Blue Mosque is one of the most popular historical places in Istanbul. Located in the Sultanahmet district, the mosque dates back to the 17th century. Although the mosque is associated with blue due to its decoration, its original name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
Blue Mosque has all the classical period decoration elements of the Ottoman Empire. Among them, there are blue colored Iznik Tiles, pencil works with geometric shapes and flower patterns, and plates with the writings of the best calligraphers of the period.
The Blue Mosque was built just after the period of Mimar Sinan, the pinnacle of Ottoman architecture. The architect of the mosque was Sedefkar Mehmed Agha, who was Sinan’s apprentice. For this reason, traces of the school that Sinan started can be seen in the mosque.
In this article, you can find information about the history, architecture and visiting hours of the Blue Mosque. As a local tour guide, I tried to introduce the mosque in all its aspects. And I decorated this presentation with my own photos.
Table of Contents
History of the Blue Mosque
The history of the Blue Mosque dates back to the early 1600s. The mosque was built by Sultan Ahmed I in the Sultanahmet area, the core of Old Istanbul. Contrary to popular belief, the mosque is not the largest mosque in Istanbul.
During the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the sultans built a mosque on each hill of the city. During the 15th and 16th centuries, a mosque was built on each of the 7 hills on which Old Istanbul is located.
However, since Hagia Sophia was located on the first hill that formed the core of the city, no sultan had thought of building a mosque there until the 17th century. One of the main reasons for this was that there were too many buildings in the Sultanahmet area, which forms the core of Istanbul.
Ahmed I, who ascended the throne in the 1600s, wanted to build an iconic mosque bearing his name. But all the hills of the city had mosques of his predecessors. So he decided to build a mosque across from Hagia Sophia.
Expropriation procedures have started in the area next to the Hippodrome. Many houses and shops were bought by the state and destroyed. Thus, the necessary space was opened for the construction of the Blue Mosque.
In the place where the mosque rises, there was the “Great Palace”, where the emperors lived in the Roman and Byzantine periods. This palace, which had huge courtyards, extended to the sea shore.
This palace, which was on the verge of extinction in the later Byzantine period, was abandoned by the last Byzantine emperors. The last Byzantine rulers had lived in the Palace of Blachernae on the shores of the Golden Horn.
When the Ottomans built the Topkapi Palace for themselves, this area was filled with other structures over time. Ahmed I, on the other hand, destroyed most of these structures and started the construction of the Blue Mosque in 1609.
The mosque, built by the architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha, was completed in 7 years. The sultan, who died at an early age, was able to enjoy his mosque for only one year. However, the mosque he left behind is one of the most visited historical buildings in Istanbul today.
Architecture of the Blue Mosque
The architecture of the Blue Mosque resembles the style of the famous Ottoman architect Sinan. The plan of the mosque was inspired by the Sehzade Mosque, which was built in the heart of the Historical Peninsula in the 1540s by Mimar Sinan.
The most distinctive feature of the mosque is that the number of minarets, which was 4 in other royal mosques, was increased to 6. In addition, the lower half-domes surrounding the central dome offer an aesthetic appearance.
Right next to the mosque, there is a courtyard whose dimensions are the same as the interior of the mosque. Thus, the capacity of the mosque doubles in the summer months.
Of course, the main reason why the name of the “Sultan Ahmed Mosque” is called the Blue Mosque is the interior decoration of the building. The elements that adorn the 45-meter-high dome and the 4 giant columns (elephant feet) that carry it make the mosque unique.
Interior of the Blue Mosque
The interior of the Blue Mosque is covered with Iznik tiles, the pinnacle of Ottoman pottery. These tiles with blue, turquoise and pale red colors became famous in the 16th century. While the whole city was equipped with palaces, mosques and tombs, tile workshops pushed their limits.
While the walls are covered with tiles, the ceilings are decorated with handmade pencil works. These paintings starts from the top of the columns and extends to the dome. The main purpose of these eye-catching works of art is to remove the cumbersomeness created by the giant columns.
As can be seen from the photos of the Blue Mosque, the most distinctive colors in the pencil work are blue, green, red and yellow. However, since the most dominant color among them is blue, it creates a unity with the blue tiles on the wall.
In addition to the pencil works and tiles, the calligraphy adorning the walls is also noteworthy. These works, which were made by the most skilled calligraphers of the period, mostly contain passages from the holy book, the Qur’an.
Blue Mosque Opening Hours 2024
Blue Mosque opening hours are between 08:30 in the morning and 17:45 in the evening as of 2024. Like all mosques in Istanbul, it is closed during prayer times. Information on visiting hours was last updated on November 27, 2023.
The best time to visit the mosque is between 08:30 and 11:30 in the morning. The Mosque would be open between these specific hours, regardless of summer or winter. However, after 11:30, it is possible to come across the noon prayer in some periods of the year.
I don’t think it will be a problem for you if the mosque is temporarily closed because there are many things to do in Sultanahmet. You can spend your time shopping at Arasta Bazaar or photographing the columns in the Hippodrome.
However, you can find out exactly what hours it may be closed from the prayer times on the official page of religious affairs. When looking at the prayer time schedule, keep in mind that the mosque will be closed before the adhan (call to prayer) is called.
Mosques such as the Blue Mosque and Suleymaniye Mosque, which are frequently visited by tourists, are closed and cleaned one hour before the prayer and are prepared for those who will come to worship. For example, if the noon prayer (Dhuhr) is displayed as 13:00, the mosque may be closed between 12:00 and 13:30.
Restoration Status at Blue Mosque in 2024
There was an ongoing restoration in the Blue Mosque between 2015 and 2023. However, most of the restoration was completed by April 2023. Although there are still partial renovations at the moment, there is no situation that will affect the touristic visit.
During the restoration, the giant dome inside the building and the blue tiles on the walls were covered with plaster for many years. All are visible now. In addition, the outer courtyard, which could not be visited for a long time, was opened to visitors.
Mosque Entrance Fee & Dress Code
It should also be noted that there is no entrance fee for the Blue Mosque. Entry to all mosques in Istanbul is free. Whether you are going to pray or just to see it, you do not pay to enter mosques.
The dress code of Blue Mosque is a bit stricter than other mosques in Istanbul. It would be better for female visitors to bring a scarf with them. If you forget, you can borrow one from the kiosk in the garden.
In addition, female visitors wearing short skirts or shorts are given gowns to cover their bodies. Men may also need to wrap a shawl around their waist if they wear shorts that don’t cover their knees.
Things to Do Around the Mosque
Things to do around the Blue Mosque include visiting museums, shopping in historical bazaars, and relaxing with a massage in a traditional Turkish bath. All of these are within walking distance of the mosque and can keep you busy if you come across a time window when the mosque is closed.
In the photo above, you can see the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia side by side in the same photo. The area seen in the photo is Sultanahmet, the most popular tourist center of Istanbul. All of the 5 places I recommend below are located in this area.
The Hippodrome was the place where chariot races were held during the Byzantine period. About 50 thousand people watched the races in the most important stadium of Constantinople.
The Hippodrome is also known as Sultanahmet Square today. In this square, which is right next to the mosque, you can see the 3500-year-old Obelisk of Theodosius (aka Egyptian Obelisk) and the 2500-year-old Serpent Column.
2. Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum
Turkish and Islamic Art Museum is a place to complete your experience at the Blue Mosque. Here you can see works from the Caliphates, Seljuks and Ottomans periods. This museum is adjacent to the Hippodrome.
This building was the palace of Pargali Ibrahim Pasha, who was the Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. Today, it is a museum where you can see Turkish carpets and handwritten Qurans.
3. Arasta Bazaar
You can find many shops selling Turkish carpets, Iznik tiles and Turkish delight in the Arasta Bazaar. There is also a shop called Jenifer’s Hamam, famous for its quality Turkish towels.
4. Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hammam
Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hammam is located in the large park between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Dating to the 16th century, this bath is also the most luxurious Turkish bath in Istanbul.
The most important feature of this bath is that it was built by Hurrem Sultan, the wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, the most famous Ottoman ruler in history. In addition, the architect of the building is Mimar Sinan, whose name we have mentioned above.
5. Great Palace Mosaic Museum
The Great Palace Mosaic Museum is a place where floor mosaics from the Great Palace, which was the residence of the emperors in the Roman and Byzantine periods, are exhibited.
I mentioned in the article that the Blue Mosque rises on the ruins of the Great Palace. Although nothing has survived from the palace, mosaics decorating one of its courtyards were found. You can reach the museum by passing through the Arasta Bazaar.
Of course, the Blue Mosque is only one of the dozens of Ottoman mosques in Istanbul. There are many more examples that can be seen from mosques with classical or modern Ottoman architecture.
In order to learn more about other mosques in Istanbul, you can also read my post on the 25 best mosques in Istanbul. In this article, you can get general information about the most famous mosques of the city.
Written by Serhat Engul