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  • Kocatepe Mosque reveals Turkey's past and present

    2014-06-10

    Turkey's capital, Ankara, is home to some of the country's most iconic structures, both secular and religious. One of its newest landmarks combines modern requirements and building techniques with ancient Islamic tradition. Kocatepe Mosque is one of the largest mosques in the world, according to Islamic Life, able to fit 100,000 visitors inside at once. The mosque is also a very recent construction and caused quite a bit of controversy when it was first built. Like Turkey itself, Kocatepe straddles two worlds. The mosque lies at the intersection of religion and secularism, while Turkey sits on a continental border, inviting visitors embarking on both Asia travel and Europe travel.

    A rough start
    Roots of the mosque's construction reach back to 1944, when the vice president of Turkish Religious Affairs and 72 others formed the "Society to Build a Mosque in Yeniþşehir, Ankara." Proposals for the building were accepted on two occasions in the following years, but it took over a decade for one to be approved by the society. The original design that won the competition was deemed to be too modern for a religious structure and construction stopped almost as soon as it began. After another contest in 1967, a final, more conservative plan based on Ottoman architecture from the 1500s was approved and the building finally got underway. Once the winning design was finalized, it still took 20 years to complete the mosque.

    Two sides of Turkey
    Kocatepe drew controversy from the start, according to The Routledge Handbook of Modern Turkey. The initial announcement of the plan to build the mosque came the same year that construction on the mausoleum Anitkabir began. Anitkabir is the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of Turkey. Atatürk was revered for reforming the country into a secular democratic state. The construction of a state mosque scandalized those who wanted Turkey to develop into a non-religious nation. Some of the delays in Kocatepe's construction can be traced to these ideological conflicts.

    Modern mosque
    Today, controversy around Kocatepe has quieted. Though it was built quite recently in the middle of an Islamic resurgence in Turkey, the authors of Rethinking Modernity and National Identity in Turkey reported that the mosque is seen often as a nostalgic symbol of the old empire. The mosque also serves as a representation of the unity of Turkey, its immense size inviting worshippers from all over the country. Still, its function is thoroughly modern. Public transportation tunnels run directly under the mosque, and the site is one of the country's biggest draws for tourists.

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