Blue Mosque

When the Sultan Ahmet Mosque was originally built in the seventeenth century, at a time when the Hagia Sophia was the most venerated mosque in Istanbul.  Construction began in 1609 and continued for seven more years. Sultan Ahmet I deliberately ordered that the Blue Mosque, so called because of the lovely blue Iznik tiles that adorn its interior, be built to rival the Hagia Sophia. They are located next to each other in the city’s main square, and it is hard to decide which is the more extraordinary structure, which is one of the more common subjects of Istanbul photos.  Be sure to specify which Blue Mosque in Turkey you are looking for, since there are several called this for the same reason—blue Iznik tile decorations.

The Sultan lived for only a year after his dream came to fruition, and he is buried outside this loveliest of mosques with his wife and three sons. It is traditional for the patron of a mosque to buried on the grounds. It is also tradition to have a hospice or hospital as well as a medrese (school) within a mosque complex, and the Blue Mosque has both.

However, the most magnificent Blue Mosque in Turkey is the Sultan Ahmet Mosque with its six graceful minarets and domes cascading down from the great central dome like ornate decorative layers on a wedding cake. It is quite unusual for mosques to have six minarets. At the time it was built, only the Great Haram Mosque (largest mosque in the world) in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia had six minarets. Six were built on the Blue Mosque in Turkey due a misunderstanding. The Sultan ordered that minarets be built of gold (altin), and the architect understood it as six (alti). A seventh was added to the Mecca mosque to quell further scandal and retain its supremacy. The only other mosque with six minarets will be found in the city of Adana.

More than 20,000 blue Iznik tiles adorn the high ceiling of the Blue Mosque interior. It is forbidden in most Islamic sects to portray people, prophets, or Allah in art, so the tiles are decorated with geometric designs and flowers and trees. You will be able to go shopping for souvenir Iznik tiles like these in the bazaars of Istanbul.

As is true at the Great Pyramids in Cairo and at Karnak Temple in Luxor, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque has a summer evening sound and light show with historical narrative. To visit this wonderful mosque, you must dress modestly—no shorts, mini-skirts, or bare shoulders. Women must cover their heads. Shawls and scarves are provided to cover women if mosque officials think it is necessary. Better to show respect and arrive suitably dressed in the first place. Everyone must remove their shoes to enter, and plastic bags are provided for the shoes. The mosque is open daily, except during prayer times, and entry is free of charge.

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