My blogging friend Hilary, who's blog Positive Letters...Inspirational Stories is always full of information, recently posted about renovations to Canterbury Cathedral which she got to see up close - check out her post about it here. It's a wonderful insight into a great and historic building.
It reminded me of this book which I've just finished. The Architect's Apprentice is written by Elif Shafak and tells the story of a young boy called Jahan and a snow white elephant which he befriends, and the journey and life the two have, getting to the Palace of the Sultan in Istanbul, where Jahan eventually falls in love with the Sultan's daughter and becomes apprentice to the great Architect Sinan.
I didn't realise it when I was reading it that many of these characters actually lived - and eventually in his old age, Jahan becomes the Chief Architect who builds the Taj Mahal whilst his teacher and master Sinan was responsible for many of the fine buildings still standing in Istanbul today.
There were six of us: the master, the apprentices and the white elephant. We built everything together. Mosques, bridges, madrasas, caravanserais, alms houses, aqueducts . . .
I think about Istanbul every day. People must be walking now across the courtyards of the mosques, not knowing, not seeing. They would rather assume that the buildings around them had been there since the time of Noah. They were not. We raised them: Muslims and Christians, craftsmen and galley slaves, humans and animals, day upon day. But Istanbul is a city of easy forgettings. Things are written in water over there, except the works of my master; which are written in stone.
Beneath one stone, I buried a secret. Much time has gone by, but it must still be there, waiting to be discovered. I wonder if anyone will ever find it.
If they do, will they understand?
It's a compelling story with great characters, not least of which is the white elephant Chota. It’s a story of building and destroying bridges, and of building things as a parallel to how we, or others, build our lives.
I must confess that my reason for buying it in the first place was the cover of the book - full of exotic colour and pattern, a picture of a world I've only seen very little of (many moons ago when I lived in Dubai for a few years). But I'm glad it found it's way into my line of vision - it was a thoroughly enjoyable read and perfect for picking up at night when there wasn't time to do long bouts of reading. The story stayed very alive.