The Blue Mosque is a working mosque, so visiting times are controlled but entrance is free. Make sure you know the various times the Mosque is closed for prayer.
If the wail of the minarets doesn't awaken your senses, then one of Istanbul's most visited mosques- the Sultanahmet/ Blue Mosque- certainly will.
The Sultanahmet Mosque took its name from the ruler at the time of its construction, Sultan Ahmet I (1590 -1617), the 14th emperor of the Ottoman Empire. Constructed between 1609 and 1616, it is also known as the Blue Mosque for its mass of 20,000 blue and green toned tiles adorning its ceiling.
It stands opposite the Orthodox basilica-turned-mosque-turned-museum of Hagia Sophia, and it's said that the Sultan built the Blue Mosque in an attempt to rival the beauty of the former.
Architect Sedefkar Mehmet Aga was the brains behind the design. The design centres on a series of successively smaller domes set on huge 'elephant feet' columns and six minarets. The initial complex included a theological college, hospital, market, kitchen for the poor, and the tomb of the Sultan and his wife and family. Although most of these buildings were torn down in the 19th century, it's still possible to visit the tomb, which lies to the north of the Mosque.
The Mosque's six minarets were the source of much controversy for its time. Legend has it that when the Sultan was briefing Mehmet Aga on the design, his architect misunderstood his request to have golden (in Turkish: altin) minarets made, and instead thought he wanted six (alti) minarets. When it was completed, the only other mosque in the world with as many minarets was the Haram Mosque of Mecca. So outraged were the religious leaders of the time that the Sultan sent his own architect to Mecca to build a seventh minaret for this most holy mosque.
Inside, visitors are free to marvel at the mass of hand painted Iznik tiles which bear traditional Ottoman patterns of lilies, carnations and tulips, and to watch the light filter through the Mosque's 260 stained glass windows. If not for the scores of tourists during the summer months, it also offers some necessary solace from the hustle and bustle of Sultanahmet .
The Blue Mosque is a working mosque, so visiting times are controlled but entrance is free. Due to its intense popularity as a tourist attraction, dress codes are more relaxed than many mosques, however, visitors are asked to cover knees and shoulders and remove shoes before entering. If you find yourself a bit bare for the occasion, wraps are on hand from mosque officials and you will be quietly informed if your attire is unsuitable.
Opening hours: Daily 9am-6pm except during prayer times (about 30 min. five times a day) and midday on Fridays.
Entrance: Free. Donations accepted.
Main picture: ©Aydin Sertbas
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How to get there:
Take the T1 tram line from Zeytinburnu- Kabatas; tram stop: Sultanahmet. The Blue Mosque is visible from the tram station. Although the main entrance to the Mosque is from the Hippodrome, non-Muslims must enter from the south side through a specially marked doorway. All visitors must remove their shoes before entering; bags are provided.
"I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake" - Robert Louis Stevenson