The Sultan Ahmed Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is famously known as the Blue Mosque... The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Turkish: Sultanahmet Camii) is a mosque in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and the capital of the Ottoman Empire (from 1453 to 1923). The mosque is famously known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior.

This 17th century mosque, near Haghia Sophia, is famous for the beautiful blue tile work ornamenting its walls. Its surrounding six slim minarets distinguish it from other mosques which normally have two or four minarets. It was built by architect Mehmet Aga by the order of Sultan Ahmed I as a complex in seven years and became the most important mosque of the city, right in Sultanahmet square.

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History

The mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 by order of the Sultan Ahmed I, after whom it is named. He is buried in the mosque's precincts. It is located in the oldest part of Istanbul, in what was before 1453 the centre of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It is next to the site of the ancient Hippodrome, and a short distance from what used to be the Christian Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) which has now been converted into a museum.

It is within walking distance of the Topkapi Palace, residence of the Ottoman Sultans until 1853 and only a short distance from the shore of the Bosporus. Seen from the sea, its domes and minarets dominate the skyline of the old part of the city, as was its builders' intention.

The mosque was deliberately sited to face Hagia Sophia. However, the architect was unable to construct a bigger dome than Hagia Sophia's, so he instead made the mosque splendid by the perfect proportion of domes, semidomes, and minarets. Still, the building failed to surpass Hagia Sophia in size, which greatly angered Sultan Ahmet. The two buildings thus comprise a unique historical and architectural precinct. The last structure on the kiblah side is an arasta - a row of shops of the same trade. A section of the arasta was destroyed by fire in 1912, but the remaining part contains the mosaic museum and a souvenir shop.

The mosque became known in the west as the Blue Mosque because of the predominantly blue coloring of paintwork of the interior. However this blue paint was not part of the mosque's original decor so it is being removed. Today the interior of the mosque does not strike the visitor as being particularly blue.

The architect of the Sultan Ahmed, Sedefhar Mehmet Aga, was given a mandate to spare no expense in creating the most magnificent and beautiful place of Islamic worship in the world. The basic structure of the mosque is a near-cube, measuring 53 by 51 meters. As is the case with all mosques, it is aligned so that when worshipers perform the Salah (Islamic prayers), they are facing Makkah (Mecca), with the mihrab or prayer niche in front of them.

Architecture

The cube is topped by an ascending system of domes and semi-domes, culminating in the central dome, which is 33 meters in diameter and 43 meters high at its central point. The overall effect is one of perfect visual harmony, leading the eye up to the peak of the dome.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the only mosque in Turkey that has six minarets. When the number of minarets was revealed, the Sultan was criticized for presumption, since this was, at the time, the same number as at the mosque of the Ka'aba in Mecca. He overcame this problem by paying for a seventh minaret at the Mecca mosque.

At its lower levels the interior of the mosque is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, made at Iznik (the ancient Nicaea). Its upper levels are painted. More than 200 stained glass windows with intricate designs admit natural light, today assisted by chandeliers. The decorations include verses from the Qur'an, many of them made by Seyyid Kasim Gubari, regarded as the greatest calligrapher of his time. The floors are covered with carpets, which are donated by the faithful and are regularly replaced as they become worn.

The most important element in the interior of the mosque is the mihrab, which is made of finely carved and sculptured marble, the adjacent walls sheathed in ceramic tiles. To the right of the mihrab is the minber, or pulpit, where the Imam stands when he is delivering his sermon at the time of noon prayer on Fridays or on holy days. The mosque has been designed so that even when it is at its most crowded, everyone in the mosque can see and hear the Imam.

Each of the minarets has three balconies, and until recently the muezzin or prayer-caller had to climb a narrow spiral staircase five times a day to announce the call to prayer. Today a public address system is used, and the call can be heard across the old part of the city, echoed by other mosques in the vicinity. Large crowds of both Turks and tourists gather at sunset in the park facing the mosque to hear the call to evening prayers, as the sun sets and the mosque is brilliantly illuminated by colored floodlights.

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