Istanbul began as the city of Byzantium in 667 BC under the ancient Greeks. Later called Constantinople, it became the imperial seat of the Roman Empire. Then, for over 1,000 years, it was the capital of the Greek-speaking Roman-operated Byzantine Empire.
Constantinople was captured by the Ottoman Turks, and became the Ottoman Empire’s capital from 1453 until 1922. Following the founding of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, it took 7 more years for the city to be renamed Istanbul.
After losing all his wars with Persia, Sultan Ahmed-the-1st wanted to boost everybody’s morale by building an imperial Mosque. Earlier rulers had paid for their mosques with the loot of war, but Sultan Ahmed had never been victorious, so he took his money out of the treasury. This caused anger among lawyers and other highflyers in his Empire.
Teenage Sultan Ahmed wanted to build a grander and more beautiful Mosque than any in Constantinople, so he had some plans drawn up by his architect. Construction began in 1609, and his Mosque was fully built by 1616.
So keen was Sultan Ahmed to finish his dream Mosque, it is said that he got as muddy as his builders when he sometimes stepped in to speed things up. But, aged just 27, he died just 1 year after his Mosque was completed. He is buried in these sacred grounds.
The Mosque has 6 lovely minarets, but Sultan Ahmed’s 12 spires were a big problem. The world’s largest and holiest Mosque – the Masjid al-Ḥarām in Mecca – also had Islam’s maximum-of-6, so craftsmen were urgently sent to Arabia to add a 7th!
To get the full impact of The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, enter through the middle of the Hippodrome. Once inside the courtyard, you’ll be struck by its vastness, by its amazing dome-work and the hundreds of fine stained glass windows.
The Mosque’s alternative ‘Blue Mosque’ name is puzzling when you view it from the exterior, but inside, the Wow-factor is the over 20,000 patterned and hand-carved Iznik tiles – many in different shades of blue. Some of the tiles have abstract patterning; others are decorated with flowers and trees. It’s no wonder that this interior is thought to be the most beautiful in present-day Istanbul.
Explore Turkey with one of our Turkey tours and see the Blue Mosque for yourself.