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Blue Mosque in the heart of old Istanbul

Posted on 9 March 2018

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul, the Sultanahmet camii, better known as the Blue Mosque. Photo: Slawomira Kozieniec

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul, the Sultanahmet camii, better known as the Blue Mosque. Photo: Slawomira Kozieniec

The Blue Mosque – officially the sultan Ahmet Mosque – is one of the great must-see attractions of the old city. In the heart of the original site of the city of Byzantium.

The mosque, built on the site of the former, most important Byzantine palace, is known for its six minarets and the blue-and-white tiles from the Turkish city Iznik that cover the interior of this sultan’s mosque. After this 17th century masterpiece was finished in 1616 it caused uproar in Mecca, the birthplace of Islam. Arab Muslims complained that the Ottomans were trying to outshine the . Sultan Ahmet I (1603-17), who had ordered the building of his mosque, made amends by paying for the building of a seventh minaret at the mosque in Medina.

To appreciate the architectural mastery of the mosque you must approach it properly. Don’t walk straight from the exit of the Hagia Sophia to the mosque like all tourists do, but go to the middle of the Hippodrome and approach the place of worship from the front.

Your eyes will go up all the time from the moment you get closer to the gate and the main entrance; all the time seeing new semi-domes until the huge central dome on top of the building. “Nothing resembles this exalted masterpiece, nor ever will do. Let it always be spoken of with praise”, reads the inscription over the main entrance.

photo (19) The six minarets are one of the defining characteristics on the exterior of the mosque. Before you enter the courtyard with its ablutions fountain you will notice that the six minarets are not identical. Four minarets surrounding the mosque itself have three balconies and the two at the entrance have only two. That makes a total of 16 balconies; symbolizing the fact that Sultan Ahmet I was the 16th sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

This imperial mosque is one of the most popular tourist attractions: on average 30,000 tourists a day. As tourists you will be asked to turn right and immediately left and to enter through the north side door. Not through the main door. That one is strictly reserved for Muslims who come here to worship not to enjoy the building. As this is a functioning house of prayer, visitors are asked five times a day to wait outside until the congregations is finished with its prayer rituals. Since a couple of years volunteers, who speak English, German, French, Italian and Spanish, will tell you about the history of the mosque and all questions you may have about Islam, while you are waiting. You will be invisted to chat while drinking a cup of Turkish tea. Only for the ones who are interested.

One of the first things you will see inside the mosque are the four enormous columns that measure 5 meters in diameter and support the main dome. These so-called “elephants’ feet” give you an idea what an enormous wonder of architecture the Hagia Sophia is; more than thousand years older and without any supporting columns for its gigantic dome.

As soon as your eyes are used to the darkness you will be able to admire the Iznik tiles depicting lilies, tulips, roses and carnations. All around you will also see calligraphic texts from the Koran. Only these two kinds of decorations are allowed in mosques. Muslims are forbidden to portray animals and human beings in places of worship.

The best way to explore the city is by walking.

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