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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe six slim minarets and cascading domes of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the ‘Blue Mosque’, are evidently visible in Istanbul’s skyline. The construction and building of this mosque was actually an idea of Sultan Ahmed which is the reason why it’s named after him. Hagia Sophia, another great architectural achievement stands next to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul’s main square; you can visit them both in one day to decide which is the most impressive structure.
History of the Blue MosqueThe mosque was made-to-order by Sultan Ahmed I when he was just nineteen-years-old. The construction started in 1609 and took a total of seven years to complete; it has been a place of worship for Muslims for the past almost four centuries. The mosque is built near Hagia Sophia, over the site of the Byzantine imperial palace and the ancient hippodrome, the mosaics of which can also be seen in the nearby Mosaic Museum. In the complex of buildings around the mosque are a madrasa, a hospice and the tomb of Sultan Ahmed.
Sultan Ahmed I signed a peace treaty with the Habsburg Monarchy in November 1606, ending a 15 year long war with the city. Returning to Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, he decided to build a grand mosque to bolster the image of the Ottoman Dynasty which was tottering for the previous half a century. The Sultan was only 17 years of age when he sanctioned the project.
The mosque is designed by the architect, Mehmet Agha, however Sultan Ahmed also assisted in its work as he was very anxious to complete his magnificent creation. veral buildings of the byzantine era were razed to make way for the mosque, among them the erstwhile palace of the Byzantine Emperors. The construction of the mosque clearly indicates the influence of Byzantine designs combine with Islamic Architecture. Mehmet Agha was a pupil of the great architect, Mimar Sinan , and the quest for grandeur in the size of the mosque illustrates the masters approach. Unfortunately, Agha died just a year, at the young age of 27, after his magnificent mosque was completed. You can visit his grave during your trip to the mosque as he is just buried outside the mosque with his family.
The original building of the mosque included a hospital, a madrasa , a primary school, a Han, an imaret, a market, and the founder’s tomb. By the 19th century, most of these buildings were worn out.
Things to See at the Blue MosqueThe beautiful six minarets of the Blue Mosque can be seen from a long distance, and this makes it unique from all the other mosques as all the other mosques only have four, two, or one minaret. According to an account, the architect was directed by the Sultan to make gold (altin) minarets, which were misinterpret by him as the 6 (alti) minarets.
Whatever the cause may be for this unique feature of it, its 6 minarets caused quite a stir and dishonor, as the Al-Haram Mosque in Makkah (the holiest in the world) also had six minarets. Due to this issue, the Sultan sent his architect to Makkah to have this problem solved by adding a 7th minaret.
Another striking feature of mosque’s exterior is its beautifully arranged cascade domes which looks as if it's spilled down from the great central dome. To add to further visual rhythm, there are arcades that run beneath its each dome. Even though the external is not blue, the name “Blue Mosque” is given to the mosque due to the blue tiles inside it.
The west entrance is the main entrance which is decorated beautifully and worth experiencing. However, for the perseverance of mosque’s sacredness, non-worshipers are made to use the Northern entrance. There are symbolic chains that hang from this gate which encourage everyone to bow their heads upon entering, including the Sultan, who used to do it on his horseback.
The high ceiling from inside is lined with 20,000 blue tiles, giving the name ‘Blue Mosque’ to it. These tiles present excellent examples of the 16th-century Iznik design, trees, abstract patterns, and the old tiles feature flowers. The overall effects make for the most beautiful sights in Istanbul. These Iznik tiles can be seen on the North Wall, just above the main entrance and in the galleries. The rest of the tiles that have got a less delicate design were made in Kütahya .
The 260 windows, once filled with the 17th century stained glass, lit up its interior. Today, the glass is unfortunately replaced with the inferior replicas.
During the summertime, various sound and light shows are organized in the park. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque occupies a focal point in the city tours, combined with various monumental museums and buildings in the vicinity.
The mosque minarets present a classic Turkish architectural example. You can reach the balconies through the spiral stairs and from these balconies, the believers are called to prayer five times a day, each day using loudspeakers.
In Islam, Muslims are required to pray five times a day. When the believers hear the prayer call from the minarets, they perform their ablutions (washing) before saying their prayers. The Friday prayers (noontime) and the prayers on other important holidays are performed collectively in the mosque.
The Imam takes lead and chants verses from the Quran in the communal prayers. There are separate praying areas for men and women. The central area is reserved for men only while women take place in either the galleries or behind them. The highlight of this Turkish mosque is that even during the most crowded days, the congregation can see the mihrab easily.
The mihrab (a niche in the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca to the faithful) inside the mosque, is made of ornately carved and sculpted from marble with an inscribed panel above it. Next to the mihrab is the minbar, a platform or a pulpit from where the imam of the mosque preaches to the congregation. The floors of the mosque are covered with carpets and the space is designed with such detail that even when the mosque is crowded, every worshiper can see and hear the imam. The royals had access to the mosque from the eastern side with a royal kiosk and two retiring rooms.
Visiting the Sultan Ahmed MosqueAlthough visitors to the mosque are allowed free entry, the timings of entry are restricted because of the five prayers a day that Muslims conduct in the mosque. The first call to prayer is before dawn and the last is at dusk. It is best to reach the Sultan Ahmet area as early as possible in the mornings. The mosque is best entered from the western side where there is a hippodrome. Non-Muslims are only allowed entry from this side.
All visitors are required to dress conservatively and remove their footwear prior to entering the mosque. Women are required to cover their hair with a scarf. Plastic bags for tucking the shoes in and scarves are provided free of cost at the entrance. The used plastic bags can be disposed of in bins kept at the exits. Within the mosque, silence has to be maintained and using of flash lights is banned. Visitors can also make donations when leaving the mosque and official receipts are issued.
Festival and EventsA historical narrative and a light show is arranged during the summers at the Blue Mosque in the evening time at 9 PM. The commentaries are given in various languages such as English, Turkish, German, and French on various evenings.
Staying and Things to Do in IstanbulIstanbul is well connected by air to most cities in the world. Visas for US and most EU citizens are available on arrival at the airport. Getting about the city is also easy with plenty of buses, metro, trams, and taxis. There are many hotels within walking distance of the Blue Mosque and a tourist can choose from prices ranging from $ 50 USD to luxurious five-star hotels. Istanbul is a cauldron of cultures and the choice of food is amazing. There are plenty of bars and tea gardens too.
With the Hagia Sophia, once a cathedral, converted into a mosque and now a museum located close to the mosque, a tourist will probably have enough to do for a day.
Among the other places of interest in Istanbul are the Topkapi Palace, built in the second half of the 15th century and the residence of Ottoman Sultans for nearly 400 years. The Hippodrome of Constantine and the Suleymaniye Mosque along with the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Topkapi Palace are all classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, showcasing the heritage of the city since the past 1,500 years. There are also the centuries-old Chora Church and the fascinating Grand Bazaar in the old market.
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Author: Khadija. Last updated: Sep 12, 2014