Jewels of Istanbul: Its Mosques

During my 5-day visit to Istanbul, I had ample time to walk around, often aimlessly, to get to know the city.  While some sights were on the must-see list (like the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace), I also “discovered” places not on my list.  I quickly developed an interest in entering the many mosques I encountered (and there are plenty!).  For a non-Muslim like me, they are worth exploring for their architecture / construction for sure but also for their interiors.  The interior of mosques in Istanbul were different than the ones I had seen in Egypt (which were the only mosques I had ever entered at that point).  What made the interiors different was their use of ceramic tile typical of Turkey (more on this further down…).

Istanbul, Turkey, Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmed, minaret, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

The skyline of “old” Istanbul is accentuated by many mosques

While I don’t remember all the names and locations of the mosques I visited (though I was writing about travel at the time, it was only in emails to friends and family), I will at least share some of what I saw so you get an idea of what I mean.  But there is one that is a must-see for sure:  the “Blue” Mosque.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka the Blue Mosque

Almost across from the Hagia Sophia resides the most imposing mosque I saw in Istanbul:  the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.

Istanbul, Turkey, Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmed, minaret, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

Looking up to the domes with an ablution fountain in the courtyard

The Blue Mosque was built in the early 17th century so it is a “baby”, really, by Istanbul standards but, nevertheless, monumental inside and out.  It boasts 6 minarets, one main dome, and many secondary domes.  It has a courtyard as large as the mosque itself surrounded by arcades (apologies to architects if I am not using the proper term) with the fountains for the ablutions located in that space.

Istanbul, Turkey, Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmed, minaret, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

The arcade around the courtyard

As is the case with mosques, its interior is a vast open space (unlike Christian places of worship with benches and chairs throughout) since the prayers are done by sitting and prostrating on the floor which, of course, is covered in rugs/carpets.

Istanbul, Turkey, Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmed, interior, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

Not the best photo of the interior but you can see the faithful praying (I wanted to not be close to them while taking the pic) and some details of the interior (chandelier, carpets, etc.)

Can you believe that at the time Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI visited the mosque in 2006, it was only the second time a Pope had visited a Muslim place of worship?  Not only shocked for ecumenical reasons but also thinking the beauty they missed seeing!

Ceramic tile

As I mentioned, what appeals to me about mosques in Istanbul is the use of ceramic tiles in many different styles and geometrical patterns and using a lot of blue (could it be the influence of the close-by Aegean Sea blue??).  The writing in Arabic script that you see is actually verses from the Koran.  I don’t read Arabic so all I can do is say that they add to the beauty of the place.

mosque, Istanbul, ceramic tule, interior, Turkey, art, architecture, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, blue

Side walls of a mosque in the city; notice how blue plays a prominent role in the tiles’ color

mosque, Istanbul, ceramic tule, interior, Turkey, art, architecture, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, blue

Dome of the same mosque

Parting tips…

If you have never been to a mosque, it is good to know that you need to be properly dressed (no shorts, etc.) and that you will have to remove your shoes before you enter – please do not miss observing these rules!!  Some mosques I have been to require you leave the shoes outside (not placing them inside your bag).  A fellow traveler decided not to leave his shoes in the area that some attendant watches it because he didn’t want to pay (at the mosque close to the Golden Horn and the Grand Bazzar).  When we came out, his shoes were gone.  BIG LESSON LEARNED:  don’t skimp.  Attendants are just earning a living though, certainly, this one was a thief.

Istanbul, Turkey, New Mosque, Grand Bazaar, history, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel

Mosque by the Grand Bazaar where the “shoe incident” happened: the New Mosque

Istanbul, Turkey, New Mosque, Golden Horn, Grand Bazaar, history, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking down onto the New Mosque, built in the 17th century right by the Golden Horn (Asian side of Istanbul in the background)

So discover Istanbul and its mosques if you visit!  I leave you with a parting shot of one of these beauties:  the Blue Mosque at sunset sporting a different color!

Istanbul, Turkey, Blue Mosque, Sultan Ahmed, minaret, photo, Canon EOS Rebel, travel, history, architecture

At sunset




  1. Beautiful! I love all the blue tile, it really msut take an artist to create such intricate mosaics. I’m looking forward to seeing them in person!
    Heather recently posted..Zambezi Inflatables and why you shouldn’t Raft the Zambezi RiverMy Profile

    • Seeing all the tile work in all these mosques really makes you admire the folks who were inspired by their faith or by their artistic vein to create such art.

  2. I have a 20 hour layover in Istanbul coming home from Asia in December. I know now where I will be hanging out for those 20 hours. I wonder if they will let me sleep in the pews?
    Traveling Ted recently posted..Welcome back U.S. National Parks with a photo essayMy Profile

  3. Beautiful Istambul!

  4. Aprendiendo cosas nuevas, siempre pensé que Istanbul estaba del otro lado.. Live and learn!!

  5. I beg you, please stop writing about Istanbul. I really miss it and want to go back. We had a return planned last year after a 5 year hiatus and had to cancel. Can not take this teasing anymore!
    @mrsoaroundworld recently posted..A fun girls weekend in LA, California-styleMy Profile

  6. I loved Istanbul the first time. I think it’s time for return trip.

  7. BEAUTIFUL!!! I just got an email with a great price on a flight to Istanbul and I’m going to look at planning a trip there right now. Once again, Raul, you’ve inspired me to visit a new place.
    Leah recently posted..Visiting Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial on O’ahuMy Profile

  8. Beautiful photos! I love visiting mosques, more than any other religious house of worship. There is something so beautiful about them, and the architecture is one I love. I will definitely be visiting these on my trip to Istanbul…whenever that may be!
    Erin at The World Wanderer recently posted..My #Movember #ManlyMoments Bucket List.My Profile

  9. DUDE. raul. remember how i was supposed to be in istanbul this summer and then i wasn’t? THIS IS RUDE.

    but i forgive you because i like your pics. xo
    the lazy travelers recently travel required: #frifotosMy Profile

  10. Wonderful architecture! I love tile mosaic.
    And this post is another reminder that I really, really need to visit Istanbul…

  11. i love mosques…the tiles are always so so magnificent.
    lola recently posted..Touring and Tasting in Sonoma, CAMy Profile

  12. I never got tired or wandering around and in the many mosques of Istanbul. It’s one of my favourite cities, and I can’t want to go back, I just loved strolling around the streets, drinking in the atmosphere of this eclectic city, washed down with the occasional Turkish Coffee. Money and time well spent.
    Jay recently posted..How to apply for an E-Visa for TurkeyMy Profile

  13. I entered my first mosque just recently… nice tip – definitely don’t skimp.

    stay adventurous, Craig
    craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) recently posted..The Sunset Sunday 2014 Calendar – Chasing the SunsetMy Profile

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