When you find out that the Blue Mosque is actually called Sultan Ahmet Camii in Turkish, there is an “aha!” moment when you make the connection that this is the building after which the neighbourhood is named. Okay, maybe it was just me and my nerdish tendencies… The mosque is more popularly known by its colloquial name of “Blue” because of all the blue tiles inside. I have to say, though, I didn’t find it bluer than other mosques so in my opinion, it is a bit of a misnomer.
Blue was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I, and it still a popular place of worship today. One of the most striking features of this mosque is its six minarets. Mosques have between one and four minarets. This particular mosque caused a great scandal when it was first built – the only other mosque at the time to have as many minarets was the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The solution? Build another minaret onto the Grand Mosque! The Sultan sent his architect to Mecca to do just that. Calm apparently was restored once Islam’s principal mosque one again had the most minarets of all the mosques in the world.
Right across the way from Hagia Sophia, its architectural rival, the Blue Mosque is a dominant figure built to inspire awe. It has what seems like a cascade of domes spilling out from a large central dome. There is a courtyard that feels almost as big as the mosque itself and the sheer mass of humanity surrounding it can get a little overwhelming, especially as people head to the mosque for prayer. If you’re not going to pray, don’t forget that you can’t follow the crowd – sightseeing at prayer time is strictly forbidden. Also, where the crowd is going, that is not the tourist entrance. We enter at the back.
Entering at the back of the mosque isn’t actually a bad thing – some pretty interesting people watching can happen here. This is where some of the ablution facilities are (open ones for men, closed off ones for women). It can also be pretty entertaining to see what other tourists think is “respectable clothing” for visiting a mosque. If the mosque attendants disagree with you, you are handed a robe, male or female. And if a woman has forgotten her head scarf, she’s handed one of those, too.
Like many other historical mosques in Istanbul, this one has no shortage Iznik tiles – apparently, more than 20,000 of them. There are also over 200 stained glass windows with designs and colours of their own. Giant round chandeliers hang from the ceiling. Marble columns stand tall. Decorations include giant tablets inscribed with verses from the Quran and even the carpets can be considered decoration. There is no denying that this is a beautiful mosque but that was it for me – a pretty building. But the people watching was fantastic – gaping tourists, praying men, chador wearing women (one of whom was catching up on her sleep), and little kids running around. So whether you are interested in architecture or people, this is definitely a place worth checking out.
Tip: Plan your visit properly. The mosque is closed to visitors 45 minutes before each call to prayer, for about 30 minutes afterwards, and Friday mornings.