Yes, there’s definitely blue, but the Blue Mosque isn’t as blue as you might expect. It is, however, every bit as beautiful. Impossibly ornate tiles and decorative paintings wrap around almost every surface, especially on the dome ceilings towering high above. And with its six minarets, floodlit at night, it holds its own facing the magnificent Hagia Sophia on the other side of the square, both standing high on the hill overlooking the Bosphorus Strait and Golden Horn.
The architectural genius of the domes creates an open prayer hall with monstrous columns well to the side and out of the way. It is, in every way, splendor.
And blue certainly is a feature that stands out in the Iznik tiles used in the interior. They’re the same school of glazed tiles used at the nearby Topkapi Palace.
The mosque is more properly called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, after the Ottoman ruler who commissioned its construction between 1609 and 1616. The empire was declining by then, but you’d never know from the beautiful art and architecture of the period.
Unusually and controversially at the time, the Blue Mosque has six minarets. Many at the time interpreted it as an affront to the mosque at Mecca. A compromise was found where extra minarets were added at Mecca to assure the symbolism of that location’s preeminence.
The Blue Mosque is still used as a day-to-day mosque, but it’s also extraordinarily well preserved, and it’s no wonder that it’s one of Istanbul’s prime tourist attractions. It draws 4 to 5 million visitors a year and is widely regarded (with good reason) as one of the world’s iconic religious buildings.
Photos of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul
What To Know Before You Go
- It’s very easy to find, right across the square from Hagia Sophia. There’s a tram stop right next to it on the T1 line (Sultanahmet stop).
- There is no entrance fee or ticket required. If you’d like to make a donation there’s a small donation box at the main exit.
- The Blue Mosque is a fully functioning mosque and at certain times of day, tourists are discouraged from entering so as to make way for those answering the call to prayer. Closings are typically short. Quiet and respectful behavior is requested visiting at any time.
- You’ll have to remove your shoes. Plastic bags are provided at the entrance so that you can carry them with you. Once inside, you can put them in the cubby holes lining the walls if you like.
- Women are expected to cover their head. If you don’t have your own scarf, a booth next to the tourist entrance loans light blue scarves you can use. Otherwise, scarves are readily available to buy at the Grand Bazaar or any of the other bazaars. The Arasta Bazaar, a smallish bazaar catering mainly to tourists, is right next to the Blue Mosque.
- There are other dress codes that have become more stringent in the past few years. Shorts, sleeveless shirts, and short skirts are frowned upon and might prompt a mosque official at the entrance to hand you a robe to wear while inside the mosque.
- On your way in there’s a good chance that you’ll get approached by people offering their services to show you around. Technically, guides in Istanbul should be licensed, so many of these others will assure you that they’re not a guide and that they’re just trying to help you out. Some can be persistent. It’s entirely up to you whether you wish to negotiate their services, but it’s definitely not a requirement to visit or enjoy the mosque.
- If you’re in or near the Sultanahmet neighborhood during the call to prayer, you’ll hear the call from the Blue Mosque leading with other mosque’s responding.