David Pierce | Matematik | M.S.G.S.Ü.


Rüstem Paşa & Constantine Lips

(Links here are usually to my own pages or to Wikipedia.)

Sunday, February 24, 2013, was sunny, unlike the previous Sunday. As then though, I continued exploring the old city of New Rome. This time, Ayşe could come with me.

Near the Galata Bridge is the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, a small Sinan mosque that Ayşe and I had visited once before, on the recommendation of her enişte (in fact her mother's sister's husband; but an enişte could be one's own sister's husband, and indeed some Turkish people call me enişte, thus treating Ayşe as their sister).

Back then, we visited on a rainy day, and the mosque was locked up. Some European tourists were also interested in getting inside, so Ayşe found somebody who could unlock the door.

This time, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, there was no problem getting inside. Tourists were asked to use the side entrance, and quite a few were doing so. Meanwhile, some of the faithful came and went through the main entrance for their namaz. We were between the noon and the afternoon communal prayers; but I have heard a tour guide explain, in the İsa Bey Mosque in Selçuk, that one need not pray at an inconvenient time.

I had lately been paying attention to how Sinan supported his domes. In the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, the transitional shape between the circle of the dome's base and the rectangular base of the mosque itself is an octagon.

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Perhaps what puts the mosque on the tourist trail is the tiles. Every surface of the mosque interior seems to have tiles of a different design.

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At the tourist entrance, a man sold postcards and books. We bought a book full of glossy photos of all of the different tile designs in the mosque. The book even tells you the number of each kind of tile used.

Outside the main door of the mosque, there was one unique tile, with the Kaaba depicted at its center.

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Also out front, there was a stack of pocket-sized copies of an English version of the Quran. A sign in Turkish said these free books were for foreigners only. I felt free to take one myself, to add to the three English translations that I already had. It can be interesting to see how different people translate key passages. This particular edition was printed in Turkey, and its cover featured a pattern seen in the tiles of the Rüstem Paşa Mosque itself. The pattern included tulips, not standing erect, but bowing, as if in submission to a higher power.

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The translation itself was by an Indian scholar called Wahiduddin Khan, founder of an organization called Center for Peace and Spirituality. Khan writes in the introduction of his translation,

So, the desired approach, according to the Quran, is one which moves man's heart and mind. That is, in addressing people's minds, it satisfies them, convinces them of the veracity of the Quran and, in short, brings about an intellectual revolution within them. This is the mission of the Quran. And this mission can be performed only by means of rational arguments. This target can never be achieved by means of violence or armed action.

This is good. Khan attributes to the Quran a feature that I ascribe to mathematics: acceptance cannot be forced on anybody. Therefore, I like to think, if you learn mathematics, you may be less likely to accept teachings that somebody does try to force on you.

Unfortunately, just that morning, I had learned of the current Turkish government's attempts to force on people certain religious views, on alcohol in particular. According to an article in Hürriyet Daily News from February 13 of this year,

Two verses of the poem “Table,” which was written by renowned Turkish poet Edip Cansever, were omitted from high school books since they include the word “beer.”

(I learned of this from the blog of George Messo.)

Along a narrow street leading inland from the Rüstem Paşa Mosque, the shops were closed; but this only meant that other people could set up shop on the street itself, laying down blankets and setting out their wares on top.

We walked up to the Süleymaniye complex, where we sat outside and ate at a restaurant famous for its beans (and justly so, I think). We had eaten there first the previous summer, with my mother and sister; I had eaten there myself, the Sunday before. During the week, the restaurant would get custom from the adjacent campus of Istanbul University. On a Sunday though, the seating outside was still quite crowded.

The waiter had asked in English whether we wanted something to eat; then he apologized when he understood that we knew Turkish. Later two passing tourists asked him the way to the Golden Horn. They had a map, but they didn't know where they were on it. The waiter turned out not to know what “Golden Horn” meant. (It is simply Haliç, “The Inlet”, in Turkish). I stepped up to give directions, or at least to orient the map.

We continued walking up the peninsula, pretty much as I had done the Sunday before. We passed the Column of Marcian. In the photos here, I note the remnants of a Latin inscription, as well as all of the metal additions that hold the capital of the column together. It is assumed that a statue of Marcian himself once stood on that capital. According to Sumner-Boyd and Freely, the column was hidden behind houses, until these burned down in 1908. The writers describe the shaft as “a monolithic column of Syenitic granite”; this would seem to confirm the impression that, unlike the plinth and the capital, the shaft is entirely original. It is not clear whether the writers mean to say that the shaft itself is from Syene, that is, Aswan; but this would not be out of the question, given that, in Marcian's time, a great Egyptian obelisk had already been brought to Constantinople, where it still sits on the Hippodrome today.

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Down the road, we visited the İskender Paşa Mosque; but the mid-afternoon prayer time was approaching. Several pairs of girls' and womens' footwear stood outside the door. We left our shoes there ourselves and went inside; but a man indicated to Ayşe that she should go to the women's section on the upper level. Since so many men were already praying on the ground floor, and this was not a tourist mosque, I did not try to take photos. Originally built in 1505, the mosque pre-dates Sinan. The dome just sits on four walls; there are no semidomes around it.

A man inside adressed me in English, saying merely Hello or something like that. When I responded in Turkish, he acknowledged this, and continued in that language, saying that prayers were about to begin. He was friendly, but still I took him to mean that I should make myself scarce. He might however have meant to invite me to join in.

We left the mosque courtyard by the other entrance and continued down the hill until we found the day's main destination: Fenari İsa Mosque, originating in the tenth century Church of Constantine Lips.


Strictly, the Lips church is only the northern half the existing structure; another church was added on the south side later, during the Byzantine Restoration following the Latin Invasion of the Fourth Crusade. The original church had five apses. The new church shared one of these and added two more. In the conversion to a mosque perhaps, the northernmost apse was removed. So there are six apses left. We contemplated these from the outside.

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I can understand that stone easily endures for a millenium. It is hard to understand how brick and mortar does. And yet what we were looking at could hardly be a much younger restoration.

Nearby a girl was photographing her two girl friends with a cellphone. I offered to photograph all three together, and they agreed. Then a boy was photographing his two boy friends, and I made a similar offer, which was also accepted.

We waited out the afternoon prayers over a plate of baklava. When we did enter the mosque, there were still quite a few men coming and going in their individual rites. Again one of them indicated to Ayşe the women's section; but this time that section was basically a closet on the ground floor.


We mostly wandered up and down the narthex, looking through at the several apses.


One of the subway lines ran underneath the wide road that we were near; but this did not directly connect to the subway line near our flat. A passing dolmuş indicated that it served the metrobüs line, which ran just outside the land wall of the old city. So we caught the dolmuş. In fact this dropped us off near a streetcar line. The metrobüs was not far away though. As we were passing the queue for tickets, we were stopped by a young woman, who asked if we spoke English. She was one of five young women, apparently French, and one of them was trying to reach the airport for her flight in a couple of hours. Ayşe and I were not sure of the best way to go, but somebody else suggested taking the metrobüs to the subway. We took the traveller to the platform with us, and put her on the bus going the other way. Actually she had to squeeze herself in. These busses always seem to be filled to capacity. Our own was that way. And many of our students take these busses a longer distance, every day.

Son değişiklik: Tuesday, 26 February 2013, 08:57:20 EET