Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sultanahmet Mosque - Blue Mosque

Standing on the site of the original  Byzantine city, the district known as Sultanahmet is the heart of tourists in Istanbul, with many of the most important attractions dotted around it.  With its roaring dome and six minarets, the Sultanahmet Mosque, better known for foreigners as the Blue Mosque, forms as unmissable feature of the Istambul skyline.  

Sultanahmet Mosque.

This architectural masterpiece, was designed by the architect Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa for Sultan Ahmed I between 1609 and 1616, it dramatically changed the city's skyline since it was the first mosque to boast six minarets.  The mosque in Mecca has seven minarets, the seventh paid for by Sultan Ahmed I after people complained at his arrogance in trying to outshine the Prophet's own shrine.

Sultanahmet square.

The design of this Sultanahmet Mosque is the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development. It incorporates some Byzantine Christian elements of the neighboring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. The architect Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa synthesized the ideas of his master Sinan, aiming for overwhelming size, majesty and splendour.

Sultanahmet square fountain.

Sultanahmet Square.

Entrance to Sultanahmet from the square.


The exterior

 Built from a particularly beautiful grey stone, the Sultanahmet Mosque consists of a mass of semi-domes that lead the eye remorselessly up to the hug he central dome that nestles amid the six minarets.  

 Chain over entrance gate facing the Hippodrome.

Most visitors enter the grounds via the garden on the side that faces towards Hagia Sophia. The main entrance is actually via the second gate down in the wall facing onto the Hippodrome.  This leads straight up some steps to the grand colonnaded courtyard centered on a sadirvan (ablutions fountain), a much more impressive first view.  Over this gateway notice hanging chains to which  fugitive could cling to clim sanctuary. Notice too the inscription over the main entrance, inscribed by Dervis Mehmed, father of the 17th Century Ottoman tracer writer Evliy Celebi. 

Entrance facing onto the Hippodrome.

"Nothing resembles this exalted masterpiece, nor ever will do. Let it always be spoken of with prise." Inscription over the main entrance to Sultanahmet Mosque, 1616.

Main entrance door to the courtyard.


The mosque is the centerpiece of a kulliye, or complex of other buildings that served a variety of important social functions.  The hospital, caravanserai and kitchen have all been lost, but the primary school building can be seen right beside the first entrance as you walk down the Hippodrome from Hagia Sophia, while the medresse (theological school) still stands disregarded between the entrance facing Hagia Sophia and the tom of Sultan Ahmed I. 


Ablutions fountain in the middle of the courtyard.


Ceiling decoration on the gallery's domes. 

Four minarets stand at the corners of the Blue Mosque. Each of these fluted, pencil-shaped minarets has three balconies (Called Şerefe) with stalactite corbels, while the two others at the end of the forecourt only have two balconies.  Before the muezzin or prayer caller had to climb a narrow spiral staircase five times a day to announce the call to prayer.

Six Minarets.

Today, a public announce system is being used, and the call can be heard across the old part of the city, echoed by other mosques in the vicinity. Large crowds of both Turks and tourists gather at sunset in the park facing the mosque to hear the call to evening prayers, as the sun sets and the mosque is brilliantly illuminated by colored flood lights.

Ablution fountain.


The Interior

The interior of Sultanahmet Mosque is virtually square and the massive dome is supported by four enormous columns, often called "elephants feet".  each of them measuring five meters in diameter.  At first glance there is nothing remotely blue about it to count for its being dubbed the Blue Mosque.  However, closer inspection reveals that the lower parts of the walls are covered with more than 20,000 predominately blue and white Iznik tiles depleting tulips, carnations, roses and liles. 


The most important element of the Mosque interior is the mihrab, which is made of finely carved and sculptured marble, with a stalactite niche and a double inscriptive panel above it. Adjacent walls are sheathed in ceramic tiles. But due to many windows around it make it look less spectacular. To the right of the mihrab is the richly decorated minber, or pulpit, where the Imam stands when he is delivering his sermon at the time of noon prayer on Fridays or special holy days.  The mosque has been specially designed so that even when it is at its most crowded, everyone in the mosque can see and hear the Imam.

"Elephant feet" column.

Light streaming through the 250 plus stained glass windows also throw different shades of blue onto the carpeted floor an certain times of the day.

Iznik tiles covering the walls.

The upper levels of the Mosque interior is dominated by blue paint. More than 200 stained glass windows with intricate designs admit natural light. On the chandeliers, ostrich eggs are found that where meant to avoid cobwebs inside the mosque by repelling spiders. The decorations including verses from the Qur'an, many of them made by Seyyid Kasim Gubari, regarded as the greatest calligrapher of his time. 

Mirhab and Mimer made of Precconnesian marble.

The floors are covered with carpets, which is donated by faithful people and are regularly replaced as they wear out. The many spacious windows confer a spacious impression. Each exedra of the Mosque has five windows, some of which are blind. Each semi dome has 14 windows and the central dome 28 windows(four of which are blind). The coloured glass for the windows was a gift from the Signoria of Venice to the sultan. Most of these coloured windows have been replaced by current modern versions with little or no artistic merit.

Main dome and semi domes. 

As is usual with mosques most of the interior consist of empty but comprehensively carpeted spar where the congregation can kneel in prayer.  However, the mirhab and mimer re carved from finest Proconnesian marble quarried on the island of Marmara and the exquisite doors and window shutters are of wood inland with mother of lear and ivory.  Most visitors will also be struck by the enormous low-hanging lamp- holders designed to carry oil lamps but now fitted with electric light bulbs.

Central chandelier.


The many lamps inside the Blue Mosque were once covered with gold and gems. Among the glass bowls each one could find ostrich eggs and crystal balls. All these decorations have been removed or pillaged for museums in Istanbul.

Small chandelier.

The great tablets on the walls are inscribed with the names of the caliphs and verses from the Quran, originally by the great 17th century calligrapher Ametli Kasım Gubarım, but time by time they have frequently been restored.

Main hall with tablets inscribed with verses from Quran.

Side hall gallery.

Tablets inscribed with verses from Quran.

Ceiling decoration on women's section gallery.

Entrance and exit door for Muslims.



You should walk not only the main Sultanahmet square but also the hippodrome where you will find the Egyptian obelisk,  The Serpentine column, the Obelisk of Theodosius,  the Arastha Bazaar and Mosaic museum behind the Blue Mosque.


Arastha Bazaar view from the Blue House Restaurant.

View of Sultanahmet skyline from the Bosphorus.

I highly recommend the Blue House Restaurant for lunch or dinner.  The views of Sultanahmet Mosque are beautiful.  

I hope you enjoyed the views!

Soreya Reyes

Twitter:  @street_photos_

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