Masjid Ampel is a gorgeous mosque, where all of the tempat wudhu (places to wash before prayer) are located outside, turning it into a kind of open-air complex. People are constantly washing, praying, strolling around, or just sitting in the shade of the mosque so that it always seems to buzz with activity.
There's also some big fountains with water good for drinking straight from the tap, something which I don't even understand because all Indonesian tap water is dangerous. However, I've drunk that water and indeed did not get sick. So s'all good I guess!
Located very close to Masjid Ampel is a graveyard, the focal point of which is the tomb of Sunan Ampel. There's usually a big group of religious pilgrims sitting at the tomb and praying. To explain this you'll need a bit of back story.
In Indonesian history there is a group of nine sainted men, called the Wali Songo, who were responsible for helping spread Islam in Indonesia. (They didn't establish it here, however: Islam was already on the rise when the Chinese admiral Zheng He arrived in 1405 CE). One of the Walis was, you guessed it - Sunan Ampel! Being a revered figure, naturally his gravesite is a big draw for Muslims who wish to pay their respects.
Also: Wali Songo roughly means nine saints. Wali is derived from the Arabic word meaning saint/honored one/friend of God, and songo is the Javanese word for nine. Sunan, meaning 'honored', is a name given to each of the Walis.
|Sunan Ampel is the second in the first row|
But my favorite part of Ampel isn't the masjid or the tomb, it's the area that surrounds them. With a giant, crowded marketplace, Ampel seems to be the best place to buy Islamic goods in Surabaya. You can get everything from ready-wear jilbabs, Islamic clothing, jewellery, souvenirs from Mecca and Medina, sarongs, perfume, incense, and any variety of dates you can imagine there.
There are also the quiet streets with houses all stacked upon each other, the only traffic to avoid being that of becaks, playing children, and the occasional motorbike. It's the perfect place to spend a day wandering around, just exploring... But I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.