Blue Mosque (Ahmediye) Istanbul
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of the most popular mosques in Istanbul, though most people do not know it by that name. The vast majority of people, instead, refer to it as the “Blue Mosque” because the interior is decorated with unique blue tiles.
The mosque was completed in 1616. Despite its completion date, however, it was actually started in 1609, taking years to fully construct.
During the period in which the mosque was built, Ahmed I was the Sultan.
Ahmed I was a young Sultan, but one who ruled for an inordinately long time. Though he was only born in 1590, he was made Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in 1603. He remained the Sultan until 1617, when he passed away.
Though Ahmed I stayed in power for many years, his reign was not a prestigious one. During his time as sultan, the Ottoman Empire fared poorly in wars against Hungary and Persia. It was also during his reign that the Empire lost the annual tribute usually given it by Austria. And, he also lost both Georgia and Azerbaijan to Persia in 1612, just a few short years before his death.
Despite the many difficulties Ahmed I encountered as sultan, he does have one very important credit to his name: he constructed the Blue Mosque, which is even today considered to be one of the most pristine pieces of Islamic architecture ever to be created.
As if to pay homage to his one, truly great accomplishment, Ahmed’s body is housed in a mausoleum near his mosque.
Why the Mosque was Built
The major precursor for the building of the Blue Mosque was a treaty known as the Peace of Zsitvatorok. At the time of the treaty, the Ottoman Empire and the Hasburg Monarchy had been at war with each other for a period of fifteen years. The treaty, however, declared peace between the two organizations and was signed into effect on November 11, 1606.
Ahmed was a very religious man, and, in light of the treaty and the other difficulties experienced during his time as sultan, he felt that God was angry and needed to be appeased. He offered that appeasement by beginning construction on the Blue Mosque, the first imperial mosque built in over four decades.
Since Ahmed’s reign had not been successful, he was forced to use treasury monies to pay for the massive mosque, a fact that upset many people. Regardless of how people of the time may have felt about the mosque, its construction has since kept Istanbul as an important historical and cultural site.
Sedefkar Mehmed Aga
While Ahmed may have called for the mosque’s construction, he cannot be given all the credit for it. The architect for the mosque was Sedefkar Mehmed Aga, a student of the renowned Mimar Sinan, who had created the famed Suleiman Mosque, among other important structures.
By the time Aga began constructing the Blue Mosque, he had been chief imperial architect of the Ottoman Court for three years, having been appointed in 1606. Until the Blue Mosque was completed, Aga worked on nothing else.
He based his design, which is a mix of both Ottoman and Byzantine styles, on the Church of Holy Wisdom, which had been designed by Sinan.
In addition to his creation of the Blue Mosque, Aga would go on to write a book about architecture and would die, sadly, only one year after the mosque’s completion.
While obviously best known for its blue interior tile, the Blue Mosque has other notable design features as well. The mosque, for example, is completely symmetrical.
It also features one central dome and eight secondary domes, including four semi-domes. Additionally, the mosque has six minarets.
Court and Forecourt
The Blue Mosque has both a forecourt and a traditional court. The court pays homage to Aga’s admiration for Sinan, aesthetically mirroring the Süleymaniye Mosque, aside from turrets at the side domes.
The court proper is incredibly large and is enclosed via a vaulted arcade. Other court features include a small fountain, a gateway leading to the courtyard, and a one-time children’s school, now used as the visitors’ center.
While, from the outside, the Blue Mosque is statuesque and impressive, it is only inside that visitors can understand the fullness of its splendor. Each pier of the mosque features handmade Iznik ceramic tiles with a wide variety of designs.
It is the upper levels that give the Blue Mosque its nickname; they are covered mainly in the signature blue paint and tiles for which the Mosque is famous.
Over 200 stained glass windows also feature into the design, along with intricately decorated chandeliers.
The mihrab is another noticeable part of the Blue Mosque, being made completely from marble and flanked by windows and tiled walls.
As one travels through the mosque, the designs and decorations just get more and more intricate. Though many decorative pieces have lost gems, gold, and other design elements over the years, the mosque is still an incredible sight to behold, causing one to wonder what it must have been like soon after it was built.
The Blue Mosque
Today, the Blue Mosque can be visited by both practicing Muslims who come to worship and tourists as well. In fact, even Pope Benedict XVI paid it a visit once.
The Mosque is quite active among Muslims, and, as such, is not open to tourists or non-worshipping visitors during the five daily prayers that followers observe.
Visitors to the Mosque, regardless of religion, are asked to remove their shoes. Women must wear provided head coverings to enter the mosque and should avoid revealing dress. Likewise, all people should be dressed in a respectful manner, should avoid flash photography, and should use quiet, respectful voices.
Those who adhere to the rules will be in for a real treat: viewing and exploring the beauty and grandeur that makes up the Blue Mosque.