The real name of the famous Blue Mosque is the Sultan Ahmet Camii, but tourists know it for the blue ceramic decorations that adorn its inner dome. The mosque was erected between 1609 and 1617 on the orders of Sultan Ahmet I, whose wanted to leave a legacy work of art behind that was greater than the incredible Hagia Sophia.
The history is Blue Mosque is quite unique since Sultan Ahmet I had to find creative ways to fund its construction, and gather materials. The architecture, including six minarets and blue ceiling tiles truly set it apart from the other top mosques in Istanbul.
Sultan Ahmet I is not credited with many political, social, or military accomplishments. So, he decided to impress Allah and his people by building a monument that would hopefully outshine the Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia. At the time, Ayasofya was as famous as it is now.
To confirm his greatness, Sultan Ahmet I decided to build it on the former location of the Great Palace of the Byzantine Empire and to use its existing structure. This meant it would be right next to Hagia Sophia and the Hippodrome. However, unlike its great predecessors, Ahmet I had not gained any war treasures, so he funded the building from the state’s treasury. That’s why his decision was, for many decades, heavily contested.
In August 1609, architect Sedefkar Mehmet Aga started the construction of the mosque. He was a skillful professional and had been the apprentice of the Ottoman superstar architect, Sinan. The Topkapi Palace library still holds all the 8 volumes of the detailed construction workbook.
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque was officially inaugurated, by Sultan Ahmet I himself in 1617. The finish date inscribed on the main gate is 1616. According to the accounting record, the building was truly finalized many years later, by Ahmet’s successor, Mustafa I.
The attractiveness of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque comes from combining the best elements of the two architectural styles. It harmoniously brings together the Islamic and Byzantine architectural elements. The Byzantine inspiration came from the neighboring Hagia Sophia. The result is indeed comparable to the latter. The mosque’s spectacular silhouette is dominated by smart curves created by domes and semi-domes, which compose an elegant pattern. The best view is considered by many to be from the Hippodrome side, after sunset. It is the biggest Ottoman mosque and has an equally huge inner courtyard. It also has six minarets which is a number that overpasses any other mosque in Istanbul. The inner space, however, doesn’t match at all the exterior. It is considered rather safe from an architectural point of view.
The size of the central dome is impressive. Its diameter is 23,5 m and height of 43 m, at the highest point. The dome rests on 4 elephant-feet (or huge pillars). Which is a very common construction solution, when compared to Hagia Sophia’s artistry.
The inner amazement comes, nevertheless, from the Iznik ceramic tiles that adorn the mosque walls. There are over 20,000 traditional tiles, decorated with over 50 types of tulip shapes. The specific blue color of Iznik ceramic gave the building its famous Blue Mosque namesake.
The lower rows of tiles are decorated with traditional motifs, whereas the upper rows have drawings of flowers, fruits, cypresses. The tile requirement for building the monument was so huge, that the constructors also used some lower quality ones, especially towards the end of the construction process. They even used old tiles from the Harem in Topkapi Palace, recycled after the fire of 1574.
The enlightening pious atmosphere inside the mosque is ensured by the light colorfully coming through over 200 stained glass windows. Plus the light from lots of luxurious chandeliers. The secret to preventing the entire place from getting spider webs consists of placing ostrich eggs on chandeliers, which is a traditional spider repelling technique.
Rich carpets adorn the flooring. They are pieces of art and are donated by believers. The carpets are changed regularly, as they are easily worn out by heavy traffic. You will also be fascinated by the rows of marble columns, ten in number, which support the imperial loge, as well as by the mihrab, the semicirlce niche of qibla that’s gracefully carved in marble.
The Blue Mosque has one very spectacular particularity. It is the only mosque in Istanbul with six minarets. This fact stirred up quite a scandal during its Epoque, as this number of minarets was only seen, and reserved, for the Mohamed Prophet from Mecca. Consequently, Ahmet I was criticized by many, for putting himself way up on a pedestal.
One funny legend says that the Sultan was not to blame, nor had compared himself to the Prophet. It supposedly was just a misunderstanding between him and the architect. Ahmet I asked for altin minare (which translates as minarets in gold) and the architect understood altı minare (translated as six minarets).
There is a second legend that also blames it on the architect. It is said that the architect realized that the golden minarets were just too expensive for the available budget, so he decided to make simple minarets, however, he made six of them to compensate. We might never know the real story. However, the Sultan solved the issue quite elegantly. He paid for a seventh minaret to be built up in Mecca.
When visiting the Blue Mosque, take note that there’s a certain etiquette to be followed by all visitors.
- Dress appropriately, by ensuring your clothing covers your shoulders and knees
- Take off your shoes when entering the mosque
- Be respectful. This is an active place of worship, so be quiet and act accordingly.
- For women, also ensure you completely cover your hair
Normally when entering a mosque you need to take your shoes off before entering. With the Blue Mosque drawing a record number of tourists, they have a special procedure. As you enter, you’ll be handed plastic bags for you to put your shoes in and can carry by your side until leaving.
In smaller mosques if you don’t bring the right clothing you’re be turned away, but since the Blue mosque is a major tourist attraction, they’re happy to accommodate where possible.
Shawls and long skirts are loaned out to those are not covering their shoulders and knees, while head scarves are offered to women for covering up their hair.