Sultanahmet Mosque

The Sultanahmet (or Blue) Mosque was built between 1609-1617 by the architect Sedefkar Mehmet Aga on the orders of Sultan Ahmed I, who ascended the throne at the age of just 14 as the 14th Sultan of the Ottomans. He was only 19 years old when he commissioned the mosque and proved his dedication by working on the project as a labourer. He reigned over the Ottoman Empire, which covered three continents, for 14 years and died when he was only 28 years old.

Western visitors gave the name Blue Mosque to the Sultanahmet Mosque (although Turkish people never use this term) because of the famous blue and turquoise tiles from Iznik (Nicaea) which adorn the interior walls. There are more than 21,000 hand-painted tiles altogether, mostly in blue but with other colours such as green, white, orange and yellow.

The floral patterns on the tiles represent spring and the Garden of Eden. The beautiful tiled decorations inside the prayer hall, where bright sunlight shines in through the windows give a feeling of serenity and calm. Opposite the Sultanahmet Mosque is the Hippodrome, built in the Byzantine period as a sporting and social area.

When the Ottoman Turks built mosques, they were not just used as places of worship but as large complexes with a variety of buildings for different uses. There would be a hospital, a primary school and a madrasa (religious school), a soup kitchen, a bazaar (market) and a mausoleum for the sultan and members of his family. There was also a room for an astronomer (a Muvakkithane or ‘time house’) who would calculate the best times of day to pray according to the Muslim calendar.