It was only on my third trip to Istanbul that I finally visited the Blue Mosque. The most important mosque in Turkey is also the main tourist spot in the city, but it’s not so easy to get in there. Because some reasons such as religious holidays and the daily prayers. And for my bad luck, on my first trip to Istanbul the Blue Mosque was under maintenance and only the outside area could be visited. The second trip was in the middle of some religious holidays and for those reasons I was only visit the Blue Mosque this year before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Blue Mosque – whose official name is Sultanahmet Camii or Sultan Ahmed’s Mosque – was built by the young Sultan Ahmed, who at the time was 19 years old and wanted a mosque for him. And the new mosque had to be even more sumptuous than neighboring Hagia Sofia, right there on Sultanahmet square. The works began in 1609 and was completed in 1616.
However, Sultan Ahmed died at 27 and did not see his mosque finished. But when it was finished, there was a big dilemma: the Blue Mosque had 6 minarets. But what does that mean? Well, in the Muslim world, the number of minarets in a mosque is directly proportional to its importance. And only the Great Mosque in Mecca – the most important in the Islamic world and located in Saudi Arabia – had 6 minarets. For Muslims, it was blasphemy and a sign of arrogance by the young Sultan Ahmed.
The solution was send the same architect to Mecca to build a seventh minaret in the Great Mosque of Mecca. Centuries later, the Saudis built an eighth minaret in Mecca just to ensure superiority.
It’s from the minarets that the Almuadem calls Muslims for the 5 daily prayers. In the past it was with the power of the voice, nowadays speakers were installed in the towers. I confess that I always get scared when I am visiting some Arab city and the prayer starts to call at 5 am at full sound.
But isn’t the Blue Mosque really blue?
You will probably be surprised to get in front of the Blue Mosque and find that’s not blue. The popular name came from part of the more than 20,000 tiles in the interior of the central dome of the Blue Mosque – mostly original from the 16th century – and which have a bluish hue. And with the incidence of light coming from the 260 windows scattered around the mosque, they highlight the bluish tone of the tiles. Hence the name Blue Mosque.
Despite not being blue outside, the Blue Mosque is one of the most beautiful buildings in Istanbul. It is impossible to walking around Sultanahmet and not be enchanted by the beauty of the mosque.
How to visit the Blue Mosque
There are two entrances in the Blue Mosque, one for the muslim and a discreet entrance for visitors. Through this entrance, we access the interior of the mosque from the back.
Admission is free, but it is very important to dress properly. Women should avoid short clothes, cover their shoulders and hair. Men should avoid shorts and tank tops. Several employees stand in line guiding visitors and providing cloths and handkerchiefs so that people can cover themselves.
Before entering the mosque you need to take your shoes off, get a plastic bag at the entrance to store your shoes. You can visit in barefoot or wearing socks. I recommend wearing socks because the carpeted floor looks very dirty to me.
Visitors can move around a relatively small part of the mosque, but it is enough to admire the architecture of the place and the famous tiles. I confess that I thought it would be much more blue, but is still beautiful. You can take pictures, just can’t use flash and never photograph the people who are in prayer.
Where to stay in Istanbul
If you are looking for where to stay in Istanbul, take a look here.
On my last visit to Istanbul I stayed at Dosso Dossi Hotels Old City. The Hotel is located in Sultanahmet, near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The hotel has a fantastic breakfast, and some treats like afternoon tea and late night soup as a complimentary.
On my first trip I stayed in Yenikapi, and this region is full of good accommodation options and I chose the Marmara Place Old City Hotel and I really liked. The location was perfect, just a short walk from the subway and just 2 blocks from the tram station.
Even closer to the trams station, there’s the Eskar Hotel, is also a good option for accommodation in Istanbul. Another one? The Eternity Hotel, with clean decor and incredible view from the breakfast room.
Want to stay in a hotel in the best Victorian palace style and pay less? The tip is the Deluxe Golden Horn Sultanahmet Hotel and as the name says, it is located in the Sultanahmet.
If you prefer to be conservative when choosing where to stay in Istanbul, I recommend Eurostars Hotel Old City. It is close to the Galata Bridge, Bosphorus Tours and the Sultanahmet.
Other options at Sultanahmet: take a look at the Optmist Hotel, which has a beautiful view of the Blue Mosque. Another beautiful hotel is the Coliseum, which is practically inside the Hippodrome and with a perfect view of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the Bosphorus.