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Semsi Pasa Mosque



Semsi Pasa Mosque

No matter the weather in Istanbul, there is always something to be found along the shores of the Bosphorus that intrigues and delights. One of my favourite buildings is the small but perfectly proportioned Şemsi Paşa Mosque in the neighbourhood of Üsküdar. It was designed by Turkey’s pre-eminent architect, Mimar Sinan, who lived from 1489/90 to 1588. He designed this mosque in 1580 at the request of Şemsi Paşa, a Grand Vizier or finance minister, who worked under the reign of three Ottoman sultans.

The unofficial name of the mosque is Kuşkonmaz Camii, meaning ‘the mosque on which birds do not land’. Legend has it they don’t stand or build nests on the mosque out of respect. I prefer this version to the true but more mundane origins of the name. Before choosing the exact location it’s said that Sinan carefully researched the winds blowing from the north and the south. He finally chose this spot because it’s the point at which these winds meet. The turbulence causes the waves to slap noisily against the shore, making the birds feel unsettled so they won’t land.

I was lucky enough to have as my guide an elderly Turkish gentleman who volunteers at the mosque. A hero of the Korean War, he proudly lead me around the simple interior that follows the design of mosques the world over. The mihrab, or prayer niche, gives the direction of Mecca and a few simple inscriptions in Arabic line the walls. Pride of place is taken by a piece of the kiswa, the black cloth that covers the kabe, the holy stone building in Mecca, known to English speakers as the ka’aba. My guide showed me how the stone columns on either side of the mihrab could still be turned easily, proof that the building has suffered no earthquake damage. Lastly he pointed out the tomb of Şemsi Paşa himself that unusually for mosque architecture is set in a chamber adjoining the mosque.

I left without learning the truth of the rumour that Sinan privately dedicated this mosque to the pasha’s wife for whom he carried a torch, but that’s another story…

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Lisa Morrow

Lisa Morrow has travelled extensively throughout Turkey and lives with her husband on the Asian side of Istanbul. She has written two essay collections, Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City and Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries.

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