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Massive and magnificent, the Blue Mosque dominates Istanbul’s skyline. Six minarets, silvered in the sun, pierce the air like future rockets. Built four hundred years ago, in 1603-1717, by Sultan Ahmet I, it was designed to compete with the large church of Hagia Sophia, just a stone’s throw north.
The Blue Mosque, which has not only challenged one of the holiest shrines in Christendom, even competed for supremacy with the holiest mosque of Islam in Mecca, the only one of its kind to have six minarets. To bring down the scandal, a seventh minaret was added to Mecca.
Stroll through the large courtyard, leaving arches, domes and half-domes around every horizon. Enter the silent sanctuary and you will see that these architectural waterfalls were not just built to impress. Their practical purpose is to create a huge interior with huge columns, glass windows and thousands of tiles whose blue color gives the mosque its nickname.
Admire this Ottoman masterpiece, but remember that it is not a ruinous remnant of the past. Listen to the call to prayer, watch the pilgrims wash and you will see that the Blue Mosque is a living building that is still full of believers.
Highlights of the Blue Mosque
Count the tiles. There are tens of thousands. The best price could be bought in the famous Iznik stoves. Lilies, tulips, trees and abstract patterns swirl brightly blue and green.
Go at night. In the summer there is a free “Sound and Light”, in which the history of the mosque is told on different evenings in different languages. A colorful wonder under a starry sky.
Go west. To get the most out of the building, slowly approach the racetrack. Go through the first gate and into the yard. The epic roof of the mosque appears and your view of the falling cupolas changes with each step.
Look up to the sky. Admire the six slender and elegant minarets rising in the blue sky.
Istanbul travel information
When to go Spring and Autumn are the best times to travel to Turkey. From mid-April to early June and from September to October are the best times to avoid the heat and the intense summer crowds.
How long, take your time. The courtyard of the Blue Mosque is a wonderful place to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. Take a walk outside to survey the building and then explore the interior. It’s worth coming back when it’s full to see the mosque at work, with hundreds or thousands of people doing their ritual ablutions. A night visit offers a wonderfully different perspective.
Planning and Insider Information: The Blue Mosque is closed to non-believers for about half an hour for the five daily prayers. Friday prayers, the Muslim holidays, are the busiest and the mosque can be closed for an hour or more. Dress modestly though scarfs can be provided by the mosque. The building is very cold in winter, so get warm and wear extra socks as you need to take off your shoes to get in.