Blue Mosque is one of the most iconic landmarks of Istanbul and one of its most beautiful historic sights. With its six magnificent minarets, it dominates the city skyline and the majority of tourists’ photos, and it’s a functioning religious building as well. But why was it designed like this and who did it? Let’s find out…
A Little Bit of History
Formally known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish), this gorgeous mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmed I, who was only 14 when he first sat on the throne in 1603. It was built between 1609 and 1616 and the construction was executed by the architect Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa. When Ahmed I commissioned this building, he asked for a mosque that would surpass Hagia Sofia in its beauty, and the architect surely fulfilled his task.
Why would one sultan request such mosque for himself, you wonder… Apparently, after the Fifteen Years’ War between the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Monarchy, and the empire’s loss in the 1603-1618 war with Persia, the empire was feeling a little down. Sultan Ahmet I was looking for a way to reassert the power of the empire and to boost its morale, and he thought that making a spectacular mosque would show the people that he still has some power left in his hands. But since he won nothing in the war, he had to use the treasury to fund this pretty expensive project.
The Splendid Architecture
Sultan Ahmed wanted to build a mosque so splendid that it would outrank the Hagia Sofia, and he wanted everyone to know it, so he built the new mosque so close to it. The Blue Mosque, designed by Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, is considered to be the classical period’s last great mosque. It represents a mixture of two styles — Byzantine Christian and traditional Islamic architectural elements.
The Mosque is known for its five main domes, eight secondary domes, and six minarets — it’s one of the three mosques in Turkey that have that many minarets. Also, it has an amazing courtyard that is also as big as the mosque itself. But it’s also beautifully decorated — there’s really a lot of things to admire in this courtyard, including the wonderful tall-standing mosque with curved gray domes and gold-tipped minarets.
The Legend of Six Minarets
At the moment when the Blue Mosque was built, there was only one mosque with six minarets in the world, and it was the mosque of the Ka’aba in Mecca. So, the religious leaders thought the idea of making a mosque with six minarets seemed a bit too much and a little disrespectful to the Ka’aba.
The legend says that the six minarets were actually a misunderstanding. Apparently, Sultan asked the architect to design a mosque with golden minarets, “altın minareler” in Turkish, and the architect thought he wanted six minarets, which sounds almost the same in Turkish — “altı minareler”. Another legend says that the architect decided to go with the six minarets because it was too expensive to build the gold ones.
Whatever the actual problem was, the solution was found. In order to calm down those who weren’t so happy with the six minarets, Sultan Ahmed ordered the seventh minaret to be built for the mosque of the Ka’aba.
The Blue inside the Mosque
In case you were wondering why is it called the Blue Mosque, you will find the answer inside… The mosque’s interior is lined with more than 20.000 İznik tiles. These handmade ceramics tiles are always turquoise with traditional Ottoman patterns, mostly lilies, carnations, and tulips. The tiles came from the town called İznik, which is known for the production of these wonderful decorative tiles.
The upper levels of the mosque are painted in blue and well-lit with natural light coming through more than 200 gorgeous stained windows. Also, there are a few wonderful chandeliers that complete the vibe that the interior has. Everything is covered in beautiful Islamic-style ornaments that give the mosque a special oriental vibe. The interior domes are nicely decorated, as well. They’re partially covered in İznik tiles and decorated with verses Qur’an and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad.
The floor is covered with red carpet, that is regularly replaced once it’s worn out, and it’s usually donated by the religious people.
A Few Things before You Go…
The Blue Mosque is a fully functional religious building, it contains Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasah, and a hospice, so there are some rules that you need to know before you decide to visit.
The mosque is closed for non-worshipers during the daily prayer times, which occur five times a day, so plan your visits according to that. Be sure to dress appropriately: your legs and shoulders should be covered, and if you’re a woman you must cover your head.
Before entering the mosque, you must take your shoes off and put them in the plastic bag that you’ll be given on the entrance. The entrance is free, but donations are gratefully accepted.
The Blue Mosque is a wonderful religious building and one of the best-known landmarks of Istanbul. It’s a sight worth seeing. But there are quite a few amazing places in its surrounding, that you should see once you get to Istanbul.
We prepared a digital tour guide that will tell you a little bit about those places, whether you’re visiting the city, or you’d like to explore it from your sofa. Check the tour on the link below, get it, and enjoy.
The Blue Mosque and Its Surroundings
The famous Blue Mosque is definitely a must-see on your trip! Use it as a starting point to discover the area with its historical buildings, museums, cafés, markets, and much more.