A friend of mine from the Czech Republic once told me her feelings while she visited Istanbul one year ago. She said that it was the first time to come into contact with the Muslim world. It was the first time she had heard the adhan prayer or call to worship, and for the first time she realised how beautiful mosques can be.
Istanbul, besides being known as the only city that connects two continents, is also famous for its rich history and architecture, which date back to the Ottoman period. Many of the beautiful landmarks to be seen in Istanbul will have a mosque in the background. Large, domed buildings with tall and slim minarets, and beautiful Ottoman tiles, mosaics and marble pillars decorating the interior. Most of the newer mosques are designed in a typical way. Indeed, one of my friends argues that all mosques in Istanbul somehow have a similar design. But I would argue, if you love architecture, there is one very unusual mosque that is worth a visit.
Sancaklar Cami, or mosque, is located in Büyükçekmece, not far from Fatih University campus. Its location is one of the features that distinguishes it from other mosques. It is hard to be reached by public transportation. The idea of distancing itself from the crowd also influences the design of the mosque, which – built in 2012 by architect Emre Arolat – is a new addition to the Istanbul skyline and won an award for best architecture in 2013. The first thing you can see from far away is that the minarets have been replaced by a high pile of grey stone, adorned with Arabic words. Once you reach the parking lot, you will see a prairie landscape and some stairs that take you down the hill and lead you to the prayer room. Once you reach the lower part of the mosque you will see, surrounded by high stone walls of irregular height, an empty space dividing the prayer room on one side and a cafe on the other.
The prayer room is like being inside a small cave under a big canopy. If you go inside, then you will feel fascinated by the gloomy atmosphere cast by the contrasting colours of the white wall and the black stone. There is only one ornament in the building – the “و” written in Arabic with light from a single lamp. There is no window inside. Instead, in the front row, a small light comes from the upper roof, which is built of glass. There are few rows for prayers and women pray in the same space as the men. Only the imam (the person who leads the prayer) sits in the front row. This mosque has not been designed for many people, with so few rows for prayers. The dramatic atmosphere and the idea to put the prayer room underground seem ideal for distancing oneself from the outer world and creating a more solemn atmosphere between those who pray and God. Instead of the traditional ottoman ornamentation in the ceiling, there is a circle that line by line surrounds the upper part.
Across from the prayer room you can find small coffee shop to have a cup of tea. And behind the cafe building you can find three seats from which to view the surrounding Büyükçekmece scenery, something that I found similar while I was sitting on Petrin Hill in Prague with the Vltava river at the foreground of the scene. Sancaklar Cami is a great place to visit for anyone who wants to see a unique type of mosque in Istanbul.
All images courtesy of the author, Aulia Pandamsari
Ever visited Sancaklar mosque or other unique architectural spots in Istanbul? Share your experiences with us in the comments.