The Old or Friday Mosque is not Turkey’s most famous, but it is perhaps her most storied. Founded by one Sultan-brother, continued by another, finished by a third — its construction history reflects the violent nature of early Ottoman succession. Many saints were associated with the institution, its walls bear inscriptions by famous calligraphers. It was here that European campaigns (the Turks campaigned every year but the decision where the campaign would be directed — East or West — was usually not made until the last moment) were announced by the grand mufti by preaching the Friday sermon here — with sword in hand. (The sword is still preserved in the mosque’s treasury — in case it’s ever needed, I suppose).
My favorite is 7203 (third row, third from the left, it appears on the western wall of the mosque) — the pattern is very fine and very well executed but as you step back from it you notice that the tiny pattern coagulates into a larger pattern of barely suggested circles visible only from afar: a rather neat trick, this.
In the mihrab, the pulpit and again in a decorative panel on the outside wall (its photo appears twice in the 6th row below) is prunus, Ottoman answer to Japanese sakura. The other day, rather like a certain hero of a certain novel by Orhan Pamuk, stepping out after breakfast onto the rooftop to take in the hazy dawn over the Bosporus, and then turning left and looking up, I saw it, against the background of the Blue Mosque: unlike Japanese sakura’s, it’s flowering shoots grow bunched up and up-pointing, just as they appear in Iznik patterns.
The whole of South Delhi stands on a former gigantic Muslim necropolis. As one rushes about one keeps bumping into one crumbling tomb after another. Some are being preserved; some are fenced off to be maybe one day preserved; some are squatted in; and some are just crumbling among single family homes, or in front of apartment buildings, or in the back of a school or a police station. When inquired about, they solicit from Delhites the usual philosophical shrug: “Some generic monument”. And rightly so: India has so many. Nearly every year the decision is made not to preserve this or that — the cruel truth of life is that the past must die simply so that the present can continue.
Some parts of the South Delhi necropolis have been made good use of: the Delhi Golf Club is laid out among beautiful tombs; and the Lodi Gardens is a pleasure park designed around the tombs of the Lodi Sultans of Delhi. And laid out well, so that a walker is constantly surprised by new vistas now of this tomb, now that. In most cases we do not know the names of the rulers buried there.