Istanbul’s Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of the wonders of the Islamic world, a magnificent structure of blue tiles, iconic minarets and cascading domes. Open to non-Muslim visitors, it stands in the heart of Sultanahmet district along the Bosphorus River, facing the old city to Hagia Sophia. Also known as the Blue Mosque, this is a masterpiece of Ottoman design, completed in 1616 and as peaceful today as it was in the 17th century. It’s one of Istanbul’s most visited and important attractions.
The facade is majestic, with steeped domes flanked by narrow minarets. There’s a park with benches outside the mosque, where visitors can sip tea while taking in the panoramic vista. Visitors enter through a grand courtyard and can wait here when the mosque is closed during prayer times. Step inside and the thick red carpet feels luxuriant beneath bare feet. Gaze up to the intricate Ottoman tiles, their blue design giving the mosque its other name. Domes stretch high, and their ascetic design is elegant, helping allow the tiles and Islamic calligraphy to impress. Although there’s a roped-off area that can only be used by those praying, it’s easy to take in the grandeur of the entire mosque as a visitor.
Most visitors hear the mosque before they see it, the mysterious voice of the muezzin ringing out from one of the minarets. At this time of day, the mosque performs its religious functions and is closed to visitors. At other times it’s open to non-Muslims, who use a separate entrance. Men and women must wear clothing that covers their knees and women must also cover their shoulders and hair. Just outside the entrance, the mosque distributes free headscarves and sarongs. The location is fairly unmissable, the towering minarets acting as a compass point in Sultanahmet, and visitors can take any tram into this historic district to the Sultanahmet station.
Five times of day, the muezzin calls worshippers to pray at the Blue Mosque, his voice sailing across the rooftops of Istanbul. Unique to the city, the other mosques don’t compete for the audio attention. Instead, they return the call of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, harmoniously repeating the lines. This harmony of voices is one of the atmospheric features that celebrates over 400 years of Sultanahmet's history.