One place that’s always been on my list to visit is Istanbul, and more precisely, the Sultan Ahmed mosque. We had big plans to visit last year but, unfortunately, the protests at Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul meant that we were advised not to go. So this year we were determined to make a go of it. Various circumstances meant it was going to be a pretty long day trip starting at 4am and ending around 1am the next day. With a 3 and a half year old. Still, we hoped for the best and carted with lots of kiddie snacks plus a stroller we set off on what we hoped would be an amazing day.
One flight transfer later we arrived in a overcast but warm Istanbul, got picked up by our tour guide of the day and packed into a coach to visit the first place on our itinerary; the Sultan Ahmed mosque.
The Sultan Ahmed mosque is also known as the Blue mosque and was built in the early 1600s at the height of the Ottoman empire during the rule of Ahmed the First. It incorporates some Byzantine Christian elements taken from the Hagia Sophia (First a church, then a mosque and now a museum). It’s also known as the Blue Mosque as blue tiles dominate the interior of the mosque. The mosque is the first of two in Turkey that boasts 6 minarets; the other being in Adana. Historically, the call to prayer would be done from the top of one of these minarets. This isn’t done anymore as the call to prayer is transmitted through microphones and speakers across the city but the minarets still encompass and frame the mosque making it stand out as one of the most iconic and memorable building in Istanbul. Before visiting I’d heard a lot about the 6 minarets (a “traditional” mosque” would have up to 4) and couldn’t really understand why 6 would make it any more significant or spectacular. It was only when I had walked a fair distance away from the mosque that I saw how the additional two columns gave the mosque a unique and stunning presence that has lasted for more than 5 centuries. Unfortunately I couldn’t get far enough to get a good photo of the 6 minarets but did manage to get the central 4.
Whilst the exterior of the Sultan Ahmed mosque is impressive, the interior is breathtaking. If I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting it to be as nice as it was. It’s understandably common to find a sometime spectacular structure slowly submitting to the power of decay and time and whilst the Sultan Ahmed mosque gives away its age through the era of its construction, the inside is so pristine and intricate it leaves you standing at the doorway overwhelmed at the detail and the thought that has gone into producing something really beautiful.
The decorative tiles include the designs of over 50 tulips, flowers and fruit and verses from the Quran verses are incorporated in gold into all the archways and the inner domes. There are 200 stained glass windows, the central dome outlined by 28 windows and all other domes by 14 windows. The combination of bold colour, intricate verses and light from the windows somehow comes together gracefully giving a magnificent feel to the grand prayer hall.
There are hundreds of lamps on the chandeliers and, at one time, were covered in gems and gold. This is no longer the case but the numerous lights still add to the overall grand aura.
There’s a requirement to remove your shoes and cover your head before entering the mosque and you’re given a plastic bag for your shoes and a scarf if you don’t already have one with you. It doesn’t have many ramps though so we had to carry Little Z’s stroller up the stairs. There aren’t many though and there are helpers about if you need assistance. If you do happen to visit with a small child then don’t put them down in the mosque to have a wander when its busy. The mosque has a massive stream of visitors outside of prayer times and it would be pretty easy for a small person to suddenly run into the crowd and get lost. The Other Half has visited before and has seen the mosque go through very quiet times too so Saturday (when we went) may be busier due to it being the weekend. There are places to leave strollers outside and its pretty safe to do so.
Whilst we were there the main prayer hall had been cordoned off but there was a section to one side for anyone that wished to pray. Entry is free and I found there were a lot of tour guides dotted about all very knowledgeable about the structure and history of the mosque. (Obviously its good to keep an eye on your own tour guide once he starts edging out of the building). If you’re visiting Istanbul, and doing a flying trip, I’d definitely recommend a visit here.