Time your visit carefully: prayer happens five times a day, the mosque closing for 90 minutes each time. And don’t forget to wear appropriately modest clothing.
One of Istanbul’s most iconic buildings, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque was built in the early 17th century as an audacious reassertion of Ottoman power. It combines Byzantine Christian elements (as in the nearby Hagia Sophia) with traditional Islamic design in a stunning and intricate construction.
The mosque is famed for its magnificent blue interior. It is lined with over 20,000 handmade Iznik ceramic tiles in over 50 different designs, increasing in flamboyance from the lower levels up to the galleries. The upper levels are set with more than 200 stained-glass windows - the coloured glass was originally gifted by the Signoria of Venice - and enhanced by chandeliers. Gilded and set with gems, the chandeliers also intriguingly feature ostrich eggs at their centre, which are believed to repel spiders and insects.
Its mihrab - a niche in the wall that indicates the direction of Mecca - is a spectacular work of carved marble, and the minbar (the raised platform from which the Imam addresses a congregation) is richly embellished with perforated gold.
The outside of the mosque is just as impressive. Its huge central dome symbolises the Prophet himself as the radiant sun of the Islamic faith. Sultan Ahmet - already under fire for using public funds for the mosque, as he had no spoils of victory at his disposal - was accused of overstepping the mark by adding six minarets, the same number that adorn the Al-Haram mosque in Mecca; he solved the issue by adding a seventh minaret to Mecca’s mosque.
Adjoining the mosque is a vast courtyard, about the same size as the prayer hall itself. It is surrounded by vaulted arcades featuring ablution facilities, and over its western entrance hangs a heavy iron chain - this was to ensure that the Sultan had to bow his head as he entered in a display of humility.
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