Evening Prayers at the Hagia Sophia

hagia sophia sunset

The call to prayer is that rare wonder which retains its impact irrespective of repeated experience. Haunting and beautiful, irregular and melodic, exciting and mysterious for the foreigner even after dozens upon dozens of occasions. 

That impact varies with setting and size. You will certainly never forget your first time in a Muslim city when it rings out from unseen mosques from all sides all at once, especially to fill the night air, but then again to hear it echo across a valley from only one unseen source to break utter silence then leave it once more is an another experience altogether and one impactful in a very different way. 

Few settings can be so especially spectacular for the adhan as the Sultanahmet atop Istanbul’s Golden Horn. Of course you knew already of the Hagia Sophia, but not its proximity to several similarly stunning mosques nearby, each of which if it stood alone would be almost any other city’s architectural jewel.

The Blue Mosque is a mere few hundred metres from the Hagia Sophia linked by a park with palm trees, a fountain, a small mosque on one side and a tomb housing several dozen Ottoman royals on the other. It lacks in historicity compared to its sixth century neighbour to the tune of some thousand years but is more aesthetic by far, elegant and flawless where the venerable would-be Roman church is bulky and faded. 

Allahu Akbar rings first from one of the Hagia Sophia’s four towering minarets, loud and lyrical with the usual morose hair-raising lilt elevated to fresh heights by the significance of the source. The imam stops, a pause, then across the park the call is echoed. Another pause, then so it goes, back and forth, and it feels not as if the imams talk to each other, you forget entirely in fact that man is involved in the first place, since instead it not only sounds but looks as if the two majestic buildings, siblings divided for centuries and forever after by such a short distance, are themselves calling each to the other in some strangely tragic spiritually infused duet. 

The locals wandering the park or reading papers on the benches or selling chestnuts from stalls or offering tours to tourists ignore it all, seeing it five times each and every day, but for the first time visitor it is an experience immediately etched into the memory to sit alongside the first time you heard the call and all the other spectacular first times in new places, which thanks to the magical and mystical intertwining of sound and memory you can still conjure now as vividly as any memory, and you can be positive immediately therefore that this too will be a moment you never forget. 

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