I live in Istanbul which is known for its marvelous mosques. I can name many but these are the first ones that come into my mind; Süleymaniye, Rüstem Paşa, Mihrimah Sultan, Sultan Ahmet, Pertevniyal Valide Sultan, Büyük Mecidiye (Ortaköy), Şakirin and Sokullu Mehmet Paşa. Architecturally and artistically considered, each one of these mosques by itself is one of a kind. I have been seeing and visiting these great structures for all my life. I sometimes like to sit in a mosque, watch the prayers, listen to Azan (call to prayer), scan the artworks there and think.
Every mosque in the world has a different architectural style. So based on my observations I would like to share some less known facts about mosques. Some of you may already have known the facts that I will mention . If you know more other interesting, less known facts about mosques, please share it with me.
1- Earthquake Stone / Scale Stone
Earthquake stone is a marble cylinder that is replaced vertically into four vents in two corners of mosques. After an earthquake occurs, people check if the cylinder is rotated inside the vent. If it’s not then it means that the mosque is damaged somewhere.
Ottoman architectures also used the earthquake stones in big buildings such as palaces. At the enterance of Topkapı place (another famous landmark in Istanbul) there is an earthquake stone but it was fixed by cement later. But there is one mosque called Yesil Mosque in Bursa (another city in Turkey, near Istanbul) that has a earthquake stone that still rotates today.
2- No Spiders
I haven’t seen any spider in the Ottoman mosques. It is because the architectures were putting ostrich egg into mortar. The smell of ostrich egg repels spiders and some other small insects. So that you can not see neither spider nor similar insects.
They have mixed inside egg in mortar and placed shell of egg into candle basins. Therefore no spider or similar insect grows inside mosques. It is told that Kanuni Sultan Suleyman has ordered tens of ostrich eggs from Africa during the construction of Süleymaniye Mosque. In Sultan Ahmet mosque, ostrich eggs were also put on the chandeliers to avoid cobwebs.
3- Taking Off Your Shoes
A mosque is a holy place for Muslims and also “The House of God”. That’s why they show respect to mosques and want to keep it clean and tidy. The main principle is being clean while you pray. The body, breath and clothes must all be clean.
4- Why there is no furniture in mosques?
You can not see any chairs, furniture, pictures or statues in mosques. Only the floor is covered by prayer-mats or carpets. Namaz (Muslim prayers) requires standing, bowing and kneeling so there is no need for a chair. Sunni Muslims do not hang any picture or put any statue in their mosques . There can be no images of Allah (God) too.
5- Men and Women pray separately
Women usually pray at home but they can attend the mosque. In a mosque there are men and women sections which give privacy for the women and create less distraction.
6- Why Minaret?
Minaret is a tall and thin tower where a Muezzin stands at the top and recites Azan, a call for Muslims to prayer, five times of a day. The first mosques of Muslims didn’t have any minarets. About sixty years after Prophet Muhammad’s death, minarets were appeared. The first minaret was added to the Amr Ibn Al-As mosque in Cairo, Egypt in 687. At the top of the minaret, there is an “Alem” that is a crescent shaped shinny metal.
Some historians says that minaret derives from obelisk which is a tall, four-sided or cylindrical stone ending in a pyramid-like shape at the top. Obelisks were placed at the entrance of temples as pairs. The top of it was covered by a metal like silver and gold which makes it shinny and visible from a long distance. Anyone who saw it knew that it was a temple.