on August 22, 2013
In a city known for its many domed mosques, one large one stands out as a "must see" attraction. That mosque is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known to visitors as the Blue Mosque. The nickname derives not from the mosque’s exterior (it is not blue), but from the thousands of blue tiles that decorate the interior walls and ceiling of the building’s interior.The Blue Mosque is not the city’s largest (that would be the Süleymaniye Mosque) nor is it the oldest (several mosques in the city were already well over a century old when the Blue Mosque was built), but it is the city’s most famous, and rightfully so. The impressive structure, with room for 10,000 congregants, was built in fewer than five years, opening in 1616. Given the structure’s immense size, nine domes, and the incredible detail evident in the building’s interior, it is almost impossible to imagine such a structure being built, by hand, in such a short period of time over five hundred years ago. But, that’s what happened, and a half-millennium later, the building is still an active mosque, with believers arriving several times a day to answer the call to prayer that echoes from the speakers mounted in the mosque’s six minarets.Visitors to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque are welcome, but as this is an active place of religious worship, there are some rules tourists are asked to abide by. First, tourists are not allowed into the mosque during prayer times. This happens six times a day, and each closure is approximately 90 minutes in length. When we visited, we arrived shortly before a prayer service was beginning, and as a result, we had to wait until the mosque reopened for visitors. That was fine, as we used the time to explore the grounds, and take in a short presentation on Islam that the mosque was offering for visitors. Second, when entering the mosque, you will be asked to remove your shoes and place them in a plastic bag, which you will carry with you as you enter the mosque. Women will also be asked to wear a head covering, which is provided free of charge to those who do not have one. Finally, visitors are asked to speak in a whisper inside the mosque, and while photography is welcome, flashes are not.So why should the Blue Mosque be on every Istanbul visitor’s list of places to see? It is quite simple, really. The mosque has one of the most stunningly beautiful interiors you will see in Istanbul, and there are a lot of beautiful buildings in the city. The walls, ceiling, and rotundas of all nine domes are lined with over 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles. The mosque gets its popular name, the Blue Mosque, from these tiles, many of which have blue designs. Additionally, over 200 stained glass windows bathe the interior in colored sunlight. Low-hanging chandeliers provide additional lighting. Additional decorations include calligraphy of Qur’an verses, the marble mihrab, and beautiful carpets.The mosque’s beauty extends beyond its interior. Outside, you will find a large courtyard with a fountain in the center, and arcades surrounding the open space. This space swells with faithful Muslims coming and going to prayer services in the mosque as each of the prayer times throughout the day occurs. Outside the courtyard, the mosque’s beautifully landscaped grounds extend toward the Hippodrome and Sultanahmet Parks. Some exterior walls of the mosque also house ablution areas, where ritual washing prior to prayer services is performed.Istanbul offers a number of mosques that are open to visitors. However, if you see only one, it should be the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. A visit to this site is a critical part of the Istanbul experience.
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