Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish translates to Sultanahmet Mosque, yet foreigners and travel books alike call it the Blue Mosque, for its interior blue tiles. Still in use as a mosque today, its become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul, and one of the most famous mosques in Turkey.
Located across from Hagia Sophia and over the site of the Hippodrome, Sultanahmet is the historic core of the Old Town (historic peninsula), and the single best sightseeing area in Istanbul. The area was named Sultanahmet, after Sultan Ahmet I.
Did You Know
Sultan Ahmet I while ruling the Ottoman Empire was determined at 19 years old to build a mosque to compete with the Hagia Sophia, so he had the Blue Mosque constructed right across from it, for all viewers to judge.
Note this mosque was built by Sedefhar Mehmet Aga NOT the famed Mimar Sinan, even though Sedefhar Mehmet Aga was a pupil of Sinan. Built from 1609 until 1616, completed one year before Sultan Ahmet I died of typhus at 27 years old. It incorporates Ottoman classical with Byzantine elements derived from Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture.
The number of minarets per mosque varies, from one to as many as four, so you can imagine the controversy it brought when he decided to be the first to have a mosque with six minarets in Turkey. At this time it was a sacrilegious attempt, since the only other mosque with six minarets was the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Whether it was to show power or to rival against Mecca, there are many theories why he built six – but my absolute favorite is a ‘lost in translation’ moment when the Sultan instructed the architect to make gold (altin) minarets which the architect understood as six (alti) minarets.
The interior is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles from Iznik, historicaly Nicaea. Iznik tiles and pottery are an artistic symbol of the Ottoman Empire from the 15 and 16th centuries, and played an important role in the history of ceramic arts. More than 50 types of tulip designs can be seen throughout the mosque. Decorations also include verses from the Quran, flowers and fruits. During the time the mosque was being built was a decline in Ottoman fortunes, however no expenses were spared which you can see in the decoration of the tilework – these tiles were made at the peak of tile production in Iznik.
Other interior details to note: there are more than 200 stained glass windows and the mihrab is carved and sculpted from marble.
The courtyard is about as large as the mosque itself and the facade design was inspired by Süleymaniye Mosque which was completed in 1558.
Keep in mind when visiting a (working) mosque to be respectful.
When to visit:
Unless you are coming to pray, avoid visiting a mosque during prayer time. Prayer occurs five times a day, and every day the time slightly changes as the days grow longer or shorter. Check ahead and be sure to avoid visiting within 30 minutes after the call to prayer and from noon to late afternoon on Friday.
What to wear:
For both men and women the following is preferred. Tops should have sleeves at least elbow-length or longer and shoulders must be covered. Pants, skirts or dresses should end at least below the knees. Women will need to wear a headscarf to cover their hair. If you don’t have a scarf on hand, a scarf will be provided to you upon entering. Before you enter the mosque you will need to remove your shoes (bags are provided for carrying, since you will exit through a different door).
How to act:
Speak quietly, move slowly and be respectful of worshippers. If you take photos don’t use the flash and avoid taking photos of worshippers.
Also to note, the entrance to mosques are free.