnificent carpets offered by King Farûq I.