Mosques are so ubiquitous in Istanbul, but one that stands out among all the others is the majestic Blue Mosque or AKA Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The Blue Mosque was built across the square where the Istanbul’s most iconic structure Hagia Sophia is situated and together they have witnessed history’s greatest events which took place in Istanbul. The massiveness of the mosque’s dome and the height of its minarets is such that it can be seen from any vantage points of the city. But ever wondered why is it called as Blue Mosque although it doesn’t appear to be blue? Well, read along these interesting facts we have listed below about this historic monument of Istanbul:
The Blue Mosque was commissioned to be built by Sultan Ahmed I (hence the name of the mosque after him) during the year 1609 and was completed in 1617. The Sultan was only 19 years old then and visioned to build a mosque which would be better than Hagia Sophia. It is also said that Sultan as a gesture to boost the morale among his citizens and reassert Ottoman power after the Peace of Zsitvatorok treaty and losing the war with the Persians, commissioned the construction of this mosque.
This massive mosque was built on the site of a former Byzantine Palace and a hippodrome and now it stands on top of a hill overlooking the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara.
Blue mosque is a beautiful confluence of classic Islamic Ottoman and Byzantine Christian style of design by the architect Sedefkar Mehmet Aga who was the student of the renowned architect of then Istanbul Mimar Sinan. To define the magnificence of this mosque in one sentence, there is one massive dome, surrounded by eight secondary domes and six minarets.
What wooed me the most is the sheer grandeur and magnificent of the interior of this mosque, which is adorned with more than 20,000 Iznik blue tiles (hence the mosque gets its name). It is laid very intricately and creating a flowing pattern as if it flowed across the domes and pillars of the mosque. The sky-high ceilings occupied with domes and the streaks of sunlight seeping through the beautifully painted 200 sainted glass windows. It is astonishing to know that this humongous mosque can hold up to 10,000 people at a time.
The price of these unique Iznik tiles was fixed by the Sultan’s decree at the time of the beginning of its construction but since the price of these tiles went up over the years and the quality of it reduced. To repel spiders and to avoid cobwebs inside the mosque, it is said that ostrich eggs are placed on the huge chandeliers. It is also said that many lamps inside this mosque were once covered with gold and precious gems.
The construction of 6 minarets was the first of a kind for a mosque during those days other than the Ka’aba mosque in Mecca. This steered a lot of controversies which eventually made the Sultan build a seventh minaret at Mecca. One of the historically significant events was when Pope Benedict XVI visited the mosque in 2006 where he offered his prayers which showed the world that a harmonious unity can exist among the religions.
It was said that the Sultan actually asked the architect to build minarets of gold (altin in Turkish) but the architect mistook it for six (alti in Turkish), hence this mosque has six minarets which is one of its unique features. We also learned that the Sultan himself took part in laying the bricks of this mosque, to show his innate interest and dedication.
Even though the mosque is filled with hundreds of visitors and tourists who either come to see the beauty of the mosque or offer their prayers the whole ambiance inside is very unique. The calm and holy atmosphere inside brings a feeling of tranquility, an experience which can’t be explained.
9. Hidden gems to look for
The tomb of the Sultan is found inside the mosque in a dedicated crypt. It is quite normal for us to get lost gazing at the beauty of this mosque once we are inside but don’t forget to check out the floral patterns on the mosaics on the upper levels which represent the Earth during spring and the Garden of Paradise. The Iznik tiles laid on the walls have fifty different tulip designs.
10. Visiting hours
Although this iconic monument of Istanbul is the most visited site, it is also a functioning mosque even today. So, do check the prayer timing before visiting, as the mosque is closed for visitors and tourists during the prayer time. Also, since this is a place of worship, visitors are required to remove their shoes (a bag will be providing at the entrance to carry it) and females are required to cover your hair. Entry to the mosque is free for all.