Istanbul: Istanbul’s towering Camlica mosque will receive its first worshippers Friday, as Turkey unveils the latest grand project emblematic of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s big ambitions.
Erdogan personally supervised the controversial construction of Turkey’s biggest mosque — designed to accommodate up to 60,000 worshippers and visible to all from its perch on a hill on Istanbul’s Asian side.
Its inaugural prayers will be held Friday night to mark Laylat al-Qadr, one of the holiest nights in the month of Ramadan, when sins are forgiven.
But as the 15,000-square-metre (161,000-square-foot) mosque remains unfinished, with several more months of work ahead, worshippers will pray in the courtyard.
Under construction since 2013, the project — which also also includes a library, a museum of Turkish Islamic art, design workshops and conference rooms — has forged ahead despite protests from architects, urban planners and environmentalists.
A legal bid to axe it was rejected by the courts, but several separate legal processes against it are still pending.
The mosque’s minarets reach 107.1 metres (350 feet) into the sky, higher than those of the mosque in Medina.
But critics have complained that Istanbul has plenty of mosques already and that its design, by female architects Bahar Mizrak and Hayriye Gul Totu, is nothing special.
“In terms of architecture, there’s nothing innovative,” urban planner Tayfun Kahraman told AFP.
He also complained that the mosque has been built on a “protected natural site that has given an identity to the Bosphorous for thousands of years”.
“It’s heartbreaking to see a religious building being erected on top of what God has made more beautifully — nature.”
But Ergin Kulunk, an official working on the project, said it would regenerate the whole area.
“In a few years this place will be more beautiful,” he said. “The old buildings will renovated, and it will be greener.”
Known for his fondness of mega-projects, just a day ago Erdogan inaugurated the fourth-longest suspension bridge in the world across the Izmit gulf.
The $9 billion (8-billion-euro) Osman Gazi bridge is one of several huge infrastructure projects Erdogan defends as symbols of his government’s achievements.
Pushing for Turkey to become one of the world’s top 10 economies by the 100th anniversary of the republic in 2023, he has promoted a string of ambitious infrastructure works.
In March he laid the last section of a $3 billion bridge spanning the Bosphorous strait, linking Europe and Asia for a third time.