Blue Mosque (SultanAhmet Camii) in Istanbul
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque or Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most iconic historic al landmarks. It is so named because of the blue tiles used on the walls of the interior. It is an important part of the city’s skyline with its six spectacular minarets.
The mosque also exudes one of Istanbul’s most reverberating calls to prayer six times a day. Built between 1609 and 1617, the construction was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I, who wanted to surpass the Hagia Sophia in size and beauty, to placate Allah.
Let’s have a review of one of the most beautiful mosques in the world — Sultanahmet Mosque — with IstanbulPoints.com.
Blue Mosque’s Architecture
The architect in charge of the mosque was Sedefkar Mehmet Ağa, a student of the great architect Sinan. The Blue Mosque is a combination of two stunning architectural styles – it has Byzantine Christian elements, inspired by the neighboring Hagia Sophia, along with traditional Islamic architecture. The design is the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development – the mosque comprises a main dome, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. In order to fully appreciate the mosque’s architecture, you should enter it from the side coming from the Hippodrome, instead of approaching through the park.
Interior of Sultanahmet Mosque
The fascinating aspect about the interiors, apart from the usage of more than 20,000 handmade İznik style ceramic tiles, is they feature more than fifty unique tulip designs. The tiles at the lower levels feature traditional motifs, while you can find flamboyant styles at the gallery level, such as flowers, fruits and cypresses.
The upper levels of the interior are painted blue. There are more than 200 beautiful stained glass windows featuring elaborate designs that let in natural light to illuminate the rooms. Chandeliers also enhance the elegance – ostrich eggs were placed on them to repel spiders and avoid cobwebs inside the mosque. The tablets on the walls are inscribed with names of the caliphs and verses from the Qur’an, many of them designed by Seyyid Kasim Gubari, regarded as the greatest calligrapher of his time.
Floors are covered with carpets donated by patrons (they are replaced when they wear out). The casements at floor level are embellished wit opus sectile. Each exedra has five windows, some of which are blind. Each semi-dome has 14 windows and the central dome 28 (four of which are blind). The colored glass used originally for the windows was a gift to the Sultan by the Signoria of Venice. Many of them have now been replaced by contemporary versions.
The crown jewel of the interior is the mihrab – created by finely carved and sculptured marble, with a stalactite niche and a double inscriptive panel above it. There are several windows around it, while the adjacent walls have ceramic tiles on it. The splendidly decorated minber, or pulpit is positioned at the right of the mihrab – this is where the imam stands while delivering his sermon at the time of noon prayer on Fridays or on holy days. The pulpit ensures the imam is visible to everyone even if the mosque is packed.
Don’t miss the royal kiosk at the south-east corner – it has a platform, loggia, and couple of retiring rooms (these were the headquarters of the Grand Vizier during the suppression of the rebellious Janissary Corps in 1826). Through the kiosk, you can go to the royal loge (hünkâr mahfil) in the south-east upper gallery. This structure, supported by ten marble columns has a mihrab that would be decorated with a jade rose and gilt, along with one hundred Qurans on inlaid and gilded lecterns. The lamps inside were once embellished with gold and gems, but have been removed or pillaged.
The façade of the forecourt resembles the one at the Süleymaniye Mosque, with the exception of the turrets on the corner domes. What is amazing is the fact that the court is about as huge as the mosque itself! A continuous vaulted arcade or revak surrounds the entire court with washrooms on both sides. The central hexagonal fountain is small, but worth a mention.
Do take photos of the monumental gateway to the courtyard – it is fine example of architectural wonder. The semi-dome has a fine stalactite structure, which is crowned by a small ribbed dome on a tall tholobate. The historical elementary school is now utilized as the Information Center – it is located right next to its outer wall on the side of Hagia Sophia. This is where they provide visitors with a free orientational presentation on the Blue Mosque and Islam – it is done so they get a general idea about the history of this place.
The upper part of the court entrance on the western side is adorned with a bulky iron chain. Since the Sultan was the only one permitted to enter on horseback, he had to lower his head each time to avoid being hit – this gesture was to ensure humility of the ruler in front of Allah.
As mentioned, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque has six majestic minarets! But did you know that it is the first one of the two mosques in Turkey to have six minarets? The second is the Sabancı Mosque in Adana. When the number of minarets was revealed to the public, the Sultan was heavily criticized. This happened because the number of minarets was the same as Haram Mosque in Mecca. The problem was resolved by adding a 7th minaret at the mosque in Mecca.
There are four minarets positioned at each corner of the Blue Mosque. These are fluted and pencil-shaped, and each has three balconies, called serefe with stalactite corbels. The other two minarets at the end of the forecourt have only two balconies. A narrow spiral staircase runs around the sides – a muezzin (prayer caller) would climb the stairs five times a day to announce the call to prayer.
Since that is an inconvenience, a public announcement system is used nowadays, so the call can not just be heard throughout the mosque, but across the old part of the city as well (echoed by other mosques nearby).
Interesting Facts and Legends About Sultanahmet Mosque
- Sultan Ahmet I himself took part in laying the bricks of this mosque, to show his innate interest and dedication. Unfortunately, he couldn’t enjoy the fruits of his labor – he died only a year after the Blue Mosque was completed, at the age of 27.
- A madrasa, hospital, han, primary school, market, imaret and tomb of Sultan Ahmet I and his wife and three sons were all part of the original mosque’s complex but many of them were later torn down in the nineteenth century.
- The six minarets of the Blue Mosque, which makes it unique, occurred due to a misunderstanding. The Sultan instructed his architect to make gold (altin) minarets which his architect understood as six (alti) minarets.
- The Haram Mosque in Mecca has six minarets as well, which caused a lot of controversy. The Sultan had to send his architect to Mecca in order to add a 7th minaret to the Haram Mosque.
- There are two hundred and sixty windows stained glass windows in the interior.
- The capacity of the mosque is such that it can hold 10,000 people at one time.
- Due to the enormous demands for tiles, those used during the later stages of construction vary greatly in quality. The tiles on the back balcony wall are recycled tiles from the Harem in Topkapi Palace, when it was damaged by fire in 1574.
How to Visit the Blue Mosque
The general times to be aware when planning a visit to the Blue Mosque are — dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset, and last light. You can look up specific timing of daily calls to prayer online. Every day, the mosque is closed for 90 minutes for each period of worship, and non-worshipping visitors aren’t typically allowed for 30 minutes following each prayer. Although the main west entrance is far grander than the north entrance, non-worshippers are asked to use the north entrance to keep the mosque’s sacredness intact.
Travelers need to bear in mind that Friday prayers happening around noon are a crucial time for worship, so it is perhaps not the best time to “visit”. Admission is free, though you have the option to donate to the mosque as you exit.
Here are some rules to follow:
- Removing shoes at the entrance to the Blue Mosque is mandatory.
- Women have to keep their heads covered with a scarf or shawl. The hair and shoulders have to be covered. Head coverings are also available at the entrance of the Blue Mosque free of cost. Place the fabric cover on top of your head with equal portions hanging on both sides. The face need not be covered – it is just important that your head is wrapped in fabric.
- Legs must be covered for both men and women. Long pants or a long dress or skirt is mandatory. Please don’t wear minis or shorts here.
- Even though this is a prominent landmark to visit, it is a mosque, so stay quiet and be respectful to those praying inside.
- Don’t use flash photography or talk loudly.
The mosque looks particularly breathtaking as the sun sets and sky darkens, since it is brightly illuminated by colored floodlights. Ready to plan a holiday and visit the Blue Mosque?