A very different experience from visiting mosques in Turkey.
Firstly they charge an entrance fee, only the equivalent of 1TL, but a fee none the less. Secondly shoes have to be removed before you enter the enormous marble courtyard in front of the mosque.
No joke when the temperature is around 80 as it was when we visited.
We met three young Turkish men also visiting the mosque for the first time and, while they didn’t pay the entry fee (only non-Muslims are charged), like us they were amazed when an attendant told us to hang on to our shoes ‘or they may be stolen’.
The mosque was built in the 8th century and, again compared to the heavily tiled structures in Turkey, it is very plain.
The free standing minaret, an unusual feature, was added in 1091.
The mosque’s main feature is the tomb of the head of Zachariah, father of John the Baptist. Other places also claim to have his head, but the tomb is certainly venerated, with separate queues for men and women (separated by a high partition) waiting patiently to pray at the tomb, which is in a niche lined with beautiful blue tiles and protected by a gold-plated grill.
And here’s the bit we really loved. In this city awash with glorious bronze lanterns of all shapes and sizes, the holy tomb is illuminated with a pair of table lamps that could have come from a suburban British home in the 1950s!