Istanbul, Turkey is a magical place filled with amazing historic monuments. I just returned from my second visit and spent an afternoon exploring one of my favorites. The Blue Mosque, so-called because of the blue color of many of the tiles used to decorate its interior, is truly one of the world’s great buildings. It’s a must-see spot for any visitor to Istanbul and I recommend doing what I did, leave yourself a few hours to simply walk around and take in the space. Don’t rush through, instead, walk all around the perimeter and enjoy all the intricate artwork and how almost every square inch of the building is covered with something beautiful. Here is a guide to visiting the Blue Mosque:
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, as it’s formally known, was built on the orders of the Ottoman Sultan Ahmet I between 1609-1617. The artistic and mathematical perfection of the building and its ability to withstand nearly 400 years of earthquakes and other conflicts is inspiring. Its continuous use as a mosque is also incredible and that spiritual energy is palpable when you walk inside.
Inside, the space is truly amazing. The main floor space is about 30,000 square feet, covered by a dome that reaches a height of 141 feet. The dome, with a diameter of 74 feet, sits on four massive pillars called the “elephant legs”. Each pillar has a diameter of 16 1/2 feet. The architecture alone is breathtaking, when you add the artwork anthe spiritual energy, it becomes almost overwhelming.
There are 250 windows and hanging chandelier-type lights. Almost every square inch of the walls is covered by amazing and beautiful Islamic artwork, gilding, and tiles. The walls along the mosque’s galleries are covered with more than 20,000 tiles, all from an area in Turkey called Iznik. Many of the tiles have blue flower motifs, and this is where the Blue Mosque got its name.
The Blue Mosque is open 365 days a year. This is an active mosque and visitors are not permitted inside during the five daily prayer times (each lasting about 90 minutes). The first call to prayer is usually at sunrise and the last at sunset. Female visitors must wear a headscarf (provided at the door) and all visitors must dress conservatively. Flash photography is not permitted and visitors should respect those who are there praying. There is no charge to enter the mosque, but donations are accepted at the exit.
As one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul, the Blue Mosque can be crowded. I recommend visiting during the week if possible, and later in the day. Another tip, be sure to walk around the mosque to see the tombs of the Sultans, in a separate complex of buildings near the mosque’s entrance.
Getting to Istanbul
Rapidly becoming a popular tourist destination from the U.S., many major air carriers serve the city. Turkish Airlines offers direct service to Istanbul from Los Angeles; Chicago; New York; Boston; Washington, D.C.; and Houston. American visitors must have a valid tourist visa, which is easily available in advance, online from the Turkish government for $20.