Standing loud and proud, Istanbul’s 17th century Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) is one of the most spectacular and cherished tourist destinations in Europe. And it will remain so, despite the tragedy of the suicide bombing which killed ten international tourists earlier this month.
It will always have special memories for me. I vividly remember waking night after night to an ear-splittingly close call to prayer before dawn (it was summer ’82 and I slept on the roof of the Pudding Shop travellers’ hangout, opposite the mosque). However many times I visit the Blue Mosque, I am always taken aback by its huge, dome-dominated presence. It is as enormous and majestic from the outside as it is peaceful on the inside.
In particular, I maintain that listening to the call to prayer from the inner courtyard is one of the most moving experiences anyone can have in a place of worship. It will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The equally harmonious Hagia Sophia call answers from a short distance away and the combination of the two calls to prayer is guaranteed to impress even the most cold-hearted of non-believers. In my case, whenever I time a visit to coincide with their calls, I get a mesmeric urge to sign up and convert to Islam on the spot.
Which is probably exactly what the nineteen year old Sultan Ahmed wanted visitors to experience when he announced his plan to build the mosque. Certainly his desire to rival Istanbul’s oldest and grandest places of worship, the Hagia Sophia, was achieved. The Blue Mosque, with six enormous spaceship-style minarets, has dominated the city’s southern skyline ever since its completion in 1616. A year before he died, aged twenty seven.
The six minarets are both unique and controversial. Unique as most mosques tend to have one, maybe two and possibly four minarets. Controversial as the holiest of mosques (the Haram Mosque in Mecca) also had six minarets at the time. A problem the Sultan soon sorted out by sending his architect to Mecca to add a seventh.
Today everyone and anyone is welcome to visit this most magnificent of mosques, named after the stunningly high ceiling decorated with 20,000 blue tiles. Two hundred and sixty windows allow natural light in, with stained glass windows warming the interior and making it look like the inside of a child’s kaleidoscope.
I hope these photos inspire you to visit the historic Blue Mosque. I suggest you approach from the west, accessing the charming open-air courtyard, via the pigeons, from the Hippodrome. If you time it to coincide with the call to prayer – when non-worshippers are not allowed access to the Mosque itself for half an hour – you can still soak up the ambiance in cloistered shade.
As those who died earlier this month are mourned, I believe that now is the time for international tourists to support the people of Turkey. We should continue to visit such destinations because tourism, and the money and support it brings can be the very life blood to people living and working there, trying to live life as normal.
Certainly we at Nomadic Thoughts will continue to encourage our customers to visit the Blue Mosque, Istanbul and Turkey in general. Further to my previous blog highlighting my ‘Top 10 Istanbul Thoughts’, aside from the friendliness of the people, the outstanding beauty and grandeur of such buildings (attracting up to five million visitors a year), the city and country are just too good to miss.