Saturday, April 19th 2014: Edirne


Along a highway, in the middle of a farm field outside the city, the bus stops. We pile out, rub our eyes, and blink into the low, early morning sun, wondering why we are here. Although we’ve been driving for almost an hour, the densely packed ticky tacky apartments of the city have only just begun to fall away into sloping farmland blanketed in yellow flowers. A peculiarly new development, designed to resemble an Italian villa complete with tiled roofs, stucco façade, and an ostentatious fountain, posed on the other side of the highway, looking like square peg trying to fit into a round hole. A beautiful but understated stone wall flanks the road, with a simple engraving serving as the only indication that we’ve arrived at Sançaklar Camii.

We filter through the opening in the wall, and begin to navigate the jigsaw pathway of granite and grass. The broken path suggests a journey that might be lost; united then interrupted, reunited then interrupted again. As we drift across the crooked pavers, metallic in the low light against the dark grass, a dog with a big grin trots across the lawn to greet us. A bit unkempt with a tag in his ear, perhaps this dog is lost, too.

Our new tour guide clips along in front of the group then disappears over a ledge, where the path spills down across a gentle hill. A large curved wall, in the same ubiquitous grey stone that’s along the street, emerges out of the grade, only revealing itself to be a building by a narrow tunnel leading to a doorway. Gracefully nestled into the hillside, the façade bleeds into the lawn, becoming low, terraced walls that sweep across the gradient like threads in a spider web. A staircase that transverses the horizontal rhythm of the terraces leads us down into a long, slender courtyard, sheltered on two sides by the worship space and the library. A procession of dogs, exact replicas of our recent acquaintance, appear and begin to disperse through our group, some boisterously and some timidly.

The linear space between the buildings, through a narrow corridor, bestows a variation of experiences for gathering and contemplating. While the interior spaces on either side are typically for quiet reflection and prayer, the central courtyard is one where the congregation can merrily rejoice under the daylight. Nooks for solitude fade into the periphery, with simple benches that provide seating for an intimate meeting. Views of the quaint, peaceful surroundings peek through perforations in the surface of the walls—grey, as not to detract from the splendor of the countryside.

The geometry of the mosque tells the story: the broken lines of stone and pathway zigzag across the surface until it converges into a whole, forming the enveloping, welcoming void of the musallah. Alone, a person might feel lost. Coming to Sançaklar Camii, they find a space for community and acceptance. Although the dogs that have escorted our visit might be strays, when they come here they are not lost; they have found their pack, and this is their home.



Today we had our first trip out of Istanbul. Everyone was excited to see something different from what we had already seen over the first week in the city. I think our expectations where matched; our first stop was an amazing modern mosque, designed with the ideals and basics of a classic mosque and simplified in such a way that the simplicity of its form and structure created a great impact. Afterwards, we made our way to Edirne to see more mosques.

Out of the three mosques that we visited today, I’d have to say that the one which created the greater impact was, of course, the Selimiye Camii. The structure is monumental, but as you walk in it is open and light. The 999 windows that are located all around the structure allow the light to infiltrate the space and create a feeling of lightness. Furthermore, the design of the central dome with the adjacent domes, semi domes and arches open up the space and create layers, of which contribute to this feeling of lightness. Another incredible aspect of this mosque is the detail of not only the stone work, but the paintings that decorate the domes, arches and walls. The colors and designs that cover the space bring a new layer of complexity to the space and create many different patterns that work together as one. Finally, the fountain in the center of the main space symbolizes purity and paradise; this added the final spiritual connection that made this mosque so fascinating.


MODERN AND OLD Bingqin Huang

The modern mosque we visited this morning is in an interesting location. It is surrounded by an open natural environment. The place is so quiet; we can only hear the sounds of the wind and the birds. Silence fell upon this place. I felt calm standing in the courtyard.  The use of natural elements in the modern mosque impressed me. The mosque was built in a modern geometric form with natural materials like water, stone and wood. The walls of the mosque were piled up by different sizes of stones; grasses grow in between the square pavers and water in ponds flows slightly with the wind. All of the materials being used in this place were carefully selected. All of the materials used in this place have similar colors. The greyish structure melted well into the surrounding environment.

The interior of the praying room was also very interesting. The room is almost completely enclosed at the walls and ceiling except for one side of the ceiling for fresh air and light. It is dark in the room but has sunlight shining at this edge. The materials in the praying room includes glass, wood, metal and stone. All these materials give people a cold feeling. But actually the room is very warm. The carpet on the ground is soft and clean, which helps to form a comfortable environment. The geometric ceiling is also attractive. It gives people the feeling of mystery and enclosure.

The modern mosque compares to traditional mosques is very different. Amazingly I felt holy and at peace.