Guide to the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

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Blue Mosque Guide

Guide to the Blue Mosque, Istanbul – The Blue Mosque is an important place of faith and architecture at the centre of Istanbul. It was originally known as Sultanahmet Camii, which has become the name of the district in which it sits, Sultanahment. It brings together architecture from the Byzantine and Islamic traditions, reflecting the complex interweaving of cultural histories at the conjoining of Europe and Asia here in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is now an important symbol of Türkiye (the new name for Turkey) and is part of the world’s important architectural heritage.

Michael enjoying the sun at the German Fountain.

I visited with my friend, Michael, on our regular autumn weekend away – I flew to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines in business.

Blue Mosque Historical Centre

There are numerous historical buildings around the campus of the Blue Mosque. Each bears its own significance, and some of them are faith-related. The building below is called “Alman Çeşmesi” or the German Fountain.

Patrick in front of the German Fountain at the Blue Mosque

You can wash your hands (or face) to at numerous basins that are arranged around the sides. Helpful on the very hot Istanbul days.

Blue Mosque Gardens

All around the Blue Mosque are extensive gardens that make the perfect meeting place. You’ll see lots of tour groups meeting up at specific points. The tour guides use colourful umbrellas to identify themselves (and that helps with the sun too!). If you’re unfamiliar with Istanbul, these open pathways and green spaces make the city feel very comfortable to navigate (in this area) and the perfect place for some photographs.

The Blue Mosque including the gardens and lots of people

The huge and impressive Hagia Sophia is visible right across the gardens. It is the second monumental Mosque which is very well worth visiting when in this area of Sultanahment or the Old City.

A view to Hagia Sophia across green lawns

We were there for the Call to Prayer, which is particularly atmospheric when you are in the grounds. The muezzin (or person who leads the call) in each mosque appear to call and respond to one another. It’s really something special to witness.

The dome of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

There are signs throughout the park which advertise free wi-fi for visitors. Michael is trying his best in the picture below to get the system to work on his iPhone. Sadly, we never got it to operate!

Michael checks his phone.

Visiting Times

We chose to visit on a Friday. Access to the Blue Mosque is reserved for practising Muslims who attend for Friday prayers. However, when we approached, we were told that we couldn’t come back until 5.30pm. To be honest, we were staying close by and were happy to return whenever there was access.

A building in the Blue Mosque complex near the old Hippodrome of Constantinople

Lots of tourists were around and there was a queue here at the Blue Mosque and, we would learn later, at Hagia Sophia which was just huge. The sensible people were buying pita bread from the colourful stands in the Mosque grounds.

A man sells pita bread from a red stand in the Blue Mosque grounds

Whether you know anything about the structure and positioning of minarets or the grand dome, you can’t fail to be wowed by the Blue Mosque.

People get in the queue to enter the Blue Mosque

Entry Rules for Women & Men

Visitors to Istanbul need to be aware of strict cultural norms which govern access to places of faith.

Rules for Women

  • Women must cover their heads to enter the Blue Mosque. It is also expected that legs be covered to below the knee (short shorts or skirts are not acceptable).
  • Special loose gowns are provided to those who arrive with improper dress. Note well that in some locations, people must pay for this option, but at the Blue Mosque, it appeared to be free.

Rules for Men

  • Men may not enter the Blue Mosque in shorts and a tee-shirt. Long trousers should be worn (I had khakis and a tee-shirt and this was fine).

General Rules

  • Shoes MUST be removed at the entrance. There is a place to leave shoes (very safely) or you may carry them with you. Note well that the rule about shoes is taken very seriously.
  • Certain areas are reserved for people who are worshipping. Tourists should stay to the clearly marked areas.
  • Visitors are expected to behave appropriately. Loud speaking, laughter, obstructing other people are not acceptable behaviours.
  • Tourists may not visit during prayer times (check the official website here).

A sign shows the entry times and dress code for the Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque Exterior & Interior

Note: when we visited in October 2022, the Blue Mosque was undergoing serious internal works. This means that we couldn’t see much of the interior. The famous pillars/columns were covered up and only a small area was visible.

Hippodrome

This location has had importance for at least 1,800 years. The campus was roughly the site of the Hippodrome of Constantinople (now Sultanahmet Square), the social centre of Constantinople, the city which was the capital of Byzantium and its Empire. Something of that sense of spectacle remains here.

Entrances

The Blue Mosque has six main portals but for visitors, there is one principal entrance via the marked gateway and signage (see above). This is clearly visible from the gardens. It would be wrong to think of the Blue Mosque as a standalone building – rather, it’s part of a campus or complex of connecting and connected buildings that are bound together by a faithful purpose. But you don’t need to be a person of faith or a lover of buildings to feel wowed by this place.

Why is it called the ‘Blue’ Mosque?

Throughout the interior of the mosque, the original designers used traditional Turkish Iznik tiles which are predominantly blue and white. The blue hue gave the Mosque its familiar name. In line with practice at the time, the tiles are decorated with floral motifs as well as trees and images of fruits.

Blue Mosque Dome

The interior of the dome of the Blue Mosque is simply sensational to see (find the picture below). Even the scaffolding and workers’ walkways couldn’t detract from the image. The precision of those ‘spokes’ and windows is so appealing and the colours are rich and welcoming.

The dome interior at the Blue Mosque, Istanbul

As you will see below, a close up picture changes as the light changes inside and coming through the windows of the Mosque.

A close up of the dome at the Blue Mosque

What the picture does show is the many Arabic inscriptions picked out in gold. Usually, a huge chandelier hangs here (you’ll get a sense from an upcoming blog about Hagia Sophia or the New Mosque of what that usually looks like). The carpets, which are mainly covered, are rich with red and blue shades and those are the predominant colours inside the Mosque.

Due to the works, visitors have seen pretty much all they can see within five minutes. Everything else is covered up. This must cause a problem for paid tours of the Blue Mosque. However, it is still worth visiting (not least because it is free) just to see that dome.

Making the Most of Your Visit

The best way to make the most of your visit is to walk around the Blue Mosque. It might be tempting to take a couple of photographs from the Hippodrome side, visit the interior and leave. However, there are many rich and interesting views of the buildings to be found by taking a short walk around the grounds.

Michael enjoys the sun after queuing in the shade for his trip to the Blue Mosque

Michael was enjoying being back in the sun!

The dome of the Blue Mosque from the side of the building

I just loved this view of the dome taken with the frame of the beautiful Cypress (?) tree.

A picture of the minarets taken from under a cypress tree at the Blue Mosque

Getting to the Blue Mosque

If you’re not staying in the Sultanahmet District, the area is well served by transport links (we stayed very close to here, the heart of the historic quarter).

The easiest way to arrive is by tram. Take the T1 (which goes from Kabataş – Bağcılar) and get off at the Sultanahmet tram stop. The entrance to the Mosque is a short walk away. When using the tram, make sure to buy your ticket in advance and know that you will need small change for the ticket machine (there is one at most stops).

If you’re using the city bus, you can take route TB1 or TB2. We found the transport option on Google Maps to be pretty accurate for travel times and routes.

The Turkish Tourism Police in Istanbul

We soon learned that the Tourism Police were around most major tourism centres in quite some numbers. Once we got used to that fact, we were at ease with it. We didn’t witness any shenanigans in the Sultanahment District.

Summary

If you’re coming to Sultanahmet, you should consider combining a visit to the Blue Mosque with visits to Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cisterns. They are all close to one another and the area is flat which may suit users of wheelchairs or those with mobility requirements. Even in early October, the heat in the early afternoon can be quite strong, so make sure you take water and wear appropriate sunscreen as well as appropriate clothing! But bear in mind that Fridays and Saturdays will be SUPER busy at all three locations so – if these are the only days you can visit – take your patience with you too!

I'm Patrick, your Irish guide to the skies and beyond. With 58 countries visited, my journeys have taken me from busy economy to fabulous first-class.

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