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Blue Mosque (Istanbul, Turkey)
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Blue Mosque (Istanbul, Turkey)
Advantages: Free, attractive mosque, quick to visit
Disadvantages: May have to queue
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.
Summary: Worth your time