Kocatepe Mosque - Ankara
by Fred Moore
- October 2009
We’ve just pulled up in two cabs beneath this monstrous edifice. Carol and I have been here a number of times but our guests have not visited before. We’ve been giving the Sims family a fast paced tour of ‘our’ city. When Carol and I first happened upon this sight back in the eighties it was under construction; we entered into the building through an opening that was to become a doorway. Inside we found a forest of wooden poles supporting every imaginable surface. It was filled with muted light and the smell of wet plaster, cement, dirt and heavy, lifeless air.
We were told way back then (this was 1984) that the corner stone for this future mosque was set in 1933! It depends on what literature you read but the major construction is said to have been completed between 1967 and 1987. The mosque has four massive minarets and ‘was’ billed as the largest in Turkey; that distinction is now held by the Sabanci Mosque in Adana.
As we step out of the cabs into the bright afternoon sun this imposing structure captures everyone’s awe. We’re immediately confronted with two tiers of steps; ten, twenty maybe fifty as we look toward the entry doors. We mount the initial set of stairs and then decide to move to the ramp ascending to the marble court just below and fronting the mosque. The court must be 100 meters across and 50 meters deep --- suffice it to say we have ascended to a massive marble court yard and still have stairs to climb. To our right and above us another fifteen or twenty steps are the marble altars used to honor those who have lived fully and have passed on to the other side.
There are no funerals today and the call to prayer was some time ago so we ascend more steps to the wide open doors. As is the tradition, we remove our shoes BEFORE stepping on any carpeting and carry our shoes inside. There are racks along the back wall for storing footwear; we simply leave ours there and continue more deeply into the vast worship center.
The literature says 100,000 souls can worship here – that’s simply a number I can’t begin to fathom. The stained glass windows surrounding our view are breath-taking and more numerous than I care to count. There are four massive columns supporting the central dome above our head. These columns are so large it would take all seven of us to join hands and reach around one. There are a great many people milling about in this cavernous space; a child just behind me is racing his car on the carpet, two bearded men are chanting softly and bowing reverently to my left, a woman (I guess the child’s mother) is sitting in deep contemplation at the back. Men come and go all around me as I stand in quiet reflection; this far exceeds the space of any church I‘ve ever visited. One can’t help but feel moved in this place; this may not reflect my personal belief but it does demand reverence from all who enter.
I’ve remained in the rear as Carol walks with our guests through the massive sanctuary (if I can use that word in a mosque). I tilt my head back and back some more as I try to consume the majesty of the art work contained within the central dome and its sister domes far above my station. There is what appears to be a catwalk up there ringing the base of the domes, maybe for window cleaning, maybe structural maintenance. It has a railing but I’m not certain I would ever feel comfortable walking around up there. Hanging from the central dome is a massive ball accented in brightly polished bass with lights extending from its interior and surrounded in concentric orbits with more lights. It’s as if we’re viewing the solar system, the massive ball being the sun and the surrounding orbits of lights representing the planets’ individual orbits.
The carpeting is wall-to-wall, not the traditional handmade variety you might expect to encounter in a mosque. It obviously comes in rolls and has very specific design orientation for worshipers’ positioning. The padding beneath it must be quite thick because the comfort of walking over it is like walking on lightly cushioned pillows. I stand and watch the visitors as they go about their personal journeys; some have a specific visit in mind and go directly to their chosen place while others seem to wander aimlessly, stop to meditate and then move on. The boy behind me has just run his car into one of the worshipers and he retrieves it cautiously but the gentleman pays him no mind.
The Kutaya-style blue ceramic tiles adorning the walls are beautiful and accent the entire space with pleasant and calming colors. There are a number of huge ovals painted in black with gold lettering on the upper walls with writing’s from the Koran. I’m somewhat taken by the number of men who are wandering about inside this massive space; I’m not sure why but it seems odd to me that so many are here outside of prayer time. There are little pockets of them all over the front of the sanctuary; they have obviously missed the call to prayer and have come on their own time.
While I continue to stand around at the back --- people watching --- a young couple stroll by, she’s looking star struck into his eyes and they’re laughing softly about something. I’m thinking they are recently married and enjoying some time together seeing the highlights of Ankara. Then an old bent and bearded gentleman hesitates momentarily to say something to me; I unfortunately have no idea what, I feel awful as he slowly strolls away and out the door. It’s these moments that I kick myself for not learning the language because here was an opportunity to learn from an aged and wisdom-filled sage and I missed it.
Ah, here’s the family back and ready to move on. Everyone talks at once about the visit. We tell them the most impressive is yet to come as we go below the mosque and visit the 21st century mall! Yes, you’ve read that correctly; below this hallowed hall is a gigantic mall, supermarket and department stores as well as a parking garage. Our guests assure me later the ‘impressive’ was above, NOT below.
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