Art of the Islamic world 640 to now
- Arts of the Islamic world: the later period
- Introduction to the court carpets of the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires
- Muradiye Mosque
- Ottoman prayer carpet with triple-arch design
- Mimar Sinan, Şehzade Mosque
- Sinan, Süleymaniye Mosque
- Mimar Sinan, Mosque of Selim II, Edirne
- Sinan, Rüstem Pasha Mosque
- Hagia Sophia as a mosque
- The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
- Spherical Hanging Ornament (Iznik)
- Iznik ewer
- Tughra (Official Signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent from Istanbul
- Topkapı Palace tiles
- Qa'a: The Damascus room
- The Damascus Room at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Conserving the Damascus Room at The Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Photograph of Abdülhamid II
- Timur’s entry into Samarkand, page from the Zafarnama
- The Safavids, an introduction
- The Ardabil Carpet
- Ardabil Carpet
- The Court of Gayumars
- Paradise in miniature, The Court of Kayumars — part 1
- Paradise in miniature, The Court of Kayumars — part 2
- Wine bearers in landscape, a Safavid textile
- Riza-yi 'Abbasi, portrait of a young page reading
- Riza-yi ʿAbbasi, Seated calligrapher
- Mir Afzal of Tun, a reclining woman and her lapdog
- The Ardashirnama: a Judeo-Persian manuscript
- Divination Bowl
- Illustration from the Akbarnama
- The Taj Mahal
- Bichitr, Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings
- Shah 'Abbas – Ruling an empire
- Shah 'Abbas – the image of a ruler
- Coins of faith and power at the British Museum
- Two portraits, two views
- Khusraw Discovers Shirin Bathing
The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)
By Dr. Radha Dalal
Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), completed in 1617 (photo: Oberazzi, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
A young sultan
Imagine yourself as a young in charge of an empire spanning parts of three continents—Asia, Europe, and Africa—your ancestors brought together through conquests. You are 13 years old and are enthroned in the capital city, Istanbul. You are confronted with the legacy of great rulers before you such as Suleiman the Magnificent and Mehmet the Conqueror. And yet, you are neither a renowned warrior nor an able administrator. How do you leave your mark on the fabric of the city that your forbears coveted and conquered? You commission one of the finest mosques in the heart of the imperial city.
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque, was completed in 1617 just prior to the untimely death of its then 27-year old eponymous patron, . The mosque dominates Istanbul’s majestic skyline with its elegant composition of ascending domes and six slender soaring . Although considered one of the last classical structures, the incorporation of new architectural and decorative elements in the mosque’s building program and its symbolic placement at the imperial center of the city point to a departure from the classical tradition innovated under the famous 16th-century master architect, Mimar Sinan.
Hagia Sophia (left) and the Blue Mosque (right) (photo: Moody Man, CC BY-NC 2.0)
A symbolic location
The mosque’s site is politically charged. Unlike other Ottoman imperial mosques, which were placed farther away from the city center to encourage urban development and to take advantage of Istanbul’s hilly topography, the Sultan Ahmet mosque is nestled in between the Hagia Sophia and the Byzantine near the Ottoman royal residence, Topkapı Palace. In fact, the choice of location caused some consternation since it required the demolition of quite a few established palaces owned by Ottoman ministers. But prestige outweighed the enormous cost in coin and real estate. Constructing large mosque complexes for the benefit of the public was part of the imperial tradition denoting a pious and benevolent ruler. Placing the mosque adjacent to the Hagia Sophia also signified the triumph of an Islamic monument over a converted Christian church, a matter of great concern even 150 years after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453.
The rivalry between the two monuments is difficult to ignore as you alight from the tram and walk towards them today. Both buildings overwhelm with their massive proportions and their individual claims on the city’s history. But the Sultan Ahmet mosque is distinct from the 6th-century church. The mosque features two main sections: a large unified prayer hall crowned by the main dome and an equally spacious courtyard. In contrast to earlier imperial mosques in Istanbul, the monotony of the exterior stone walls is relieved through numerous windows and a . Huge elevated and recessed entrances penetrate three sides of its precinct to provide access to the sacred core. The courtyard’s inner frame is a domed arcade, which is uniform on all sides except for the prayer hall entrance where the arches expand.
Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, Dome, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), completed 1617, Istanbul (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Inside, the central dome rests on delicate pendentives (triangular segments of a spherical surface) with its weight supported on four massive . In order to extend the prayer space beyond the span of the central dome, a series of half-domes cascade outwards from the center to ultimately join the exterior walls of the mosque. Of the six minarets (towers traditionally built for the call to prayer), four are positioned on the corners of the mosque’s prayer hall while the other two flank the external corners of the courtyard. Each of these "pencil" minarets has a series of balconies adorning its lean form.
Blue Mosque minaret. Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), completed in 1617 (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Six minarets were unusual even for an imperial mosque—they implied equality with the multi-minareted mosques of leading to considerable resistance from the local population. The solution? Legend has it that in an attempt at appeasement, a seventh minaret was added to the mosque in Mecca, proving its primacy over any imperial mosque in Istanbul or elsewhere. But evidence to support this claim is thin since some believe the seventh minaret already existed prior to the Blue Mosque’s construction while others cite a much later date for the seventh minaret’s addition.
View of the qibla wall with the niche center, the minbar right, and the sultan’s platform far right, Blue Mosque; note the massive piers at the far left and right. Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), completed in 1617 (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The prayer hall itself is punctuated with several architectural features including the sultan’s platform and an arcaded gallery running along the interior walls except on the quibla wall facing Mecca. A carved marble niche set into the center of this wall guides the faithful to the correct direction for prayer. To its right is a tall and thin marble pulpit (mimbar) capped with an ornamental .
Tilework and stained glass
Upper sections of the mosque are painted in geometric bands and organic medallions of bright reds and blues, but much of this is not original. Rather, the careful choreography of more than 20,000 Iznik tiles rise from the mid-sections of the mosque and dazzle the visitor with their brilliant blue, green, and turquoise hues, and lend the mosque its popular sobriquet.
View of Iznik tiles. Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), completed in 1617 (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Traditional motifs on the tiles such as cypress trees, tulips, roses, and fruits evoke visions of a bountiful paradise. Sultan Ahmet requisitioned these specifically for the building. The lavish use of tile decoration on the interior was a first in Imperial Ottoman mosque architecture. The intensity of the tiles is accentuated by the play of natural light from more than 200 windows that pierce the drums of the central dome, each of the half-domes, and the side walls. These windows originally contained Venetian stained glass.
Stained glass windows. Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), completed in 1617 (photo: Radha Dalal)
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque is particularly remarkable in that it was conceived and built during a time of relative decline. In the past, grand mosques were constructed as markers of prosperity and political strength. Even though Ahmet I showed promise when he first assumed the throne, he is now seen as a weak and incompetent sultan.
A few short years into his reign, he conceded autonomy to the rulers and freed them from paying tribute. His inability to control and sustain a stable administration inaugurated an era of malaise and contributed to the reversal of Ottoman fortunes. In spite of these troubles, his legacy remains cemented in the breathtaking beauty of the Blue Mosque.
John Freely, Istanbul: The Imperial City (London: Viking, 1996).
Godfrey Goodwin, A History of Ottoman Architecture (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003).
Çiğdem Kafescioğlu, Constantinopolis/Istanbul: Cultural Encounter, Imperial Vision, and the Construction of the Ottoman Capital (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009).
Philip Mansel, Constantinople: City of the World's Desire, 1453–1924 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996).
Henry Matthews, Mosques of Istanbul (Istanbul: Scala, 2010).
Essay by Dr. Radha Dalal
Want to join the conversation?
- Why don't we have video about The Blue Mosque? I think it would be very interesting.(7 votes)
- you can watch video here https://www.facebook.com/irfanstraveldiary/videos/vb.677468295657769/881655698572360/?type=2&theater
I made it with my camera(2 votes)
- In the photo of the Blue Mosque minaret there appear to be a pair of wires or cables attached to the highest and the second-highest balconies. What purpose do they serve?(3 votes)
- They are for Mahya's. In the month of Ramazan which Muslim people are fasting, there is a tradition called "Mahya". Some mosques writes beautiful sentences with lights between minarets. Every year in Ramazan they writes something diffrent. This is an example from the Blue Mosque that says "Love, be loved" in Turkish: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5d/Sultan_Ahmed_Mosque_mahya3.jpg(6 votes)
- do the cords hanging from the central dome hold up that massive chandelier?(3 votes)
- Yes, it pretty much looks like they do! Incredible, isn't it?(3 votes)
- Can I have the citation for the article in Chicago style, please?(1 vote)
- Is it a mimbar or minbar? The text shows it both ways...(1 vote)
- Can i have the information for why was blue mosque created? (Thank You)😊(1 vote)
- The Blue Mosque was constructed (not created) in order to give believers a beautiful place in which to pray. It may also (like many centers for many different religions) have been constructed to display the faith and wealth of those who funded it.(1 vote)
- What was the significance of the blue mosque(0 votes)