Istanbul does not have a shortage of mosques. There are small ones, big ones, new ones, old ones, simple ones, ornate ones, functioning ones, and ones that have been secularized. A boat trip along any part of the Bosphorus reveals exactly how plentiful mosques are in this city – everywhere you look while on the water, you can see that there are spires poking up into the sky proclaiming “Yep! Here lies another one!”
If you are a fan of history, architecture, and/or art, the abundance of mosques is a good thing in that you won’t soon run out of them to check out. While each mosque is beautiful in its own way, there are some that stand out from the pack. Each mosque I chose for this list stood out for me in terms of atmosphere, beauty, and location.
In no particular order, here is a list of the Top 5 mosques you should visit on your trip to Istanbul:
1. Rüstem Pasha Mosque (Gorgeous Tilework)
An Ottoman mosque built in the 1560s. To find this mosque, it takes a little bit of paying attention to your surroundings as its entrance is rather camouflaged along a busy market street in the Eminönü area. Get distracted by someone offering you the best price on a shirt and you’ll miss the small brass sign to the mosque. If you do find it, you’ll be instantly rewarded by historical atmosphere as you climb worn covered steps up to a courtyard and, if you’re extra lucky, no one will be there. It’s like another world, the peacefulness and the silence. The main reason to come here are the tiles which are everywhere. The patterns are typically floral and geometric while the vivid colours are mostly blues and red. If you get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tiles, there are other things to admire including high domes, arches, pillars, tiles, mother of pearl inlays, and carved wood. More details can be found here.
2. New Mosque (Atmospheric Location)
This Ottoman imperial mosque, located in Eminönü, has a fantastic setting, being surrounded by the Bosphorus waterfront, the Galata Bridge, the Spice Bazaar, and a large square typically filled with humanity and pigeons. If you are into photography, the best time to visit this mosque and area is during the “golden hour”. The light is phenomenal and you’ll go photo crazy with the mosque and its many domes, the variety of people wandering around, the birds flapping above and pecking at the ground, and the water lapping up against the two-tiered Galata Bridge. Why not grab a snack, plunk down on the mosque’s steps, and take in the bustle of life framed against the setting sun? More details can be found here.
3. Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Most Famous)
Also known as the Blue Mosque, this mosque is located in the area called Sultanahmet. It was built in the early 17th century but is still today a popular place of worship and tourist site. It is easy to see why the place is so popular – everything about it is plentiful: tiles, windows, columns, size, people… You won’t quickly run out of things to see or admire. Its location, being right across the way from the Hagia Sophia and being smack in the middle of the most touristed area of Istanbul, also is probably a factor in why this mosque is so famous. More details can be found here.
4. Eyüp Sultan Mosque (A Little Bit of Everything)
A visit to this mosque is considered to be a pilgrimage for devout Muslims. This is because it contains the tomb of Ayoub Ansari, the standard-bearer of Muhammed, who died in battle during the 700s. Due to its significance, this place can be quite busy but don’t let that put you off (it is a different kind of busy-ness than at the Blue Mosque). Eyüp Mosque has great architectural details (minarets, balconies, outer and inner courtyard, fountains, simple decorations that include the Iznik tiles), a bazaar where you can buy things such as religious items and scarves (fantastic prices, too), cats, and easy access to Eyup Cemetery and Pierre Loti Café.
5. Mihrimah Sultan (Light)
Built in the mid 16th century, this mosque is very different from all the others. It is spectacular not because of its size or the richness of its tiles, but because of the ample light that brightens up the space. Stained glass and regular glass windows are abundant giving the mosque a very different impression – it just feels like a happy space, one that puts a smile on your face and invites you to just sit for awhile. The mosque is a little bit off the beaten path but combining a visit here along with the Kariye Museum is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon. More details can be found here.
Special Mention: Süleymaniye Mosque
Also an imperial Ottoman mosque, Süleymaniye was built in the mid 16th century. There is nothing overt to why you should visit this mosque other than it has the whole package: it is historically significant, it has famous dead people, it has pretty architecture, it has beautiful views, and it is located in an area where you can enjoy people watching and/or shopping. More details can be found here.
What are YOUR favorite mosques of Istanbul?