Many Muslims may think twice before travelling to a European destination as they thought there is lack of halal food and relation to Islamic history. However, there’s in fact so many structures, mosques and buildings with rich Islamic heritage, influenced by Muslim civilisations from hundreds, or eventhousands of years ago! Islam has been present here for over 1400 years and through travelling and learning about Islam in different parts of the world, we will be able to see the grandeur and beauty of His creations. Read on to discover this amazing continent rich with Islamic history!
1. Cordoba, Spain
When someone mentions Cordoba, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most, it is the majestic Great Mosque of Cordoba! It is one of the largest mosques in the world, after the Holy Mosque in Mecca and Sultanahmet Mosque in Turkey.
A vast mosque with hundreds of arched marble pillars, it has become one of the top travel destinations in the globe. Abdul Rahman I, the founder of a Muslim dynasty who ruled a larger part of southwestern Europe, bought half of a Cathedral to allow Muslims to pray there. He then purchased the other half to build a new mosque, and later in the 16th century, a cathedral was built inside, giving this place the name ‘Mezquita-Catedral’.
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Cordoba, also known as Cordova is in Andalusia and was once the capital of an Islamic Kingdom back then during the Middle Ages. It’s no wonder the strong Muslim influence can be clearly observed throughout this amazing city. There are also plenty of beautiful attractions and palaces to visit in this city, including Alcazar gardens, Museo Romero de Torres and the Viana Palace.
2. Istanbul, Turkey
One of the top tourist destinations in the world, this city has witnessed glorious moments in Islamic heritage! Turkey was first ruled by the Byzantine Empire, which was then conquered later on by the Ottoman Empire. In 1453, Sultan Mehmet II conquered the capital and changed the name from Costantinople to Islambol, which holds the meaning “city of Islam”. Many religious and cultural buildings have been preserved even up till today, including the Sultanahmet Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace. Definitely a fantastic city to visit for history lovers!
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Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque was constructed from 1609 to 1616 under the rule of Ahmed 1. This huge house of worship distinctively displays the Ottoman architecture. As you enter the mosque, you will be able to observe the tens of thousands of blue Iznik tiles! We sure wouldn’t want to miss joining in on the congregational prayers here!
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Hagia Sophia (which means Divine Wisdom) is yet another interesting place to immerse yourself in Islamic history! Initially a cathedral, it was then converted to a mosque by Sultan Mehmet II. This building has been protected ever since and is now a museum.
#HHWT Tip: For an even moreimmersive experience at Hagia Sophia, don’t forget to grab an English audio guide at the entrance!
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Situated in the South of Turkey and at the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea lies the gorgeous island of Cyprus. This small country in the European Union has a fascinating culture and history brimming with beautiful beaches! Interestingly, Islam has been present in the country since 649, when it was conquered by the third Caliph of the Rashidun Empire, Caliph Uthman. Long after during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, the presence of the religion is strengthened. Today, Muslims make up 99% of the population in Northern Cyprus.
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There are several Islamic landmarks, shrines and mosques all over the island for you to explore and immerse in some Islamic history! While you are here, you should not miss the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque! It was formerly a Catholic cathedral from the Crusader era, and after the Muslim conquest during the Middle ages, it became a mosque!
4. Bosnia and Herzegovina
Located in the Balkan region of South Eastern Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina promises impressive beauty and Islamic heritage for all to appreciate and learn. What makes this underrated country so unique is its architecture and culture are inspired by both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires! Walking down the streets of Sarajevo, the capital, will transport you back in time to the Ottoman Empire.
Mostar is also another place not to be missed. When you Google “Bosnia”, a beautiful bridge called the Stari Most is the first thing you see! Here, you can explore the historic bridge, which was actually designed by the great architect Sinan back then. It was unfortunately destroyed during the tragic civil war. Rebuilding was done and today it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site! If you are not yet convinced why you should visit this country, here ten reasons why you totally should!
5. Alhambra, Spain
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Alhambra, located in Granada, is one of the most visited places in Spain. Back in the 12th century, the city of Granada was once home to a strong community of Andalusians beforeit was conquered by the Nasrids. Back then, it was the place where there was the final surviving stronghold of Muslims in the country.
Constructed by the last Muslim rulers in the country, this monument is a testament to the splendor of Islamic architecture! There are so many things for you to discover and unravel the history of Islam heritage in Alhambra! It may take up to 4 hours to finish your tour from the building of the Baths, to the Alcazaba, the palaces and the Justice Gate. Discovering one of the most grandeur buildings of the Islamic art that is still standing today will definitely take your breath away. To immerse yourself in this city, you could also take a walk along the streets of Albaicin, or visit one of the Arab bathhouses!
6. Sofia, Bulgaria
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Did you know that Muslim empires were once established in Bulgaria? In fact, the first documented contact of Muslims in Bulgaria dates back all the way to the mid-ninth century. In 1382, the capital of Bulgaria, Sofia was conquered by the Ottoman, and several Ottoman monuments were constructed during that period. Today, Banya Bashi mosque is preserved and you may perform your prayers there! It is also designed by the same great architect, Mimar Sinan. Stepping into the exquisite mosque will bring you back during that era!
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While it may be difficult to discover physical traces of Islamic influence in Bulgaria, there are still several Ottoman-era places of worship in cities and towns, including Dzumaya Mosque in Plovdiv and Tumbul Mosque in Shumen. It is definitely worth a trip here as it is known to be some of the most affordable European countries! For more inspiration, you may also check out other Muslim-friendly European places that are really affordable!
7. Sintra, Portugal
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Who would’ve thought there is intriguing Islamic history in Spain’s neighboring country, Portugal? Centuries ago, Portugal was even known as West of Andalus, or “Al Ghard Al Andalus”! While much of the heritage of Islam is physically hard to find today, you can still unravel some ancient monuments in Sintra! Here at this UNESCO World Heritage area, expect some of the most incredible castles, ruins and monuments which still bear Islamic architectures. Some of the most prominent sites to visit and learn about Islamic heritage include the Pena Palace, Moorish Castle ruins, Monserrate Palace and Sintra National Palace.
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Located in the heart of Sintra lies an ancient palace up the hills, the Pena Palace as well as some remnants of the Moorish Castle. Walking through the halls and courtyards of this gorgeous palace will remind you of the arches of Cordoba Mosque. The significant Moroccan style architecture and huge domes reminiscent of Islamic architecture will leave you in awe! Monserrate Palace is another site not to be missed as well! The dazzling palaces with Islamic history and cool climate makes this city hard to resist.
8. Pristina, Kosovo
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Why travel to Kosovo? The Muslim-friendly country of Kosovo is actually Europe’s youngest country and has lots of tradition, culture and Islamic history to offer! Islam in the capital of Kosovo, Pristina, has been present since the Ottoman Rule up till 1912. The Ottomans then started constructing mosques, Islamic schools and Ottoman public baths (Hamamas). Today, 90% of the population in Kosovo are Muslims.
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Standing in the heart of the old city of Pristina, the King’s Mosque, also known as the Imperial Mosque, was built in the 1460s by Sultan Mehmet II Fatih. This stunning 15-century mosque is one of the city’s main attractions! Xhamia e Mbretit, as the locals call it, was temporarily converted into a church during the Austrian-Turkish wars, and restored back as a mosque by Sultan Mehmet IV during the 1680s. Another characteristic Ottoman mosques in Pristina is the Bazaar Mosque, which is the very first Ottoman mosque in Kosovo.
So there you have it! While Spain and Turkey are often the popular countries for Muslims to visit in search of discovering the roots of Islam, there are many more amazing places where you can discover about Islamic heritage in Europe. Time to mark these places on your map for your next holiday destination!