Minarets

Like a tall spire on a gothic church, the towers known as ‘minarets’ emerging from, or standing next to, Islamic mosques, provide a focal point of location to the surrounding town or countryside.  But that is not their only function.  In Islam, followers are required to pray at five specific times of the day: dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sunset, and night. Each mosque has a person called a ‘muezzin’, whose job it is to summon the faithful to prayer at these times.  So that no-one could miss hearing the call, traditionally the muezzin climbed up to the circular gallery of his mosque’s minaret and called out the vocal reminder to all four points of the compass.  These days, of course, the muezzin usually makes the call from inside the mosque and his voice is amplified and broadcast from speakers installed in the minaret gallery.  With all of the no longer necessary climbing up and down the stairs, muezzins in older times were probably a lot fitter than those of today.

For centuries, the Ottoman empire ruled the Islamic world from Constantinople (now the city of Istanbul in modern Turkey), and in Ottoman architecture, the number of minarets a mosque displayed denoted the mosque’s importance.  Most mosques have a single minaret.  Important mosques, such as the New Mosque, or the Suleymaniye, Suleyman the Magnificent’s own mosque, have two.  The great Hagia Sophia, the former centre of the Christian world until the fall of Byzantium, has four minarets.  Near to Hagia Sophia is the superb Sultan Ahmed, better known as the Blue Mosque, and only this mosque, in all of the former Ottoman Empire, has an unprecedented six minarets.

Here is the typical single minaret next to the Küçükayasofya Camii (‘camii’ is Turkish for ‘Mosque), in Istanbul.

The single minaret and the entrance to Kucukayasofya Mosque in Istanbul

The single minaret and the entrance to Kucukayasofya Mosque in Istanbul

The New Mosque, next to the great Spice Bazaar, has two minarets.  Incidentally, the very popular Spice Bazaar complex is owned by the New Mosque and rents from all the shops in the bazaar pay for the maintenance of the mosque.

The pair of minarets outside the New Mosque, near the Galata Bridge in Istanbul

The pair of minarets outside the New Mosque, near the Galata Bridge in Istanbul

Only two of the four minarets that surround Hagia Sophia match each other, because they were added to the former Christian Basilica at three different times.  The first to be built was the red brick minaret (foreground) in the south-east corner, soon after Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered the  Byzantine city in 1453 AD.  The second and more slender stone minaret (on the right) was probably added by Beyazit II, the son of Mehmet II, somewhere around the end of the 15th and the beginning of the 16th centuries.  The great Islamic architect Mimar Sinan built the final pair of minarets (left and behind) while he was adding buttresses and strengthening the foundations of the ancient structure of Hagia Sophia towards the end of the 16th century.

The mighty former Christian church, former Islamic mosque, and now museum known as Holy Wisdom (in English), Hagia Sophia (in Greek), or Ayasofya (in Turkish).

The mighty former Christian church, former Islamic mosque, and now museum known as Holy Wisdom (in English), Hagia Sophia (in Greek), or Ayasofya (in Turkish).

Not only is Sultan Ahmed, the Blue Mosque, the only mosque to have six minarets, each of the minarets has multiple galleries.  Look closely (or click the picture to enlarge it) and you can see the banks of public address speakers facing outwards from most of the galleries.

The magnificent Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, with its six minarets.

The magnificent Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque, with its six minarets.

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