The Blue Mosque of Istanbul, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Sultan Ahmet Camii, is the most famous imperial mosque dating from the Ottoman empire. Standing opposite the Hagia Sophia in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, every day, the Blue Mosque hosts thousands of curious tourists and Muslims arriving to worship.
As one of the city's mosques, the Blue Mosque is an excellent insight into Islam in modern-day Istanbul. How Istanbul locals adhere to their faith, and how places of worship reflect everyday society. But the main claim to fame and reason for interest from around the globe is that the imperial mosque is one of the last classical Ottoman structures.
There are many Ottoman mosques throughout Istanbul and Turkey, but the style of architecture is no longer used. Towards the end of their rule, the Ottoman started using more western architectural styles. Hence, the mosques reflect a significant era of history books and, of course, the timeline of Istanbul and Turkey. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque features wow and amazes everyone who visits, and they perfectly portray traditional Islamic architecture.
About the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
1: Ottoman Sultans and their Mosques
There is a long list of mosques throughout Istanbul and Turkey commissioned by Ottoman sultans. For Sultans, building mosques made their mark and cemented their place in Ottoman history books. However, there was strict protocol. Firstly, if a sultan commissioned the construction of a mosque, he had to use his funds and not the treasury funds. Secondly, he had to have won a battle or war against non-believers.
This is why you won't find any mosques constructed in the name of Murad III or Selim II. They never fought any battles and didn't have the spoils of war to fund construction. Now, this is where the Blue Mosque caused strife. Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I wanted to build a mosque in Istanbul. Unfortunately, the young sultan had taken the throne at the tender age of 13. In addition to strife throughout the empire, the Ottomans had lost land to the Persians.
Afraid of being seen as a weak and incompetent sultan, Ahmed I knew his advisors would disagree with the construction, yet Ahmed I focused on his legacy rather than taking care of current-day matters. Hence building the Sultan Ahmet Mosque began in 1609. But there were stipulations. Ahmed, I wanted his Istanbul Mosque to be bigger and better than the Hagia Sophia and the Suleymaniye mosque. He wanted the grandest mosque in the whole of the Ottoman empire.
2: The Architect of the Blue Mosque
The architect Sultan Ahmet chose was Sedefkar Mehmed Aga. As a youngster, he initially studied music but later switched to architecture. His apprenticeship was under Mimar Sinan, the Ottoman royal residence's great architect. Known throughout history and the Ottoman empire for his striking designs, Mimar Sinan passed much knowledge onto Sedefkar Mehmed Aga, who learned well. In 1599, Sedefkar Mehmed Aga took the title and position of the Ottoman empire's official architect. Although he couldn't match the influence of Mimar Sinan, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque of Istanbul was his legacy.
3: Blue Mosque's Construction
Following Sultan Ahmed's instructions for a bigger and better mosque, Mehmet Agha followed imperial Ottoman Mosque architecture but designed a building with eight secondary domes. The architectural aspect that caused problems was six pencil-shaped minarets. The only mosque with six minarets was Mecca Mosque. Was Ahmed trying to match Mecca?
It was a misunderstanding. While his architect heard "six Minarets, " Ahmed meant gold minarets. To compensate for the mishap, Ahmed ordered a seventh minaret added to the Mecca Mosque, so his six minarets could still stand. Today, six slender soaring minarets flank the corners and courtyard of the Blue Mosque.
The courtyard is also a key feature since a chain hangs the imperial entrance. Only Ottoman sultans used it, and the chain forced them to lower their heads when riding through on horseback. Again, a reminder that no one is greater than Allah.
4: Interior Walls and Design of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque
The interior design is nothing short of spectacular. More than 20,000 blue tiles from Iznik cover the mosque's interior walls. Iznik is a name associated with only the best and finest tiles in Turkey, and the blue tiles lend weight to the nickname; Blue Mosque. Everyone always remarks on the interior carpets in mosques throughout Turkey. They are kept immaculate, despite hosting hundreds of worshippers and tourists daily. The Mihrab and qibla wall facing Mecca is an essential aspect of any mosque. Sculptured marble highlights this, standing next to the minber where the Imam stands.
The design of the mosque's prayer hall means everyone can hear the Imam, despite the size. Meanwhile, in the southeast corner, ten marble columns support the royal kiosk where the Ottoman sultans looked out over the prayer hall. The architect Mehmed Agha followed his master's advice when building structures for the Ottoman royal residence, that everything should be big and grand, and didn't fail.
5: How Tall is the Central Dome in the Blue Mosque?
The Blue Mosque's central dome measures 73 metres wide by a staggering 43 metres high. The dominant central dome has 28 stained glass windows, while the corner domes all have 14. Originally designed to outshine the Hagia Sophia's dome, which was once the world's most significant, the Blue Mosque dome is stunningly beautiful, and a landmark of Istanbul.
6: Visiting the Sultan Ahmet Camii
The Blue Mosque stands opposite the Hagia Sophia and the Byzantine Hippodrome in Sultan Ahmet square, the district known as old Istanbul that belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage site list. Avoid visiting during prayer since the Istanbul Mosque closes for 90 minutes. Upon entering the prayer hall entrance, take your shoes off. Women should wear a head covering and ensure conservative wear covering their upper arms, legs, cleavage and torso. Likewise, men should wear trousers and a shirt with sleeves. Please remember that this is an official place of worship in Istanbul, so even when visiting outside prayer times, silence is expected.
7: Visit Another Imperial Mosque in Istanbul
The Ottoman architecture of Suleymaniye Mosque is not as well heard of as the Blue Mosque, yet its importance in Istanbul still ranks. This mosque holds the tombs of Sultan Suleyman the magnificent and his wife Hurrem, the most powerful woman in the imperial city and Ottoman empire. Yeni Valide Mosque in the Eminonu district of Istanbul is most recognisable for the square in front of it and the flanking steps leading up to the entrance. You can combine visiting this Istanbul Mosque with sightseeing in the Egyptian bazaar. Other majestic Ottoman mosques to see in Istanbul include Mihrimah Sultan, Sultan Beyazit, Fatih Mosque of the Conqueror, and Grand Mecidiye in Ortakoy that, most famously, appears on picture postcards of the Bosphorus.
Other Sites to See in Istanbul
Sites of Interest Near the Blue Mosque: Although the Blue Mosque is an impressive building portraying the former imperial city of Istanbul, many other historical sites exist. You can see them on a day trip; however, we suggest taking your time and enjoying them over two days. After the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, around the corner sits the Topkapi palace, which was the first home and capital ruling centre of the Ottoman empire.
Grand Bazaar: From royal places of worship to shopping marvels, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is another iconic landmark from Ottoman rule that still stands today. Known as Turkey's biggest shopping market, the maze of alleys and shop fronts is a delight to explore and shop for souvenirs while visiting Istanbul.
Famous Buildings: Istanbul has hundreds of buildings with religious, cultural or architectural brilliance. From the European side to the Asian, some appear on picture postcards while others remain off the beaten track and a well-kept secret. Regardless, all are an ideal addition after visiting the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
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