The Blue Mosque is blue because of the hand painted, blue tiles (over 20,000) on the interior walls. Built in 1606 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmet I, this Ottoman mosque contains his tomb, a madrasa (educational institution), and a hospice. Still used as a mosque, the Sultanahmet Camii (Turkish for Blue Mosque) is a popular tourist attraction here in Istanbul. But it is closed in ninety minute segments during the five daily prayers for worshippers. Mid morning is the best time to arrive.
One noticeable difference from the Hagia Sophia is the four “elephant foot’ pillars. It has a central dome, flanked by four semi-domes, making it nearly square in shape. The mosque was designed as an imperial show of strength to complement the Hagia Sophia across Sultanahmet Square. It also has six minarets, where most mosques have two or four. The controversy surrounds the fact that Prophet’s mosque in Mecca is the only other mosque with six minarets. The Sultan solved this by adding a seventh minaret to the mosque in Mecca.
Come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever set foot in a mosque before. And I did not know it is free to visit. Women, of course, must cover their heads when entering. For men, pants must cover the knees. No mention of what else needs to be covered. Shoes are stored outside, in plastic bags, at no charge. Donations are not required.
With a capacity of ten thousand, this place is more like a city than a mosque. It is considered the most famous landmark in Istanbul. And just my luck, the mosque is being renovated, to be completed by 2020.
The mosque’s interior has 20,000 blue tiles that line its high ceiling. The oldest of these tiles feature flowers, trees and abstract patterns that make them fine examples of sixteenth century Iznik design. Many have been broken or stolen, the reason for the restoration.
The Blue Mosque’s interior is lit with two hundred and sixty windows which were once filled with stained glass of the seventeenth century. Unfortunately they have been lost and replaced with replicas far more inferior.
Two Popes have visited the Blue Mosque: Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, and Pope Francis in 2014. President Barack Obama toured the mosque in 2009. BTW, the Turks do not call it the Blue Mosque.