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See Inside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey: Beauty from Ceiling to Carpet

Imagine how much time the Blue Mosque's decorations took to create.
Imagine how much time the Blue Mosque’s decorations took to create.

One of the Most Beautiful Buildings in the World…

Istanbul, Turkey’s famous Blue Mosque is hypnotic. You could stare for hours at each swirl of decoration on its 141-foot domes, and at each glint of color on its 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, imagining the work that went into every intricacy… feeling the energy and spirit inside the structure.

Gardens in front of the Blue Mosque.
Gardens in front of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul.

A Top Tourist Attraction of Istanbul

During my glorious week in Turkey, the Blue Mosque, Istanbul was at the top of my list of places to see. I was thrilled that I got to tour it on day one, because it was mighty hard to concentrate on anything else when the smooth domes of the mosque kept winking at me from across the city!

My travel companions kept pointing at it, whispering, “You can tell that’s the Blue Mosque because it has six minarets.” I couldn’t wait to be inside.

The magnificent way we entered the mosque.
The magnificent way you enter inside the mosque.

The Name and History of the “Blue Mosque”

So, how did this building get the nickname “Blue Mosque?” Sultan Ahmed Mosque (or Sultan Ahmet Camii in Turkish) is known as the “Blue Mosque” because of the sapphire hue that pervades its decorations: from ceiling to carpet.

It was built between 1609 and 1616 to proclaim Ottoman power following war with Persia, and to this day, over 400 years later, it is still used as a place of worship.

As you can see, I had to get a second cloth to wrap around my tights.
As you can see, I had to get a second cloth to wrap around my tights.

What to Wear at the Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Because Sultan Ahmed Mosque is in use, all tourists who flock to the site must remove their shoes (plastic bags are provided) and wear appropriately modest clothing. Pack a scarf for your head if you are a woman, and long pants if you are a man. Don’t forget that legs in leggings must be covered, too.

I didn’t realize this, and had to borrow a cloth to put around my stockings. (Don’t worry — it’s free to borrow head or leg coverings. Just return them as you leave.) Do make sure to check prayer times, as the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is closed five times a day for devoted prayer.

I love the chandeliers in the mosque.
I love the chandeliers in the mosque.

The Six Minarets of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque

Here is my favorite story about the Blue Mosque. When Sultan Ahmed I announced in 1609 that the mosque would have six minarets (the tall, skinny towers used for calling the faithful to prayer), there was an uproar in the Muslim community because only the great mosque in Mecca had six minarets.

How did the sultan solve this problem? He directed a seventh minaret to be built on Mecca’s mosque so his Sultan Ahmed Mosque could have six without offense! Creative thinking in action.

Looking right up at the mosque's domed ceiling.
Looking right up at the mosque’s domed ceiling.

The Wonder of Islamic Architecture

This is a fitting time to step back and acknowledge the religion of Islam for producing some of the most beautiful architecture on Earth. In 2012, I spent Christmas in the largest mosque in India, Jama Masjid in Old Delhi, and my breath was taken away by its grandeur.

During my trip to the United Arab Emirates, the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi and Emirates Palace Hotel astounded. Then in 2015, the Blue Mosque in Istanbul floated into my view, and I was awestruck by its color and vibrance.

A back view of the mosque.
A back view of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul.

Muslim Contributions to the World’s Art

I share this because in much of our popular discussion of Islam, I think people too often forget the artistic contributions of the Muslim community over the centuries. Who can look at these photos and not be astounded by the beauty of Sultan Ahmed Mosque?

Looking at the domed ceiling, you can see the blue theme.
Looking at the domed ceiling, you can see the blue theme.

Religion in Turkey

Speaking of Islam, did you know that the population of Turkey is approximately 99% Muslim? The government of Turkey, however, is secular, and in fact banned women from wearing headscarves in public buildings and universities until late 2013.

Because of its unique history and its geographic location between Europe, Asia, and Africa, Turkey has proven a key player in the possibility of connection and understanding between Islam and Christianity.

Notably, the Blue Mosque is the site of the second ever visit by the Catholic Pope to a Muslim place of worship, which occurred with Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. Since then, Pope Francis has prayed at the Blue Mosque in 2014 in an effort to further inter-religious dialogue and understanding. What power this mosque has!

Walking towards the interior entrance to the Blue Mosque.
Walking towards the interior entrance to the Blue Mosque.

Tips on Visiting Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

I will now change gears completely to give touring advice for those who want to visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Do you see how my exterior photos of the building look washed out and shadowy?

That’s because the best view towards the mosque faces west, which means the best time of day to photograph the mosque is before noon. (I learned about photography timing the hard way after a particularly sun-blinded day at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland!)

Thanks for this fun photo of me, Nathaniel Boyle of Daily Travel Podcast!
Thanks for this fun photo of me, Nathaniel Boyle of Daily Travel Podcast!

Photographing Sultan Ahmed Mosque

The other photography trick I wish I had thought of before visiting the mosque was to use the panorama mode on my camera, or even video.

It is simply impossible to photograph a satisfyingly wide swath of the towering structure without such methods, and I didn’t think to use these features until I returned to Boston and my wise seventh graders in the English class I teach yelled at me about it. Hopefully, though, these photos can begin to convey to you the awe one feels when standing inside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.

I can't get over the beauty of the Blue Mosque's ceiling.
I can’t get over the beauty of the Blue Mosque’s ceiling.

So what do YOU think of the Blue Mosque, Istanbul?

Have you seen amazing mosques around the world? Have you visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul? Can you get over how gorgeous that ceiling is? Do share! Want more Turkey beauty? Check out my article about Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar!

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