There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Three Favourite Mosques: Turpan, Esfahan and Cairo

I said at the start of Three Favourite Churches that I am not a believer, though Lynne is. I should add here that neither of us are Muslims, but I like mosques for the same reason I like churches. I like the architecture, I like the history they contain and the sense of community they embody. Building a church or a mosque is somebody’s attempt at the sublime, sometimes for the greater glory of god, sometimes for the greater glory of themselves. Here I am appreciating their efforts not judging their motivation.

The first and third of these mosques appear elsewhere in these pages. To read about them in context, click the link.

The Emin Mosque, Turpan, China

The Emin Mosque, Turpan
Turpan, in Xinjiang, is an oasis city on the northern rim of the fearsome Taklamakan Desert. The Xijiang Uigher Autonomous Region is in China's far west and is more Central Asian than Far Eastern. The Uigher's are not ethnically Chinese and they speak their own Turkic language which is written in Arabic script.

Corridor Inside the Emin Mosque

Turpan is famous for its intensely sweet green raisins. The Emin Mosque was built amid the vineyards on the edge of the city in the eighteenth century by Prince Suleiman and named in honour of his father Emin Khoja. The region was incorporated into China during the Qing dynasty, but the Qing treated their empire with a light touch and encouraged their supporters in the building of this mosque. Uighers have been Muslims since the tenth century but after decades of communist repression, religious observance in Turpan is not overt. We walked round the elegant building and its well-tended grounds, the beneficiaries of much government cash. Perhaps significantly, the building is no longer in use as a mosque. The design, particularly the huge pepper pot  minaret - at 44m the highest in China - recalls the great mosques of Samarkand and Bukhara. It may lack their rich colours, but the clean, simple lines make this the most elegant of buildings.

The Sheik Lotfallah Mosque, Esfahan, Iran

The Sheik Lotfallah Mosque, Esfahan
Imam Square, also known as Naqsh-e Jahan Square (Image of the World Square) in Esfahan is one of the world's great city squares. Its is huge, over 500m long and 160m wide, but it is not the size that makes it great, it is the way everything fits so perfectly. It is surrounded by a two story arcade of shops broken only by a palace and two extraordinarily fine mosques. A third great mosque, the Friday Mosque is a short walk away through the Great Bazaar which also opens onto the square.

Under the dome of the Sheik Lotfallah Mosque
The Sheik Lotfallah Mosque is the smallest of the three and was built between 1603 and 1618 as a private mosque for the Shah's hareem, which is why it needed no minarets. It was once connected to the Ali Qapu Palace by a tunnel under the square and the entrance was guarded from prying eyes. It is now open for anyone to enjoy.

The Ibn Tulun mosque, Cairo, Egypt

The Ibn Tulun Mosque, Cairo
Ibn Tulun was appointed ruler in Egypt by the Caliph of Baghdad in 868 AD. He promptly declared independence and founded his own dynasty, which ruled until 905. His mosque, built in the ninth and tenth centuries, is massive and plain. It's open courtyard 'has the grandeur of the desert where all of Allah's worshippers are prostrated equally beneath the sun' (The Rough Guide to Egypt). It was extremely hot the day we were there and we had the place to ourselves. The simplicity and quietness were impressive - few places in Cairo are ever quiet - but I would have thought that worshipping in the open courtyard was a recipe for sunstroke (maybe I have spent too much of my life in the chilly north).

The unusual minaret with an external spiral staircase is traditionally said to have been the result of Ibn Tulun  absent-mindedly twisted a scrap of paper and then justified his fiddling by presenting it as a design for the minaret.

The arcade, Ibn Tulun Mosque
Around the arcade is a sycamore frieze. It is over 2 km long and bears a fifth of the Koran in Kufic script. That must have a taken a dedicated person a long time.

see also
Three Favourite...............

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