Visible from many spots around Istanbul, the Sultanahmet Mosque dominates the skyline. Commonly, it is known as the Blue Mosque, because of the blue ceramic tiles of different tulip designs, from Iznik city (Nicaea), that line its interior.
Sultan Ahmed I, had it built between 1609 and 1616 over the site of the ancient hippodrome and the palace of the Byzantine emperors. Facing the Hagia Sophia, the Sultanahmet Mosque was designed by royal architect Sedefhar Mehmet Ağa.
The tablets on the walls are inscribed by the 17th-century calligrapher Ametli Kasım Gubarımare with the names of the caliphs and verses from the Quran. One will also find beautiful examples of Arabic calligraphy by Seyyid Kasim Gubari.
The upper levels of the Mosque’s interior are dominated by blue floral drawings and stained glass windows. The colored glass for the windows was a gift from the Signoria of Venice to the sultan. Unfortunately, time and poor taste have replaced many of the windows with modern versions with little or no artistic merit.
The mosque has six minarets each with three balconies (Called Şerefes). This was unusual, and a cause of public unrest, as most mosques, only have four minarets. Six was a number reserved only for Mecca. As a good solution, more minarets were added to Mecca – and the conflict was settled!
The design of the Sultanahmet Mosque is the culmination of over two centuries of both Ottoman and Byzantine temple development. It incorporates Byzantine elements, from the neighboring Hagia Sophia, with traditional Islamic architecture. This wonderful structure is considered the last great mosque of the classical period of the Ottoman Empire.
The Blue Mosque is an active religious site, so it’s closed to non-worshipers for a half hour or so during daily prayers. Before stepping into the Mosque, be sure to take off your shoes, women should bring a large scarf to cover the head and shoulders (but if you forget you can rent one at the door). In a kind of kitschy but fun activity, you can book a photoshoot with traditional Ottoman Costumes in the Blue Mosque via the Ottoman dream studio.
The Sultanahmet Mosque is on the must-see list of any good site-seeing tour of Istanbul. It is a true marvel and a testament to builders of another age. The complexity of its vaults and tiling is a sight to behold.
Sultan Ahmet Mosque – Blue Mosque
Sultanahmet Cami, 34122
Sultanahmet, Fatih, Istanbul, Turkey
daily except during daily prayers