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The Sultan Ahmed (or Ahmet as the Turks call him) Mosque is more commonly known as the Blue Mosque and is recognised as one of the most iconic sights of the Istanbul skyline. It was commissioned by Sultan Ahmed I (unsurprisingly) when he was a young man in 1609 and took seven years to build and is designed in the Ottoman style. He wanted a building to rival the magnificent Hagia Sophia opposite. It has one big central dome (43m high on the outside), eight smaller domes and six minarets and apparently has a capacity of 10,000 worshippers. It is still in use today, and you are able to visit between prayer times.
Ottoman architecture features a lot of domes and columns and is often very light inside. Tiles and paintings tend to be quite colourful and feature flowers. The period the Blue Mosque was constructed in was referred to as the Classical period and had a lot of Byzantine influences (from the Hagia Sophia). The famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan had died by this time, but it his apprentices who worked on the mosque so it is in keeping with a lot of other Ottoman buildings around the city such as the Suleymaniye Mosque which Sinan had worked on and looks very similar. Sultan Ahmed also insisted that the mosque have six minarets, the only one in Istanbul to do so (as the time, the only one outside Mecca to have so many), the largest courtyard of any mosque in that period, tens of thousands of Iznik (hand-painted ceramic) tiles and 250 windows.
It is free to get in (you can make donations at the end - they give receipts), and you approach through a courtyard around to the side (as a tourist, worshippers are allowed to use the main entrance). You may have to queue for a bit, but the queue seems to move steadily as people are removing their shoes. I imagine if it got too packed inside they may prevent some people from going in. You are asked to remove your footwear and there are plastic bags to keep them in so you can carry them. You may keep socks on, but I saw one lady try to go in with plastic bags over her feet, but she was stopped. If you are coming in summer and have no socks, note that you are walking only on carpet, not bare floors. Men are asked to wear long trousers rather than shorts (not a problem in March) and ladies to wear long skirts or trousers, and ideally cover their heads. I had a scarf with me, but I noticed a few people didn't bother. If you forget to bring a scarf, you can borrow one from the mosque, which are all clean and pressed.
My first impression when I walked in was to say "wow" because it is so big and high. I have actually been in a larger mosque (in Casablanca, Morocco) but it wasn't as pretty. All of the high domed ceiling is decorated in red and blue tiles and lower parts of the mosque and the pillars also have these decorated tiles on them, mostly in blue. The carpet is red and looks fairly new. I imagine it has to be replaced often. There are a number of bright stained glass windows (I don't think they are original - they look too bright) and some low chandeliers meaning that it is very light in the mosque. You are allowed to take photos, and there did not seem to be any restrictions of the use of flash. However it is quite light in there, so I doubt you would need it. At one end is a large 'pulpit' type structure where the Imam preaches from. Most of the highlights of the mosque are above your head so the even if it is busy inside, the people are not obscuring your view. You can only walk around a part of it as the main area is roped off, but you can approach the rope to view the pulpit and lower windows and people move out of the way.
All in all we were inside about twenty minutes, as there was a prayer service looming. As you exit you will see some scale models of the original mosque complex (it included a hospital and school) and then once outside, you may put your shoes on (there are a few benches). If you then proceed straight on towards Sultanahmet Park (between the mosque and the Hagia Sophia) you can get some nice views, but they may be obscured by some trees.
The Mosque is situated in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul and is a few minutes walk from the tram stop of the same name.
~Istanbul's most famous building?~
If you ask most people to name an attraction in Istanbul - especially those who've not actually been there - there's a very strong chance that they will pick the so-called 'Blue Mosque', known more formally as the Sultan Ahmet Camii. There's something about the name that seems to tantalize and intrigue and promise something rather special and indeed, as Istanbul mosques go, this is a gem - not so much for its architecture which is, quite honestly, not so different from rather a lot of Istanbul mosques, but for its richly decorated interior tiling.
I recommend that everyone goes to see the Blue Mosque and goes early in their trip. You need to know where it is because you'll spend half your trip seeing the Hagia Sophia from rooftops and saying "Oh look, the Blue Mosque" or the Suleymaniye Mosque from the Bosphorus or the Galata Bridge and failing to work out that it cannot be the Blue Mosque as that's on the other side of the hill. Ideally I would say make it both the first and the last place you visit - an introduction to the city and a place to stop and take stock before you head home again. It's certainly not my favourite or the most impressive attraction in Istanbul and it's equally not the most interesting mosque I've ever visited but for a large number of tourists, it may well be the first mosque that they have ever visited and if that's the case, they can expect a treat.
It has a few things in favour - not least that it's entirely free in a city where very little seems to be any more. More importantly it can be a beautiful and peaceful space in what's sometimes a rather 'full on' sort of city. I had probably been about half a dozen times before our most recent trip to Istanbul and I made sure that it was the first major attraction that my parents and my sister and her partner visited.
~A Little bit of History~
The mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Sultan Ahmet I - the Sultan after whom the historic area of Sultanahmet is named. When you look at the sheer size of the place it's astonishing that the whole mosque was built in just a few years. It also seems an impressive feat of engineering and architecture until you realise that the Hagia Sophia, the church-turned-mosque-turned-museum which stands nearby on the other side of Sultanahmet square, is even more impressive and is 1400 years old. This is another reason I say go to the mosque first - if you see the Hagia Sophia before the mosque you risk a sense of 'so what' which the Blue Mosque doesn't really deserve.
There's a fabulous sense of balance about the place. The prayer hall of the mosque is about the same size as the courtyard that stands in front of it. This is quite unusual as I've seen mosques with enormous courtyards and small prayer halls (for example the Jamii Mosque in Old Delhi) and ones which are the other way round like the Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul. The most famous and unusual feature is that it has six minarets rather than the usual one or two or the occasional four. This was actually very controversial at the time it was built when only one other mosque - in Mecca - had six minarets and it was seen as a scandalous challenge to the supremacy of the other mosque.
We've previously entered the mosque through the entrance off the Hippodrome, through the courtyard and through the central door but this entrance now seems to be restricted to Muslims. Instead there are signs directing tourists round to the entrance on the far side of the mosque. To get there you pass the ablutions taps along the side wall where worshippers perform their washing rituals before entering the mosque.
We turned up just about ten minutes before the noon-time prayers which meant we had to rush rather. It's not appropriate - it may not even be permitted - to go in during the five prayer sessions each day and each can take up to half an hour. Seeing us standing outside the ladies checking that people were correctly dressed called down to us "Hurry, only ten minutes, please hurry".
We entered up some stone steps - from memory I don't recall any step-free way to get into the mosque - into an area for removing your shoes and covering up. Unlike many mosques where you leave your shoes with a shoe minder, the Blue Mosque encourages visitors to carry their shoes inside and provide big rolls of plastic bags. This means they can keep a through traffic of tourists, in through one door, out through the one on the opposite side. If men turn up in shorts, or women without a headscarf or other hair covering, or with shoulders or legs exposed, lengths of fabric are provided to ensure suitable modesty.
Suitably covered up, we headed inside. If you are used to Christian churches then mosques can disappoint as you really can't just march around all over the place exploring. You won't find lots of tombs or paintings, statues of saints and bishops or anything of that kind as Sunni muslim decoration avoids the use of figurative images. You can take photographs and even if they don't ask you to turn the flash off, I personally think you should. Try going at different times of day when the light is in different positions.
Visitors who aren't there to pray are restricted to the area behind a wooden rail and are asked not to take pictures of people praying which is only a matter of politeness. Many people are a bit miffed to discover that it's not blue outside or inside - in fact the 20 000 hand painted Iznik tiles inside (any one of which I'd sell my kidney for) contain a lot of the distinctive blue pigment but the overall effect is much lighter than generally expected. Once you've got over the impact of the tiles, and admired the lovely carved wood on the doors, you'll probably find your eyes drawn to the lights. Enormous chandeliers hang down from the ceiling, their wires ensuring that it's completely impossible to get a really good photo almost anywhere inside the mosque. The stained glass windows at the mihrab end of the prayer hall are beautiful but very tough to photograph. You'll no doubt find yourself practically falling over backwards as you crane your neck back to look at the painted underside of the domes.
A few things to look out for are the loge where the Sultan and his family would pray - this is at the mihrab end (mecca-facing) on the left hand side. Next to the mihrab you'll see the minbar (yes, I know it sounds like mini-bar but it isn't) but there aren't too many other things to look out for. One of my favourite things is to just find a quiet spot, sit down and look around or just sit and don't look around but soak up the history of the place. Look at all the prayer spaces marked out on the carpets and imagine the millions of worshippers who've passed through the doors since the 1600s. Imagine all the prayers offered up under the dome and the intense sense of community. On a previous visit I sat and watched an old man teaching a young boy - presumably his grandson - how to pray. Nobody minds you watching if you do it quietly and respectfully.
Respect is a big issue and I only have to step into a mosque to get incensed by people who break the rules. Would you walk into St Paul's cathedral, stick your camera in the face of someone praying, shout to your friends and fart? I'd hope not (though I can't rule out any of that after seeing a good few parties of Italian school children). So why do people who've been politely asked to cover their hair and their legs walk into the mosque and instantly take those scarves off again and let their sarongs slip? Nobody forces them to go inside or to stay for more than a few minutes. Would it really hurt so much to just stop playing with your i-phone for 5 minutes and keep your scarf in place? My husband has got used to having to placate his indignant wife and to physically restrain her from stomping up to a bottle-blonde and asking why she thinks the rules don't apply to HER. I remind myself it's totally inappropriate to get annoyed in a mosque and I bite my tongue.
When you've had enough, pass through the door on the far side and you'll find benches where you can sit down and put your shoes back on. There's a man standing at a counter and happy to take any donations you might want to get and he'll give you a receipt for every Turkish Lira he receives. There's no pressure and lots of people just walk straight by without giving anything but I wouldn't do that. Once you're outside there's a small carpet museum (with some seriously old, threadbare, valuable carpets) which is worth a look if you really like carpets (which I do) but probably not everyone's idea of fun. From the steps as you leave the mosque you'll see straight towards the Hagia Sophia which is just a couple of minutes walk away - or more if you're no good at brushing off the postcard salesmen and people flogging silly hats. At the moment the area between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia is a complete mess and I assume it's being tarted up for a special event. It's a shame as on previous visits we've spent a lot of time sitting in the gardens here. Hopefully it'll be sorted out soon.
The mosque changes with the light and I recommend popping by and taking photos at different times of day. The best time for getting pictures inside is most likely the worst time for taking them outside. For me, it's the perfect excuse to go back a few times during any visit.
The Blue Mosque.
The blue mosque is a familiar sight of the sky line on Istanbul's European side of the city which is separated from the Asian side by the Bosphorus. Its official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or in Turkish the Sultanahmet Camii. It is situated in the Sultanamet area of Istanbul with the Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome and Topkapi palace all within a stone's throw of each other. The Blue Mosque can be seen from various points throughout Istanbul but looks very impressive from the Bosphorus being built on top of one of the seven hills that make up Istanbul.
It is called the blue mosque because of the blue tiles that cover the walls inside the mosque and not because the exterior appearing blue because the exterior is in fact a greyish colour but in certain sunlight the exterior appears blue especially when in photos against the back drop of an azure blue sky.
Work commenced on building the mosque in 1609 and it was finally finished in 1616 taking seven years to build. Bearing in mind there were very little tools in those days it really is a magnificent structure. The blue mosque was built over some old byzantine palaces.
Entering the great Courtyard through a massive archway from the Hippodrome, you come into a gigantic courtyard that is exactly the same size as the inside of the mosque. In the middle there is an ablution fountain where worshippers complete their washing rituals prior to entering the mosque bare footed. No shoes are worn inside the mosque and women should cover up appropriately. Plastic bags are provided so that you can carry your shoes inside the mosque with you as you exit from another doorway on the left hand side of the Mosque.
The courtyard is surrounded by beautifully shaped arches which go round the whole of the outside of the courtyard. There are inscriptions in Arabic on the walls and within the arches they are decorated and look really wonderful.
We were told by our guide that when the mosque was being built it was well over budget and there were fears the architect would lose his life if he did not follow the sultans orders. The sultan had ordered the minarets be covered in gold but the ministers were so angry at the cost of the project the architect changed the usual four minaret design to that of six minarets which greatly pleased the Sultan. There are four minarets in each corner of the mosque proper with three tiers and two further minarets on the corners of the great courtyard which only have two tiers. Such was the displeasure and criticism of the Sultan for allowing 6 minarets to be built he paid for a seventh minaret to be built at Mecca to appease his critics.
The mosque also contained a school, a market, a kitchen to feed the poor, a hospital and various other buildings to aid the frail, sick and poor based around the courtyard area.
After admiring the outside of the mosque you pass the security men on the doorway, women are given a gown if they are bare skinned in armless blouses or not dressed appropriately such as short skirts or shorts.
Stepping inside the mosque you are overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of the interior. Surprisingly there are over 600 windows in the mosque which allow in natural light. Some of the windows are coloured glass. Looking ahead there are floor to ceiling windows which lets in a lot of light and it is also facing Mecca. Looking up to the central dome you cannot fail to be impressed with the size of the mosque. The domes are supported by four massive pillars and in order to maintain stability of the great dome there are four smaller domes around the main dome supporting it. Supporting the four domes supporting the main dome are 12 further smaller domes. At the bottom of the central dome it is surrounded by windows which also allow natural light into the mosque.
Hanging from the ceilings are many chandeliers which provide lighting during the evening prayers. On the chandeliers are some ostrich eggs which are supposed to ward off spiders and apparently there are no spiders to be found in the mosque which would please those of you who are arachnophobes.
The lower half of the mosque is decorated with blue tiles. These tiles are called Iznik tiles from the town where they were made.Apparently there are over 20,000 of these tiles. They are a little like delft pottery to give you an idea of what they look like. The designs of the tiles are in the form of Tulips of which there are many different designs. It looks quite amazing. On the upper walls and inside the domes of the mosque it has been ornately decorated with paints however the colours have changed from the original reds to brown and green to blue over the years. There are also lots of yellow patterns too which makes the interior look very impressive.
The central prayer area under the domes is actually cordoned off unless the mosque is in use for prayers. The whole of the floor is thickly carpeted in brilliant red colours and places marked in gold colours where the people pray. To the left hand corner at the front of the mosque is a dais like marble structure which is screened with intricately carved marble and this is the prayer area for the Sultan where he could pray in privacy. To the right of the windows is the minrab and minbar where the imam reads the Koran and preaches to the worshippers.
Once you have finished with your visit you exit the mosque to the left hand side of the mosque coming out and facing the other great domed splendour of the Hagia Sofia. Near the exit there is a solid silver model of Mecca which is in a glass case.
Would I recommend a visit here?
This simply is a must visit on any visitors trip to Istanbul. It certainly is one of the Jewels in Istanbul's crown. The stunning architecture and beauty within the mosque is absolutely stunning and it will take your breath away. I would certainly recommend you visit the Blue Mosque. In total we were at the mosque for about one hour.
Admission is free but you are welcome to make a donation.
The mosque is open all day except for about half an hour at a time during the five prayer times. It is also not advisable to visit on a Friday the main day of prayer. Men and women should dress appropriately and adhere to a modest dress sense. No shorts, no short sleeves for women or miniskirts.
This place is worth 10 Dooyoo stars and not the usual five due to its magnificent splendour and I defy anyone whose says that it is not a beautiful creation!
THE BLUE MOSQUE or SULTAN AHMED MOSQUE or SULTANMET CAMII:
The Blue Mosque gets its name from the decorative tiles inside the mosque, prior to my visit I thought that it was from the grey blue stone from which it is built. This mosque was built between 1610 and 1617 and is the only mosque in Istanbul with six minarets. It can be seen rising up on the hill as you enter Istanbul from the Bosporus and is one of the many mosques seen on the skyline of the city at dusk.
As you enter the mosque, covered as you need to be out of respect and shoe less, you are immediately aware of how much light is coming through the 260 windows. The wonderful blue tiles - 20,000 of them are decorated with plant and flower motifs. It is a huge space inside and looking up to the dome you are made to feel very aware of just how big this building is. It is beautiful inside and very peaceful but I was almost more impressed with it from the outside as it is a lovely grey blue colour and the six minarets stand up like candles on a birthday cake.
Unlike other mosques where you leave your shoes at the door and collect them on the way out because you don't leave by the same way you have to carry your shoes with you. The mosque is open between 9am-6pm daily, except during daily prayer times (lasting about half an hour, five times daily) and midday on Fridays. It is not a huge problem if it is prayer time as you go go and enjoy a coffee or wander around outside until they are over.
I just stood between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia and looked from one to the other as they are both such lovely looking buildings so close to each other - very special indeed.
Behind the Blue Mosque is a bazaar known as the Arasta bazaar which was excavated to expose 42 columns and mosaic floors of the lower court of the Great palace, today this is a mosaic museum. above the mosaic museum are the shops of the Arasta Bazaar which is where we sat at a small restaurant for lunch waiting for prayer time to end in order to go into the mosque.
We had a lovely meze type lunch with a crowd of Turkish families and not another tourist in sight. The service was friendly and so were the several cats that wound round our legs waiting for us to drop something.
I can't decide whether I prefer the inside or the outside of this amazing building. The outside is majestic and you cannot fail to be impressed by the magnitude of the building with its huge domes and even though the mosque got its name from the 20,000 16th Century blue tiles that line the high ceiling inside I think that compared to the Hagia Sophia this building does have a bluish tinge outside.
At night the street alongside is lit up with lantern type lights which cast a very atmospheric glow onto the mosque. My husband spent quite some time trying to get a good photo of this without power lines and ugly 20th century additions blotting his photo.
Inside the main prayer area is lit by hundreds of chandeliers which also reflect the natural light which comes from the 200 stained glass windows with their lovely designs. I found it really interesting that each of the chandeliers had ostrich eggs on them put there to avoid cobwebs inside the mosque by repelling spiders apparently.
Another little story that we heard that is apparently only a story and not true is that when the mosque was built the Sultan was criticised for being too full of himself as the only mosque that had six minarettes was the mosque of the Ka'aba in Mecca. He solved this problem it is said by paying for a seventh minaret to be built at the Mecca mosque. Nice though the story is, in fact, the mosque in Mecca already had seven minarets for over a century before the Blue Mosque was built.
Until very recently the muezzin or prayer-caller had to climb a narrow spiral staircase five times a day to announce the call to prayer. Today a loud speaker system is used, and this call can be heard across the old parts of the city and is echoed by other mosques in the area. It is a very evocative sound. I'm sure that if you are warm and cosy in bed the first call to prayer is not always a welcome sound but in the evening it is a wonderful sound to hear as you sit sipping your drinks in the warm air relaxing on holiday.
This is not one of the most famous buildings in the world for no reason. It is a really beautiful building to see regardless of your religious faith you could not fail to be impressed. The outside is impressive and the inside awe inspiring. The size alone takes your breath away and then things like the blue tiles, the stained glass windows, the decorative scripts and the intricate marble carvings are all just stunning.
This is not one of the New Seven Wonders but the building opposite, the Hagia Sophia was in the last 21 nominations but did not make it to the last seven. However it is a wonder and certainly one of the buildings that is on a 'must see before you die' list.
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In Istanbul's Battle of the Buildings, the Blue Mosque is, for me, the outright winner. It was built in the seventeenth century on the orders of Sultan Ahmet I with the intention that it should rival the Hagia Sophia which stands opposite it. The image of these two fantastic buildings square up to each other is one of the most breath-taking sights in Istanbul, a city that's not short on visual magnificence. Both buildings are quite extraordinary but it's the Blue Mosque that wins me over with its six stately minarets and awesome courtyard; I'd go so far as to say that every trip (at least every first trip) to Istanbul should include a visit to the Blue Mosque.
With its six minarets, the Blue Mosque is easily identifiable from all over the city - even in a city that is teeming with mosques. There is a story that claims that the Sultan had demanded that the mosque have minarets made from gold - in Turkish "altin" - but the architect misheard him and built six - in Turkish "alti". While six minarets was something rather special in what we now call Turkey, they caused a stir in the Islamic world in general because the only other mosque to boast six minarets was the one in Mecca, held to be the holiest in the Muslim world; the solution was to add a seventh minaret to the mosque in Mecca. The other feature that makes the Blue Mosque quite distinct from the outside is the wonderful way the smaller domes tumble down from the main one; it always makes me think of one of those champagne glass arrangements where the bubbly is poured into the topmost glass and cascades down into those below it.
The one thing that the Blue Mosque is not, from the outside, is blue. The proper name is the Sultanahmet Camii (or Sultanahmet mosque); the epithet "blue mosque" was given because of the interior of the mosque which I shall describe later.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Following a series of disastrous wars for the Ottomans, Sultan Ahmed I decided to build a large mosque in Istanbul which he believed would be an offering to placate Allah. It had to be pretty special because there had't been an imperial mosque constructed for over four decades. In the past the sultans had financed such projects with wealth won in wars but Ahmed I did not have these riches at his disposal and, instead, he decided to obtain the funds through the treasury, a decision that enraged the legal scholars, the Ulema. Work commenced in 1609 and took seven years. The royal architect Sedefhar Mehmet AÄYa, who had studied under the great architect Sinan, was placed in charge of the project.
THE LOCATION OF THE BLUE MOSQUE
The mosque is situated on the former site of the palace of the Byzantine emperors, facing the Hagia Sophia and the hippodrome. Parts of one side of the mosque were on the foundations of the old palace. Several existing palaces had to be bought so that they could be demolished to enable the construction of the Blue Mosque on this site.
For today's visitor, the mosque is easy to get to, in the heart of the Sultanahmet part of the city, close to tram and bus stops. The jump on, jump off sightseeing bus stops almost at the entrance. It's an easy walk from most hotels in the Sultanahmet district and you can take a bus from Taksim Square if you are staying on the Asian side of Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is just a couple of minute's walk from other attractions such as the Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern and all these can be visited in one day, depending on your sightseeing stamina.
VISITNG THE BLUE MOSQUE
Unlike the Hagia Sophia, which was designated a museum in 1935, the Blue Mosque is a working mosque and this status dictates certain etiquette from visitors. Visitors may only enter through the north door; at peak times there can be a queue but as there are often lots of tour groups milling around the entrance and people fussing about whether to take their shoes off, you may not have to wait as long as you might expect. We visited in mid-August and found we only had to wait a few minutes. There are signs (in several languages) instructing you to remove your footwear and asking women to cover their heads. I have my own headscarf for visiting mosques but you can borrow one if you need to. If you are visiting Istanbul just for the day, perhaps as part of a beach holiday elsewhere in Turkey or perhaps in Bulgaria (you can do bargain-rate day trips from the Bulgarian coast to Istanbul), you could stuff a sarong or beach wrap in your bag and use that. Shorts are forbidden for men and women and women shouldn't wear short skirts/dresses. Bare shoulders should be covered up; if you wear a bigger scarf this will usually cover your shoulders too. If you have turned up in shorts (even if they aren't especially short but more like three quarter length) you may be asked to wear a wrap (I was once given one to wear in Georgia when I visited a church while wearing cropped trekking trousers) over them. If it's a really hot day, zip off trousers that can also be worn as shorts are a wise move. At some mosques you leave your shoes at the door and collect them on the way out but at the Blue Mosque you don't leave by the same way so you carry your shoes with you; if you need one, you can get a plastic bag, we just carried ours in a backpack. The mosque is open between 9am-6pm daily, except during daily prayer times (lasting about half an hour, five times daily) and midday on Fridays.
INSIDE THE MOSQUE
I don't want to write too much about the interior of this magnificent mosque. Even the most eloquent written descriptions of the mosque I have read couldn't prepare me for the splendour you are faced with on entering the Sultanahmet mosque. The high ceiling is covered with about 20,000 blue tiles; they are a typical 16th century Iznik design, depicting flowers, trees and abstract patterns - this is particularly notable because the decor of mosques is not normally allowed to represent living things. On the lower levels the tiles are the most commonly used tulip design - there are said to be fifty different kinds of tulip design tiles in the mosque - and on the upper levels the designs feature a variety of flowers and cypress trees, the designs becoming more flamboyant and intricate at you climb. It's also the case that the first tiles that were used were the best quality and, as the money ran out and the price of tiles escalated, tiles of inferior quality had to be used.
Some people are quite sniffy about the Blue Mosque saying that the tiles are very faded and that parts of it have been slathered in blue paint to try to give the illusion that the interior looks better than it really is. I'd agree to some extent. It's really only the tiles at the very top that are brilliantly blue and these aren't easy to appreciate. You also need good light to really do the interior justice. Some huge chandeliers have been installed to fill the place with artificial light but sunlight is better and allows you to allow see the intricate designs of the stained glass windows. They aren't the most magnificent windows you've ever seen but they do contribute to the overall effect.
It's actually the architectural effect rather than the way the mosque is decorated that appeals to me. I love the slightly squashed effect of the domes and the sheer size of the central dome with its baby dome circling it is mind-boggling.
On the upper levels the walls are decorated with verses from the Qu'ran, some of these are thought to have been painted by Seyyid Kasim Gubari who was the man responsible for such work in many of Turkey's grandest mosques; he was regarded as the foremost calligrapher of the period. If you are tall enough (I had to jump to get a glimpse) there are some great views from the upper galleries over the smaller domes of the mosque.
My favourite part of the mosque is the royal kiosk which you can only see from a distance because it and the mihrab (the prayer niche that all mosques have) are roped off to allow worshippers the space to pray. The kiosk is basically a little loggia with two private rooms and it gives access to the royal loge which is situated in the uppermost gallery. In 1826 the Grand Vizier ensconced himself in the royal loge during the suppression of the rebellious Janissary Corps (Read Jason's Goodwin's brilliant novel The Janissary Tree to learn more about this uprising). Ten marble columns support the loge which has its own mihrab carved from jade.
DO I RECOMMEND A VISIT?
Of course; this is one of the most important buildings in Istanbul and only by seeing it for yourself can you truly appreciate its magnificence. The interior may not be as dazzling as some claim but there is still much to admire and enjoy.
A guided tour - or at least a very good guidebook - is essential to help you get the most out of your visit. There are plenty of places around the city to book a guided tour and your hotel may also be able to assist. Without some degree of information all you can really do is stand there and marvel at how grand it is, some background information makes it more worthwhile. Admission is free but you will have to pay for the services of a guide.
If you visit in the summer then you should try to arrive quite early before the queues build up; however they do seem to be well managed and waiting times are not excessive. However, you will be standing as you wait which may not suit everyone.
Although this is a working mosque and you'll see plenty of people coming to pray I do think that the numbers of people allowed in at any one time is too high and I felt that this had an impact on my impression of the building. It is rather impressive but there are other mosques worth seeing that would be less crowded and some of the city's other mosques are very striking too. While the interior could be missed (it would be a shame to do that though), I would definitely recommend you make an effort to at least see the exterior, especially from inside the courtyard as this give you one of the best views of the cascading domes.
The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque) is justifiably one of the principle attractions of Istanbul and it is almost inconcievable that as a tourist you wouldn't visit. Of course this means that visit may well involve being surrounded by hoards of other visiters and people trying to make money by selling stuff to them. However, ignore this and the mosque makes it more than worthwhile.
The Blue Mosque is named for the blue tiling inside which has 20,000 blue tiles covering the domes, walls and floor which make for an amazing sight. Characteristic of mosques, the interior has ornate arab script and prayer mats set up in the direction of Mecca. The largest of the rooms is truely spectacular and if you can ignore the millions of other people around you and float away then it is possible to glimpse the magical, mystical atmosphere of the place.
Entrance to the mosque is free but a donation is asked for at the exit. Tickets are given out for the value of the donation and this ensures that the money should go back into the upkeep of the wonderful building itself.
Lastly, bear in mind that this is a functioning mosque and as such a religious building. As in all mosques you will be asked to remove your shoes and be respectful in attitude and appearance (as a personal point to those who complain about this, walking around a church, synagogue or temple also usually requires a respectful appearance). Women should dress conservatively, cleavage, shoulders and legs covered and taking a scarf to use as a headcover is advisavble. When I was there many female tourists didn't bother to wear their headscarf when in the mosque but I would encourage others not to follow the trend. Signs are up saying that women are expected to wear a headscarf and I expect that it is just too difficult to enforce rather than the fact it isn't cared about. A little respect can go a long way and often affects how you aer treated in return too.
Open 9-5 excepting prayer times, any time of day is worth visiting, however, to avoid the crowds very early or late is a little better. The mosque is illuminated at night and the cascading domes lit with white light will probably make you go for more than a walk past. The magic of this place doesn't need tempting out.
Almost synonymous with the skyline of Istanbul is the imposing sextet of spires surrounding the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, better known to the world as the Blue Mosque. Stand near an American tourist there, and it won't be long before you hear a bitter, whining protestation that the mosque isn't blue. Well, it's true, the outside of the mosque isn't blue, so let's shatter that illusion for a start. The name actually comes from the predominantly blue-coloured Iznik tiles inside the mosque. The Blue Mosque is an imposing presence at the eastern end of the southwestern peninsula of the city, and is probably one of the first tourist attractions in the city that you'll see upon arrival, as you enter the city along Kennedy Caddesi. HISTORY Sultan Ahmet I ascended to the throne in 1603 at age fourteen, and was an extremely religious ruler, immediately decreeing that a mosque should be built to overshadow with the nearby Haghia Sophia. The next step was to decide where to build this incredible mosque, and soon a location was found – the site of the palace of Ayse Sultan. The palace's owner was compensated, and architect Mehmet Aga began construction on the site in 1609. The work was completed in 1617. The mosque is unique, at least in Istanbul, in having six minarets. At the time of construction, this was decision provoked great hostility, primarily because it was seen as a challenge to the architecture of Mecca itself. Four of the six minarets have three balconies, and the other two have two each, making a total of 16. According to Mehmet Aga's memoirs, the building was originally designed to have fourteen balconies, in honour of the number of Ottoman sultans, but in the 16th century, a further two were added to include sons of some of the sultans. TOURING THE MOSQUE Firstly, if you're planning to tour the mosque, you'll have to prepare yourself for other tourists... tons
of them. More or less from the time that the mosque opens to visitors (at 9am – though the mosque has been open to Muslim worshippers for several hours before this), the place is swarming with tourists. The majority of tourists visiting the city stay in the large chain hotels way out to the west of the city, and are bussed in to the tourist attractions. If you stay nearer the centre, it's less of an effort to beat the crowd, and visit places before they become too much of a circus. Secondly, and this is a general rule that applies to all the mosques in Istanbul, dress appropriately. Women should ensure that they're not wearing too short a skirt, and would be well advised to bring a scarf, as many mosques insist that female visitors cover their heads within the mosque. It's also worth wearing shoes that you can slip on and off easily. All mosques insist that you remove your shoes before entering, and continually taking your shoes on and off can become tiresome, if there's a lot of messing about with laces involved. Anyway, on with the tour. You can either enter the Blue Mosque complex from the Hippodrome to the West, or from the Ayasofia Meydani (Ayasofia Garden) to the North. Within the grounds, before entering the mosque, be sure and look at the area to the north-west of the mosque, where a pillared walkway holds a series of taps for ablution prior to worship in the mosque. The entrance to the mosque itself is in the south-east corner. Queues are likely to be fairly sizeable, and while you wait to go in, expect to be hassled by vendors trying to sell you guidebooks and postcards. A simple "no" is unlikely to be enough. When you get into the mosque itself, you are given a black plastic bag to put your shoes in, which you then carry with you into the building. The mosque itself, is absolutely incredible inside. Just above your head is an enormous intricate chandelier extending out to fill an area ab
out equivalent to the widest point of the dome above it. The carpet is marked with a repeated patterns of arch shapes, each representing the place at which a worshipper would pray towards Mecca during prayers. Most impressive, however, are the incredible ceilings and domes, beautifully decorated with intricate patterns incorporating ornate Arabic script. Every inch of the ceiling is covered with colourful flowing markings, and it truly is breath-taking. Photographs are permitted within the mosque, and inevitably this means that the place is almost continually strobing with flash bulbs going off... which drives me up the wall, because the ceiling is far too far away to actually reflect any of the light from a camera's flash. Do yourself (and the building) a favour, and turn off your camera's flash, your camera will almost certainly be able to compensate for the reduced light, and increase the exposure time accordingly to produce equally good, if not better, pictures. Anyway, rant over. Looking back at my pictures of the interior of the mosque itself, the decoration truly is awe-inspiring, and I think it's unlikely that anything I type here will do the building justice. Small areas of the interior surfaces of the dome have not been restored, so that visitors can see exactly how the domes would have looked had the restoration not been carried out. It's forbidden for tourists to get too close to the eastern end of the mosque, and a barrier blocks you from approaching too close. Bear in mind too, that the mosque is closed during prayer times, check the times inside the mosque itself, because they change throughout the year with the timing of the dawn and sunset. When you've finished admiring the mosque's interior, you leave through a door on the north side of the mosque, to a small area where you put your shoes back on, and put the black plastic bag into a box. Although admission to the Blue Mosque is free, you
would be a rude tourist not to give the mosque a donation. There is no recommended donation, but you have to be given a receipt – so that the mosque can be sure that the person collecting the donations isn't cheating them! A typical donation, when I went, was 250,000 Turkish Lira per person (that was under 20p in May 2001). COURTYARD The courtyard to the west of the mosque itself is also open to the public, and from here you can get an absolutely outstanding view of the domes of the Blue Mosque. The courtyard is exactly the same size as the mosque, creating a nice architectural balance to the place. The courtyard is surrounded by an impressive colonnade, topped by a series of small domes. In the centre of the courtyard is a small ablutions fountain, though it is now entirely ornamental, since ablution is now carried out at the taps to the north-west on the outside of the building. Also from the courtyard, you can clearly see the loudspeakers, which relay the muezzin's call to prayer five times per day, attached to the mosque's minarets. WHEN TO GO The Blue Mosque is only open to tourists between 9am and 5pm daily, so if you want to go inside the building, you'll have to visit between those hours. However, the courtyard remains open to tourists until 10.30pm (at least, when I was there – I think it might be the time of the last call to prayer that coincides with the closure of the courtyard). Between May and September, the Blue Mosque is beautifully illuminated after dusk, and sitting in the courtyard late into the evening watching the seagulls pinwheel between the minarets is a truly magical, restful experience. If you go there at about 9pm, you'll most likely be the only tourist in the place – because the majority of tourists have been bussed back out of town to eat back at their Holiday Inn clone. NOT JUST THE MOSQUE On the site of the Blue Mosque
there are a couple of other buildings which are worth a look. To the north-east of the mosque itself, but within the courtyard, is the Imperial Pavilion, which is now home to the Vakiflar Carpet Museum. To the north-west of the mosque, outside of the courtyard, on the corner of Mimar Ahmet Aga Caddesi and Atmeydani Sok, is the tomb of Sultan Ahmet I, the Sultan responsible for commissioning the construction of the Blue Mosque (hence the name Sultan Ahmet Mosque). Entering the tomb of Ahmet I will involve making another donation (again of 250,000 Turkish lira per person), and taking your shoes off again. You can leave your shoes outside this time though – no need to carry them with you in a plastic bag! Ahmet I's tomb also holds the body of Ahmet's son, Osman II. It's an impressive little building, with the tombs covered in large green drapes, and some impressive white-on-blue Arabic script on tiles running around the room. BEST VIEW? Arguably the best view of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul can be had from the Sultan Ahmet Meydani (Gardens) just next to the Sultanahmet tram stop on Divanyolu Caddesi. From here, you can look out over the mosque's minarets, which look like something from Disneyland. There are some seats looking out over the mosque here, but if you decide to sit here for a while, expect to be hassled by people wanting to shine your shoes! CONCLUSIONS Let's face it, if you're visiting Istanbul, the Blue Mosque must be on your list of attractions to visit – it's a truly amazing building, best experienced after dark when it is beautifully (and mercifully unostentatiously) floodlit. Admission is relatively cheap (or free, if you're mean enough to begrudge the mosque 20 pence!), and it's easy to get to, just a couple of minutes walk from the Sultanahmet tram stop.
also known as Sultan Ahmet Mosque, one of the principal mosques of the city. It was built between 1609 and 1616 for Sultan Ahmet I by Mehmet Aga, a pupil of Sinan, considered the greatest architect of the early Ottoman Empire, and is known as the Blue Mos