The Blue Mosque

ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — There are good reasons why the Blue Mosque is one of Istanbul’s prime attractions and one of the world’s iconic religious buildings.

Blue Mosque Prayer Hall in Istanbul

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

Domes of the Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — Some of the domes of various sizes.Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — Inside the prayer hall under the main dome. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey at dusk
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — The view from near Hagia Sophia, across the plaza that the two mosques share. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Tourists at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul Turkey
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) – Vistors looking at an illustrated parchment on display on the wall. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Park Outside Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — The plaza that the Blue Mosque shares with Hagia Sophia. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque Prayer Hall in Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) —  The main prayer hall. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — A closer view of the painted ceiling at the the top of the main dome. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Domes of the Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — The nested domes of the roofline. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — Inside the Blue Mosque. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Imperial Gate at Topkapi Palace with Blue Mosque, Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — A view of the Blue Mosque from a gateway from the Hagia Sophia complex. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — Inside the Blue Mosque. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Decorations in the Blue Mosque Interior Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — The colorfully decorated interior of the Blue Mosque. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Domes of the Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — Domes of the Blue Mosque against overcast skies. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque Prayer Hall in Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — Inside the Blue Mosque. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque Istanbul at Night
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — A view from outside the Hagia Sophia. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — Decorations at the top of one of the interior columns. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Blue Mosque Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — Light fixture suspended from the high ceilings in the Blue Mosque. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Silhouette of the minarets of the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — Two turrets of the Blue Mosque. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Interior of the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
ISTANBUL, Turkey (Türkiye) — The lavishly decorated interior of the Blue Mosque.Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

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 heads. 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 mosques responding.

Map

About the Blue Mosque

  • Official name: Sultan Ahmed Mosque
  • Location: Istanbul, Turkey
  • Completed in 1616
  • Architect: Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa
  • Inspired by Byzantine and Islamic architectural styles
  • Known for its blue Iznik tiles
  • Features six minarets
  • Designed with one main dome and eight secondary domes
  • Contains the tomb of the founder, Sultan Ahmed I
  • Built during the Ottoman Empire
  • Serves as both a mosque and a tourist attraction
  • Unique feature: over 200 stained glass windows
  • Includes a madrasa (Islamic school) and a hospice
  • The prayer area can accommodate up to 10,000 people
  • The Interior is decorated with more than 20,000 hand-painted tiles
  • Situated opposite the Hagia Sophia
  • Part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Want to Read More About Istanbul?

Istanbul is a city of extraordinary depth and history. If you’re looking to dive deeper, here are some books worth a look. (Some are also available as audiobooks—great for a long flight or train ride.)

Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk

In this memoir, the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author reflects on his childhood and youth in Istanbul, offering a rich portrayal of the city’s history, culture, and ever-changing landscape.

Istanbul: Memories and the City (Paperback)
  • OrhanPamuk (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain

This classic travelogue follows Mark Twain as he journeys through Europe and the Holy Land, including a visit to Istanbul, which he captures with his trademark wit and humor.

The Innocents Abroad: Original Illustrations
  • Twain, Mark (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City, by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely

This comprehensive guide and travelogue takes readers on a historical and cultural journey through Istanbul, detailing its most famous landmarks and hidden gems.

Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City
  • Sumner-Boyd, Hilary (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Bridge on the Drina, by Ivo Andrić

This historical novel, by a winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, is set in the Ottoman Empire. It tells the story of the construction of the famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the lives of the people who lived around it. While not set in Istanbul specifically, it offers a window into the wider region’s history and Ottoman influence.

The Bridge on the Drina (Phoenix Fiction)
  • Andric, Ivo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

A Fez of the Heart: Travels Around Turkey in Search of a Hat, by Jeremy Seal

This travelogue follows the author’s journey through Turkey, including a visit to Istanbul, as he explores the country’s history, culture, and politics, all while searching for the once-iconic fez hat.

A Fez of the Heart: Travels around Turkey in Search of a Hat
  • Seal, Jeremy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Birds Have Also Gone, by Yashar Kemal

In this novel, set in Istanbul, the author tells the story of three boys who capture and sell pigeons in the city, offering a unique perspective on the city’s rapidly changing landscape and the challenges faced by its inhabitants.

The Birds Have Also Gone
  • Yaşar Kemal (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

The Towers of Trebizond, by Rose Macaulay

This satirical travelogue (i.e., a novel) follows the narrator as she embarks on an eccentric journey to Istanbul and the ancient city of Trebizond, exploring themes of love, religion, and the clash of cultures.

The Towers of Trebizond: A Novel (FSG Classics)
  • Macaulay, Rose (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

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Travel Advice for Turkey (Turkiye)

You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Turkey (Turkiye) (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.

The British and Australian governments offer their own country-specific travel information. You can find the British Government's travel advice for Turkey (Turkiye) here and the Australian Government's here.

Health & Vaccinations

The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Turkey (Turkiye) here.

General Information on Turkey (Turkiye)

The CIA's World Factbook contains a lot of good factual information Turkey (Turkiye) and is updated frequently.

  • Official Name: Republic of Turkey (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti)
  • Location: Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia (the Anatolian Peninsula), bordered by eight countries: Greece and Bulgaria to the northwest, Georgia to the northeast, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east, and Iraq and Syria to the south
  • Coastline: Mediterranean Sea to the south, Aegean Sea to the west, and Black Sea to the north
  • Capital: Ankara
  • Largest City: Istanbul
  • Population (2021 estimate): 85 million
  • Ethnic Groups: Predominantly Turkish (70-75%), Kurds (19%), and other minorities (including Arabs, Circassians, and Laz)
  • Official Language: Turkish
  • Religions: Islam (predominantly Sunni), with small Christian and Jewish communities
  • Government: Unitary parliamentary republic
  • President (as of 2021): Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
  • Prime Minister (as of 2021): Not applicable (the position was abolished in 2018)
  • Area: 783,356 square kilometers (302,455 square miles)
  • GDP (2021 estimate): $771 billion (nominal)
  • GDP per capita (2021 estimate): $9,042 (nominal)
  • Currency: Turkish Lira (TRY)
  • Time Zone: GMT+3 (Turkey Time)
  • Internet TLD: .tr
  • Calling Code: +90
  • Major Industries: Textiles, food processing, automotive, electronics, tourism, mining, steel, petroleum, construction, lumber, paper
  • Natural Resources: Coal, iron ore, copper, chromium, antimony, mercury, gold, barite, borate, celestite, emery, feldspar, limestone, magnesite, marble, perlite, pumice, pyrites, clay, hydropower, arable land

Turkey vs Turkiye vs Türkiye

The country's name has traditionally been Anglicized as Turkey, and that's how most of us have always known it. But the country's government has been pushing for adoption of the Turkish-language name, Türkiye. Since that doesn't always work well on Anglicized keyboards, you also often see it rendered as Turkiye. You can find more information on this here.

David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »