The Sultanahmet Mosque, one of the most revered masterpieces not only of Turkey but of the Islamic World as well, inspires deep admiration in all those who visit it. It is a striking example of classical mosques built with six minarets. The mosque is surrounded by many monuments dating to the earlier phases of the history of Istanbul, and its fine silhouette is a prominent part of the beautiful skyline of Istanbul as seen from the sea. Although built between 1609 and 1616 by Sultan Ahmet I ( and named after him ) the mosque is known throughout the world as ” Blue Mosque ” owing to the dominant colour of the paint and the ceramic tiles used generously to decorate its interior.
The architect designed and built the mosque as the core of a complex consisting of such functional building as a covered bazaar, a Turkish bath, a public kitchen for the poor, a hospital, schools, a caravanseria, and later the tomb of Sultan Ahmet I Unfortunately, some of these structures have not survived to this day. The main entrance to the mosque is on the side facing to the ancient Roman hipppdrome and opens onto the outher court that surrounds a podium upon which the main structure and the inner court are situated. Through the door that opens to the inner court, above the diminutive ablution fountain and the colonnade that surrounds the main building, one can see the series of cupolas that rise in beautiful harmony. Upon entrance through one of the three entrances to the main building, one is impressed immediately by the colourful decor of ameter and its height at the keystone is 43m. The walls of the galleries on three sides of the nave are covered by more than 20,000 magnificent handmade tiles from Iznik. The higher parts of the walls and the inner surfaces of the cupolas are decorated with paint. The colourof the original paint used was not blue. It was only in one of the later repairs that the colour that earned the mosque its name was applied to the walls and works is being carried on since the late 1970’s to remove the dominant blue paint that was not there originally and restore the mosque’s interior to its original appearance.The floor of the mosque is covered, in conformity with tradition, by carpets donated.In the wall facing the entrance are the mihrab ( the payer niche in the wall facing the Kaaba in Mecce ) and the minber(pulpit) which is carved beatifully out of white marble. To the left of the mihrab is the Sultan’s box which looks like a balcony. The interior of the mosque is illuminated by natural light through 260 windows. The cupolas, semi-domes and arches that reflect the exterior from of the mosque to the interior are decorated with paint. The mural inscriptions, every line in itself a product of great artistic effort, are verses from the Koran. Sun rays stealing in through the windows at different angles at different times of the day add colour to this beautiful monument. As seen from the land side, the Sultanahmet Mosque with its system of cupolas and semidomes has the apperance of a pyramid rising over a base of horse chestnut and plane trees. The fact that the number of its minaret was equal to that of the mosque at the Holy Kaaba, at the time, caused some criticismfrom Moslem clergy, and Sultan Ahmet solved the problem by helping raise a seventh minaret for the mosque in Mecca.
The balconies on the minarets are reached by a spiral staircase.In older days, ”muezzins” used to climb these balconies five times a day to call the believers to the mosque for prayers at the proper times. Nowadays, public address systems are used for this purpose. From the Asian coast at the entrance of the Bosphorus, the kyline of Istanbul at summer sunset has a fairy tale quality, offering the viewer a unique and memorable experience. Winter brings Istanbul occasional snowfall. The view of numerous cupolas under snow gives city’s monuments an entirely different look. The rules of Islam dictate that every good Moslem practice namaz ( Moslem prayer ) five times a day. When they hear the call to prayer, chanted at minarets by the muezzins, believers perform ablution and rush the mosques. The noon prayer on Fridays, morning prayers twice a year on religious holidays, the last prayer of the mount of Ramadan as well as funeral prayers must be practiced in the mosques with the congregation, whereas all other prayers may be practiced at the designated times at any suitable place.
The mass prayers in the mosques are led by imams who recite verses from the Koran. During prayers in the mosque, women and men occupy separate quarters; while men pray at the front and center, women sit at the back andthe sides. The classical Turkish mosques are structured to permit most believers in the congregation to see the mihrab even on the most crowded days. While the higher parts of the walls of the Sultanahmet Mosque are decorated with paint, the walls of those galleries reserved for women are covered by beautiful ceramic tiles, made specially for the mosque upon orders of the Sultan.