Of Mosques, Minarets and Memories

18 06 2008

Nile night

The Upper Nile.

There is nothing more evocative than the call to prayer from a mosque. Nothing transports me quicker to narrow souks, humid evenings, dusty streets or fresh mornings than the sound of a muezzin’s hypnotic voice drifting through the air. Although heard in parts of London, Sydney or Toronto, it is a sound that for me will always be synonymous with wonderful travels, great experiences, new cuisine and the silhouettes of minarets dominating a simple skyline.


My first exposure came in Zanzibar as I walked through the labyrinthine streets of Stone Town. The call echoed from an unseen minaret, hidden by whitewashed homes and businesses and pulsing in the gentle sea breezes. Early the following morning, the call drifted between the wooden slats of my open window shutters and through the mosquito netting that covered my rustic four-poster bed, rousing me from my sleep.


In Egypt, from an unseen village it eased across the Nile like a gentle mist. Our felucca was moored to the bank of the life-giving river and we had settled down for the night. The Sahara, which swept away in either direction as far as the eye could see, had surrendered the extreme heat of the day leaving a slight chill rising from the water.  We were lying on the deck in our sleeping bags, watching the moon cast its spell across the tranquil river when the muezzin’s voice suddenly rose from nowhere. We listened in silence as the water gently lapped at our wooden hull.


Istanbul 1

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul


In Istanbul it competed with the rush of traffic. At street level, the minarets were hidden by skyscrapers and concrete office towers, but despite the cacophony of big city noise, the ancient call still cut through the din. Turning away from modern roads we wandered through the narrowing side streets. The sun had set and there was little light. Indistinguishable figures slipped past in the growing darkness while the call grew louder the further we ventured from the main thoroughfare. We turned a corner and a warm yellow light poured from the mosque’s doors as people hurried in for prayer. Glancing skyward, the minaret was a jet silhouette against the subtle deep blue glow of the surrounding city.


For the devoted, it is a call to prayer. For me, it is a call to exotic lands and rich memories.



Photos and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008