Istanbul‘s imperial Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I (Sultan Ahmet Camii), facing the Hippodrome in the center of Old Istanbul (map), is one of the top sights in this historic city.
Called the Blue Mosque by foreign visitors because of its interior tiles, it disappoints if you’re looking for lots of blue because the blue tiles are mostly in the inaccessible upper galleries. Otherwise, the mosque is a fine example of Istanbul’s wonderful imperial Ottoman mosques.
The mosque (built 1603-17) is the masterwork of Ottoman architect Sedefkâr Mehmet Ağa. It’s built on the site of the Great Palace of Byzantium, on the southeastern side of the Hippodrome (map).
With its six minarets and a great cascade of domes, the mosque is a worthy sibling to Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) just a few minutes’ stroll to the north. More…
The Blue Mosque has fascinating secrets revealed on my Magic of the Blue Mosque page.
Because of the intense crowds, and the fact that the Sultan Ahmet is a working mosque, you must plan your visit carefully. It’s closed to non-worshippers for 45 minutes before the call to prayer, 30 minutes afterwards, and all morning on Friday (until 14:30/2:30pm) , the Muslim holy day. Admission is free; donations gratefully accepted.
Here are the prayer times so you can plan your visit. By the way, the call to prayer from the minarets of the Sultanahmet Mosque is a phenomenon. With four of the finest müezzins in Turkey taking turns at the microphone, a seemingly nuclear-powered public address system feeding over 100 loudspeakers, the sound level exceeds 100+ decibels.
(Good thing the call is relatively short. Prolonged exposure to sound levels above 95 decibels may result in hearing loss.)
Splendid as the Sultan Ahmet I Mosque is, it’s really no more splendid than several of the other great imperial mosques of Istanbul. If you can’t stand crowds, you could substitute any of the other great imperial mosques and have a similar, but less hectic, less crowded and longer visit. More…
The way to properly appreciate the architecture of the Blue Mosque is to approach it from the Hippodrome (that is, from the west) so you can appreciate the Magic of the Blue Mosque.
If you are a non-Muslim visitor, you must enter by the door on the south side of the mosque (to the right as you enter from the Hippodrome. If you’re entering from the Ayasofya side, the tourist entrance is on the opposite side of the mosque.)
The Blue Mosque is the one everyone knows, so it’s the one everyone feels they have to visit, but in fact there are several other imperial mosques as good as or better than the Blue Mosque.