The numbers I wanted to get before putting this post up here I couldn’t. It wasn’t for a lack of trying. I spent hours digging through trying to get the information. Those I tried asking who might have had the information either ignored me or claimed ignorance. The reality of it is, the information just does not seem to be public. I did, however, come across some other numbers that intrigued me. But I will get to that in a second.
If I were to make a list of the best and most iconic sights to see in Istanbul, one and two on that list would unquestionably be the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The three that would round out the top five, in reverse order, would be the Topkapi Palace, the Galata Tower, and the Suleymaniye Mosque. These last two are complementary. They both dominate the Istanbul skyline seen from the other. They are also probably the two most photographed buildings in the city.
With that in mind, I decided it was time for me to head up to Suleymaniye Mosque and snap a few pictures myself. Here you go:
(Click on any of these pictures for full size)
The entire Mosque compound was so beautiful it was almost surreal. While I was up there the sun was descending on its journey through the sky, the temperature was still warm but dropping, and everything was just so peaceful. The quote came to me, “I think if ever a mortal heard the voice of God, it would be in a garden at the cool of the day.” (Frankfort Moore)
Some of the pictures above I did some cropping or editing in an attempt to keep the Mosque from being nothing but a silhouette from the brilliance of the sun behind it. This next picture, however, has not been edited at all. Of all the pictures I feel it comes closest to capturing the surreal quality of the grounds I was walking:
Of course, there were some other tourists up there as well and most seemed clustered around what was the vantage point of so many Istanbul skyline pictures I have seen. There’s no way I could be here without taking a shot or two of my own:
As much as I would have liked to stay there forever, eventually I did need to start heading out. There is a couple main entrance/exit ways that most normal people would take when visiting Suleymaniye Mosque. They dump you out on near a busy street full of foot traffic, cars, and other tourists heading along their ways to the north and the south.
Like I said, normal people would head in and out through these doors. I am not normal. There was a back entrance and I was curious to see what lay in that direction.
As you can see from the last two of these pictures taken at the back entrance, there was a good deal of supplies and workmen just beyond the walls. This is where I asked myself that question I have not been able to find an answer to. Just how much money each year gets poured into the maintenance and upkeep of such a beautiful, four hundred fifty year old building like this?
Although I was unable to come up with a direct answer, I did find out some interesting information. First of all, both the United States and the European Union give millions of dollars each year towards the repair of old mosques and churches in the Middle East. Far, far more than this is raised through private funding in Western countries and a good deal of controversy is raised over just how much of that funding raised for the purpose of the “upkeep” of mosques ends up getting diverted towards terrorist causes. Conspiracy theories abound. Beyond this, the Turkish government does have a ministry of religious affairs, the Diyanet, that among other things is responsible for the Islamic education of every child in Turkey, has a Directorate of the Hajj, and a Board for the Inspection and Recitation of the Quran. This Diyanet has an annual budget in excess of 1 billion dollars but I could find nothing about how that money is allocated. Transparency and Islam are not words that belong together.
One other thing I did come across which I found fascinating but I am guessing would bore most of you. That was a research paper done about the actual building Mosque. Long story short, this paper itemized the costs of each aspect of the building process and came to the conclusion that it cost 59 million akce or 700,000 Venetian ducats. Great. How much is that?
I wasn’t able to come up with a direct answer for either currency, but I did find two ways to indirectly answer how much a Venetian ducat would have been worth. The Venetian ducat was a common international currency for two reasons: 1) The Venetians were everywhere, trading with everybody. 2) Their currency was about as close to standardized as you could get for that time period. Each gold ducat is said to have been 3.545 grams of gold with a purity of 99.47%. When I checked a few days back, 1 ounce of gold was worth $1170. That means 700,000 ducats was worth 2.9 billion US dollars on the modern market.
There is another way to look at it. Nearly a century later, a future Sultan was strapped for cash. I’m guessing the building of this mosque and, a few decades later, the Blue Mosque probably had a good deal to do with that, but I digress. To raise money, this Sultan was willing to grant nobility to anyone willing to sponsor one thousand soldiers for one year to be deployed in Crete. How much did that sponsorship cost? 60,000 ducats. By my math, that means you could sponsor about 11,700 troops with 700,000 ducats. So what does that mean to us today? Well, it costs 850,000 USD each year to deploy an American trooper overseas. That means 11,700 troopers would cost roughly 9.9 billion.
So there you have it. Building this immensely beautiful building costs somewhere between 2.9 and 9.9 billion dollars. To give one last point of comparison, the cost on the modern market for the building of the Empire State Building is 380 million and the White House rings in at 71.4 million. The Suleymaniye Mosque was an incredibly expensive undertaking and we can only guess at how much it costs to maintain.
I knew none of this when I was exiting that Mosque a couple weeks back. All I knew was what my eyes could show me. On leaving that building, I circled around it continuing to take pictures. These below were all taken within a block to the west, north, or northeast of the Mosque. They are a brief glimpse into the lives and homes of those that live in its shadow: