The Blue Mosque is the most famous mosque in Istanbul

Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The Blue Mosque of Istanbul , or Sultan Ahmet Mosque, is the most important religious building in the city. The massive temple with 5 main and 8 auxiliary round domes and the 6 sharp-edged minarets got its name because of the interior cladding with ceramic tiles with rich blue patterns. Built in the early 17th century, the Blue Mosque is still in operation. The silvery gray complex on the shore of the Bosphorus, surrounded by gardens, can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers at a time. Tourists, if certain rules are followed, are also allowed there at strictly designated times.

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History of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

In the early 17th century, the Turks entered into a fifteen-year war with Persia in which the Ottoman Empire suffered a crushing defeat, losing the newly seized Transcaucasian lands by 1618. Things were no better in the western territories: in 1606, the authorities concluded the Peace of Zhitvatarok with the Austrians, a sign of a clear decline in the Sultan’s authority.

To distract the people from the foreign policy failures and to restore the monarch’s greatness, in 1609 it was decided to build a gigantic mosque that would put to shame the creations of Sultan Ahmet’s predecessors. The effect was just the opposite: the Muslim clergy was outraged, since all construction costs were paid by the budget, while all previous mosques had been erected at the expense of the spoils of war. The Sultan was not deterred by the subjects’ grumblings and the Blue Mosque, built opposite the Hagia Sophia, the city’s main mosque at the time, was finished by 1616. A year after the completion of the main work of his life, Ahmet died almost simultaneously with the architect. The hapless sultan was buried right inside the temple.

Later the Blue Mosque not only served as the main Muslim temple of Istanbul, but also became an arena for internal and external political events. In 1826 the Grand Vizier commanded the suppression of the Janissary uprising from the south-east chambers of the building, which were intended for royalty. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI came here. For the second time in the history of Catholicism, the pontiff visited the mosque to pray. As is the custom, he took off his shoes and meditated for two minutes next to the mufti of Istanbul and the imam of the Blue Mosque.

Architectural features

The Blue Mosque is considered the last masterpiece of classical Ottoman architecture. It was designed by Sedefkar Mehmed Agha, an Albanian by birth, a disciple of Mimar Sinan, the greatest Turkish architect who created the baths of Roksolana, her mausoleum and the Süleymaniye Mosque. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul was a fitting conclusion to the career of the elderly architect. The main task set before him by the sultan was to create a harmonious religious building, surpassing the existing ones in size and wealth.

The architect achieved his goal: the massiveness of the squat domes pressing against each other is softened by the minarets pointing upwards. The Blue Mosque is 73 m long and 65 m high, with a dome height of 43 m outside and 23.5 m inside. The project is clearly influenced by the Ayia Hagia Sophia and Islamic architecture, in particular the Süleymaniye Mosque built half a century earlier at the time of Suleyman the Magnificent. The stone for the construction of the temple – marble, porphyry and granite – was brought from all over Turkey.

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The structure of the Blue Mosque

The southern part of the building rests on the foundations of the Great, or Holy Palace, which was the residence of the Byzantine emperors for 8 centuries. The ensemble was destroyed after the capture of Constantinople, but the significance of the site survived. The Muslim complex includes a large prayer hall in the form of a simple rectangle under a dome and a courtyard open to the northwest. A stone wall with windows surrounds the courtyard and the building on all sides except the qibla, which points to Mecca. There are 3 exits to Sultanahmet Square, the former Byzantine Hippodrome. There are three more exits near the northeast wall. The northernmost one leads to the madrasah and the mausoleum, the others to the public park on the site of the burnt-out Ottoman university. From the terrace of the qibla there is a passage to the market square; its outer part is used for parking. Two rows of windows, rectangular below and curved above, face the courtyard. The main entrance is illuminated by a portico dome.

The minarets of the Blue Mosque

The architect had the audacity to repeat the number of minarets in Mecca, the main holy place of the Muslim world. A serious scandal broke out over it, and to resolve the conflict the seventh minaret was rapidly erected in Mecca but the Blue Mosque in Istanbul has remained with the six. Four of them stand at the corners of the main building, two more at the beginning of the courtyard. Five times a day a muezzin ascends the balcony of the minaret to announce the start time of the prayers. In addition to the mosque, worshippers are seated in the nearby park in the evening, from where the mosque illuminated by spotlights is perfectly visible.

Interior of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The prayer hall is illuminated through the upper windows, and there are 28 in the dome and 14 each in the half-domes, and by powerful chandeliers. On the lamps were found unusual evidence of the struggle against the cobwebs – ostrich eggs. The fact is that, according to legend, the spider saved Mohammed by covering the entrance to the cave with a web when the prophet had to flee from Mecca and hide from his pursuers early in his career. Consequently, it is a sin to kill spiders, while at the same time the spider web does not decorate the mosque either. To resolve this contradiction helped ostrich eggs, which smell unpleasant to spiders, but people do not feel the smell. The stock of “fragrance” from one egg is enough for a hundred years.

The walls and dome of the Blue Mosque are painted with inscriptions from the Koran, originally made by calligrapher Seyid Kasim Gubari and his students. Subsequently the letters have faded and have been restored several times. The carpets on the floors are modern, and the ancient carpets have long been worn out by thousands of believers. The marble mihrab, a niche in the wall facing Mecca, is surrounded by many windows, and the walls adjacent to it are faced with tiles. To the right of the mihrab during Friday or holiday sermons an imam stands behind the pulpit. Acoustics in the hall is such that even if the planned 10,000 people come to pray, they can easily hear every word.

Facing ceramics

Tiles from Turkish Iznik were used for wall cladding. They were produced from the end of the 15th century to the beginning of the 17th century. The original samples were created under Chinese influence with a predominance of cobalt blue, later it was diluted with emerald green and red. There are about 40 mosques with such cladding in Istanbul, but the project of the Blue Mosque is the most ambitious. The builders needed more than 20,000 light blue tiles for the lower tier alone. At the gallery level the main motif of hand-painted tiles was flowers, fruits and cypresses, while below them more traditional plant ornaments were used. In the royal house expensive nephrite and gilded tiles were laid.

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Sultan Ahmet’s frugality was an indirect cause of the decline in the production of Iznik ceramics. At the beginning of the construction he announced a fixed price for the tiles, but over the decade the cost of production increased, so craftsmen were forced to save on quality not to work at a loss.

Information for tourists

On the side of the former Basilica of St. Sophia in the Muslim school there is an information point where you can learn about the history of Islam and the Blue Mosque.

Opening Hours

The time to visit the mosque depends on the prayer schedule – tourists need to get in between 8:30 to 11:30, 13:00 to 14:30, 15:30 to 16:45. On Friday, the holy day for Muslims, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is closed at 13:30. For prayers can come to the temple from 5:30, but during this time it is not allowed to take photos. In addition, women during prayer time can only stay in a designated area outside the large hall.

Rules of Conduct in the Mosque

At the entrance tourists are given clothing appropriate to the occasion. Women should have their shoulders and elbows covered, as well as their knees and hair. Men may not appear inside in shorts. In the Blue Mosque it is forbidden to talk loudly, go behind the fences and kiss. It is prohibited to walk in shoe covers inside, you must take off your shoes and leave them in bags on the shelves or carry a bag with you. Only men who are praying can be in the center of the mosque, others walk along the edges of the main hall.

How to get there

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul is located near the Hagia Sophia, another must-see tourist attraction. The best way to get here is to take the high-speed streetcar to the Sultanahmet stop, then move east along with the flow of tourists.

The Blue Mosque: the unusual history of Istanbul’s main shrine

The Blue Mosque is the first most important mosque in Istanbul and is also one of the main symbols of the city and Turkey itself. Built during difficult times for the Ottoman Empire, the temple embodied an interweaving of Byzantine and Islamic architectural styles, and today the structure is recognized as a masterpiece of world architecture. Originally the mosque was called Sultanahmet after which the square it is located was named. But today the building is more often called the Blue Mosque, and this name is directly associated with the interiors of the shrine. A detailed description of the temple and practical information about it you will definitely find in our article.

Blue Mosque

Historical background

Sultan Ahmed I.

Sultana Ahmed

The beginning of the 17th century was a tragic page in Turkish history. Having fought two wars at once, one in the west with Austria and the other in the east with Persia, the state suffered defeat after defeat. As a result of the Asian battles, the empire lost its recently conquered Transcaucasian territories, ceding them to the Persians. And the Austrians achieved the conclusion of the Peace of Zhitvataroks, under which Austria was relieved of its obligation to pay tribute to the Ottomans. All this led to a decline in the authority of the state on the world stage, and in particular undermined the status of its ruler, Sultan Ahmed.

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Architect Sedefkar Mehmet Agha

Sedefkar Mehmet Agha

Depressed by the situation, the young Padishah in despair decides to build the most grandiose structure the world has never seen – the Sultanahmet Mosque. To carry out his plan, the lord summoned a pupil of the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, an architect named Sedefkar Mehmet Aga. The site where the Great Byzantine Palace had once stood was chosen to erect the structure. The building and the adjoining buildings were destroyed, and some of the spectator seats that had remained on the Hippodrome were also destroyed. The construction of the Blue Mosque in Turkey began in 1609 and was completed in 1616.

It is difficult to say now what motives guided Sultan Ahmed in making the decision to build the mosque. Perhaps by doing so he wanted to gain the favor of Allah. Or perhaps he wanted to assert his power and make people forget about him as a sultan who had not won a single battle. Curiously, just a year after the opening of the shrine, the 27-year-old Padishah died of typhoid fever.

Sultanahmet today.

Today, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the history of construction of which is very ambiguous, is the main temple of the metropolis, accommodates up to 10 thousand worshippers. Besides the structure has become one of the most popular attractions among visitors to Turkey, who visit the object not only because of its scale, but also because of the unique beauty of its interior decoration.

Architecture and interior decoration

Blue Mosque

When designing the Blue Mosque, the Turkish architect took the Hagia Sophia Cathedral as an example. After all, he was faced with the task to build a shrine, more majestic and larger than all the existing buildings of the time. Therefore in the architecture of the mosque today is clearly seen intertwining of the two schools of architecture – Byzantine and Ottoman styles.

At erection of a building only expensive kinds of marble and granite were used. The basis of the mosque served as a rectangular foundation with a total area of more than 4,600 square meters. In its center there is the main prayer hall with the area of 2700 m², and it is covered with a big dome with diameter of 23.5 m, located at a height of 43 m. Instead of the standard four, the temple has six minarets, each with 2-3 balconies. The Blue Mosque has good natural light inside, helped by its 260 windows, 28 of which are on the main dome. Most of the windows are decorated with stained glass.

Interior of the Blue Mosque

In the interior of the structure the facing from iznik tiles prevails: there are more than 20 thousand of them. The blue-and-white colors were the main hue of the tiles, and thus the mosque got its second name. The decoration of tiles reveals mainly plant motifs of flowers, fruits and cypresses.

The Blue Mosque's main dome

The main dome and walls are decorated with gilded inscriptions in Arabic. In the center is a huge chandelier with dozens of lamps, garlands of which also stretch along the entire perimeter of the room. The ancient carpets in the mosque were replaced with new ones, and their color scheme is dominated by red shades with blue ornaments.

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Carpets in the Blue Mosque

There are a total of six entrance doors in the temple, but the main one, through which tourists also pass inside, is on the side of the Hippodrome. It is important to note that this religious complex in Turkey includes not only a mosque, but also madrasahs, kitchens and charitable institutions. And today just one photo of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is able to stir the imagination, but in reality the structure strikes even the minds of those who know nothing about architecture.

Rules of Conduct

When visiting a mosque in Turkey, it is necessary to observe a number of traditional rules:

  1. Women are only allowed inside with their heads covered. Hands and feet must also be hidden from view. Those who come in improper form are given special clothes at the entrance to the temple.
  2. Men, too, must observe a certain dress code. In particular, they are forbidden to visit the mosque in shorts and T-shirts.
  3. At the entrance to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, shoes must be removed: you can leave your shoes at the door or take them with you, putting them in your bag.
  4. Tourists are only allowed to walk around the edges of the building in the mosque, the center of the hall can only go praying.
  5. It is forbidden to go behind the fence, talking loudly, laughing, disturbing the worshippers to pray.
  6. Tourists are only allowed to go to the mosque in Turkey between prayers.

How to get there

Cabs in Istanbul

There are several ways to get to this attraction in Istanbul, Turkey. The most unpretentious of them is a cab, of which there are a great many in the city districts. You will need to pay 2,5 TL for every kilometer you ride. It is easy to calculate the cost of a ride by knowing the distance from your starting point to the facility.

Sultanahmet stop

You can also take a streetcar to Sultanahmet Square, where the Blue Mosque is located, from the central districts of Istanbul. To do this you need to find the T1 Kabataş – Bağcılar line streetcar station and get off at the Sultanahmet stop. The temple building will be just a couple of hundred meters away.

You can take the TB1 Sultanahmet-Dolmabahçe city bus from Besiktas. There is also a TB2 bus line between Sultanahmet and Çamlıca in Uskudar.

Practical information

  • Address: Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi, Atmeydanı Cd. No:7, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul.
  • Opening hours of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul are from 08:30 to 11:30, 13:00 to 14:30, 15:30 to 16:45. On Fridays it opens at 13:30.
  • Cost of admission: free of charge.
  • Official website: www.sultanahmetcamii.org
Helpful tips

If you have planned to see the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, we advise you to pay attention to the list of recommendations presented by us, which are based on the opinions of travelers who have already visited the site:

  1. On Fridays, the mosque opens later, which creates large crowds of tourists at the entrance. Therefore, it is best to visit the temple on a different day. But even this does not guarantee you no queues. Ideally, go to the building by 08:00 – half an hour before the opening.
  2. It is not forbidden to take photos in the Blue Mosque, but you should not take photos of those praying.
  3. At the moment (autumn 2018) there is restoration work going on in this structure in Turkey, which, of course, can somewhat spoil the impression of the sight. So plan your trip to Istanbul with this fact in mind.
  4. Although women are issued long skirts and scarves at the entrance, it is recommended to bring your own clothes. First of all, clothing is provided intermittently, and secondly, there are often large lines at the issuing point.
  5. In general, you will need no more than an hour to see the temple.
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Interesting Facts

Interesting facts about the Blue Mosque in Istanbul lift the veil of mystery and allow us to look at the history of Turkey from a different angle. We have selected the most curious of them:

Blue Mosque tiles

  1. Since Sultan Ahmed could not win any major battles and win trophies, the state treasury was completely unprepared for the construction of such a large-scale structure as the Sultanahmet Mosque. Therefore, the Padishah had to allocate funds from his own treasury.
  2. During the construction of the mosque, the sultan demanded that the Iznik factories supply only the most skilful tiles. He prohibited them from supplying tiles to other constructions. As a result, the factories suffered huge losses and reduced the quality of tiles produced.
  3. After the Blue Mosque was erected, a real scandal broke out in Turkey. It turned out that the temple approached to the main Islamic shrine Masjid-al-Haram in Mecca, which at that time was part of the Ottoman Empire in terms of the number of minarets. The Padishah solved the problem by allocating funds to add a seventh minaret to the al-Haram Mosque.
  4. On the lamps in the building you can see ostrich eggs, which serve as a means of combating the spider’s web. According to one legend, the spider once saved the Prophet Mohammed and now the killing of this insect is considered a sin. To get rid of spiders in a humane way, Muslims decided to use ostrich eggs, the smell of which can repel insects for decades.
  5. Another interesting fact about the Blue Mosque is related to Pope Benedict XVI. In 2006, for only the second time in the history of the Catholic Church, the Pope visited the Islamic shrine. In keeping with tradition, the pontiff took his shoes off before entering the shrine, and then spent some time meditating beside the chief mufti of Istanbul.
Conclusion

The Blue Mosque in Turkey is a must-see attraction in Istanbul. Now that you know about its history and decorations, your tour of the shrine will become much more fascinating. And to make sure it is organized at the highest level, be sure to use practical information and our recommendations.

Author: Ekaterina Unal

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When visiting the cathedral there is a slight cognitive dissonance from the hybrid combination of symbols of two religions. There are mosaics and stained glass windows. It is more interesting with a guide. You can go upstairs and take a lot of selfies, but there are a lot of people. It is a sin to be in Istanbul and not to visit this beautiful place.

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