Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque by many tourists because of its bluish interior decoration, is the most important mosque of Istanbul standing next to the Byzantine Hippodrome in the old city center. It was built by the Ottoman sultan Ahmed I between 1609 – 1616 facing Hagia Sophia, in order to compete with it. Its architect was Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, a poet and inlayer as well, and a student of the greatest architect Sinan. When Ahmed I died in 1617, he was buried near the mosque and a mausoleum was built over his tomb.
Like all the big and important mosques of that time, also the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was built as a complex including a theological school, an imperial lodge, a kitchen for the poor, bazaar shops to raise money for the maintenance works, and a small library. The mosque has an outer courtyard accessible by several gates, an elevated inner courtyard (named as “late comers courtyard”) paved in marble and surrounded by a portico with small domes. In the center of this courtyard there is a fine fountain for ablutions which is dry today. This is the only mosque in Istanbul having 6 minarets; four of these have three balconies on each, and two have two balconies on each, that makes a total of 16 in all, reached by spiral stairs (closed to the public). Muslims are called to prayer from these balconies five times a day by the Muezzin. Top of the minarets and top of the domes are covered with lead.
There are 3 entrances to the mosque, and after entering inside one gets shocked by the floral and geometrical interior decoration and beauty of over 21 thousand Iznik (Nicea) tiles, about 260 windows with stained glass, and calligraphy art of Koranic verses. The 34-meter high central dome is surrounded by smaller domes and semi-domes to distribute the heavy weight of the main dome, and all of them are supported by 4 huge pillars (called “elephant legs”). The marble niche which shows the direction of Mecca, called Mihrab, is aligned with the axis of the mosque. On the right of Mihrab there is a marble Minbar, the pulpit where the Imam goes up and gives his sermon. On the other side of the mosque, to left corner, there is the sultan’s lodge where he used to pray in private away from the crowd.
The mosque is covered with rugs as a general tradition in any mosque, thus people have to take their shoes off before entering. It’s permitted to take photos inside and use flash without any problems. The mosque is generally open to the visitors during the day, but closed for a short time during the prayers. If possible, a small donation is accepted at the exit of the mosque, which is used for repair and maintenance works. During the summer nights, light and sound shows are organized in the park next to the mosque.