Istanbul Tour Spot: Blue Mosque – Sultan Ahmet Mosque
It is the city’s only mosque with 6 minarets which gives its name to the district, making the sultan that ordered to build eternal; and which with the courage and presumptuousness of the youth, dominates the area by challenging to the great over aged Hagia Sophia. Due to the dominant blue color of Iznik ceramics used in its interior decoration, it became well known as ‘Blue Mosque’ named by the foreign visitors.
The years of 1609-1616 in which the Blue Mosque was being built, coincided with the greatest period of the Ottoman Empire. Having a kulliye (complex of buildings adjacent to a mosque) in a very short time by spending a lot of money once again after paying pots of gold to Sultan Ayse to buy this precious land, Sultan Ahmet must be proud of his work. In the times of this kulliye was constructed, while such a place of worship construction period could take centuries, with the outstanding success of the student of Mimar Sinan(Sinan the Architect) and the architect of the mosque, Mehmet Aga, it was opened up for worship in 7 years adhering to the sanctity of number 7. Although Sultan Ahmet died without fully basking of his piece, he attained eternity with this kulliye.
Total of 21.000 Iznik ceramics in the mosque, based on the interior decoration taste of that era, dressed the walls of mosque’s elevated loge for women. It is said that Iznik’s handicrafts-men making those ceramics couldn’t accept any other order in that period and they only produced for that mosque for many years. After the Ottoman dynasty conquered Istanbul, they used Hagia Sophia as imperial mosque for years. Afterwards Fatih Mosque that was made it built as imperial kulliye by Fatih, couldn’t take the place of Hagia Sofia most probably because of its distance to the palace. Ottoman dynasty preferred Hagia Sophia due to its proximity to Topkapi Palace. Ottomans were so impressed by the central plan and the huge dome of Hagia Sophia, they implemented the plan of Hagia Sophia for the mosques built later on. During the restoration in Sultan Suleyman period, Mimar Sinan had the opportunity to review in detail the VI. century structure and began to practice this single-domed central plan of Roman architecture in his works.
Ottoman’s quest for a single dome which coincide before the times of the conquest of Istanbul, can be found in Green Mosque in Bursa. However, no architect till the time of Mimar Sinan, has ever tried to fit this huge dome on the lower floor. As for Mimar Sinan, he used the architectural knowledge he gained after the restoration of Hagia Sophia in the construction of Mosque of Tophane and then in the kulliyes of smaller mosques, Sehzade Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque and finally in the end, in Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. After the death of Sinan, these kind of mosques that are centrally planned, with the main dome supported by half domes and with arcaded inner courtyard which was accepted as classical Ottoman mosque plan were started to be implemented by the students of the Architect. Here, the architect of the Blue Mosque is one of these students. Mehmet Aga, staying faithful to the teachings of his master, was able to implement the project as planned in a worthy manner fitting him and also because himself was an artist so he reflected his taste in the decorations of the mosque.
Turks coming to and settling in Anatolia, their architectural concept changed totally. In fact, it would be better to say that they gained the architectural knowledge that they never had. Considering that nomadic origined Turks living in the tents, it is natural that they didn’t have any architectural knowledge. Coming to Anatolia and settling there, Turks combined the Anatolian architecture with their nomadic understanding and developed an architectural sense. The arcaded courtyard of Blue Mosque is a replica of the Roman agora and it serves the same purpose namely a commercial purpose. There is a Roman tradition domed pool right in the middle of the courtyard which is a market place every Friday. It can be understood that this fountain is not here to drink or to perform ablution since it doesn’t have any taps. Like most of the fountains in the Roman cities, this sprinklered fountain replaced with the aim of giving coolness to the courtyard, thereby provided a natural air-conditioning system. This fountain system which was cooling the hot air entering from the courtyard windows in the unbearable hot summer days, is equivalent to the today’s knowledge level of indispensable air-conditioners of our homes.
Architect Mehmet Aga also by placing a water tank under the mosque, provided a mechanism to meet the water need of the city, kept his work cool in the summer and hot in the winter. Because of the water tank put under, the mosque is placed on a high platform that requires to climb up steps.
The huge size of the Blue Mosque prevents us from seeing the other kulliye buildings around. However, as Kulliye of Suleymaniye, Kulliye of Sultanahmet as well is fully a kulliye with its dining hall, hospital, hammam, dormitory and the school. These buildings that are used today for different purposes, for centuries hosted the traders, homeless and moneyless poor people that came to this city. The mosque that is the house of the God, also functioned as a hotel for the travelers and the traders that came to the city.
The Blue Mosque doesn’t give any other chance to your eyes; it makes it impossible to look at any place other than its huge dome that seems like embedded between its six minarets and semi-domes. The mosque especially illuminated with the projectors in the evening, creates a divine landscape along with the white shapes of seagulls flying around.
Most of the visitors prefer to enter the garden through the door on the north side overlooking Hagia Sophia. On the west side of the courtyard, a chain hanging above the door opening to the Hippodrome will attract your attention. Not to hit the chains, sultans entering the courtyard used to end their heads. Therefore, it used to highlight symbolically that everyone entering the mosque was equal reminding them the existence of the God that was bigger than the sultans. The inscription on the main entrance that you will see after passing the chain was written by Dervish Mehmet, the father of the XVII. traveller Evliya Celebi. Mosque is the most important work among the other part of the kulliye that has many other important social functions. The hospital, the caravansary and the kitchen haven’t survived but the mausoleum of Sultan Ahmed I and the madrasa with all neglection stand.
The interior of the Blue Mosque was built squarish. To support the 43 meter dome, the weight was given to each of the five meter in diameter, four gigantic pillars. At first glance, the color blue, justifying foreigners to give the name as Blue Mosque, doesn’t draw your attention. Nevertheless, when you have a closer look, you see that the lower part of the walls were covered with more than twenty thousand tulip, carnation, rose and lily patterned, white and blue Iznik ceramics and that some of them at certain times of the day reflects the beam of light entering through the 260 blue windows consisting different tones of blue.
As in all the mosques, the broad and spacious area where the congregation prays is reserved. The altar and pulpit that were built with the finest marbles brought from Marmara Island are literally masterpieces, the altar is adorned with marble with cypress motifs. And the pulpit was designed embossed and inlaid with gold gilding. The small muscle providing sultan to rest before and after the prayer is attached to the sultan’s loge for the first time in this mosque. On the shutters of the doors and the windows, mother of pearl and ivory inlaid wood was used. Among all these elegant details, the chandeliers hanging close to the ground, that was once designed to carry oil lamps and nowadays providing light with electric bulbs, strikes the guests with its size and the beauty.
It is seen that Ottomans made mosques built especially during the periods of growth to create neighbourhoods. Since the mosque complex has a school, baths and most importantly fountains inside, it is very logical that there is a immediate formation of settlement surrounding the mosque .
Sultan, the shadow of the God on earth, with the construction of the complex would also have provided social security to the poor. Sultanahmet Mosque, who opens the door for free to the hungry, thirsty and sick people, was getting donations from the traders who were using its facilities. This social security system couldn’t last due to the bad economic conditions in the decline period. Since today we have a different system, Blue Mosque is only used for worship. Other buildings have lost their functionality.
When we enter from the chained door located on the side of the hippodrome and continue to the right, we come across with row upon row of taps that are used to perform an ablution. The cleanliness rules, that is very important in the religion of Islam, should be first followed by the person that is going to perform an ablution before the prayer. While performing the ablution, the person washes especially the parts of the body that are going to contact with the ground. For this reason, hands, feet and the face are washed before entering the mosque. Shoe removal also passes through the same cleaning rules. To clean the every prayer rugs of a venue like Blue Mosque, that has the capacity of seven thousand people capacity, is unthinkable. Because of the constant contact with the ground during the prayer, the rugs, coming from again our nomadic tradition and used to create a comfortable flooring for indoor use, turn our mosques into a museum of handicrafts. Because it is prohibited in the religion of Islam to use depiction of human figure, other decorative elements are used in the mosque decorations. Therefore, the art of wall tiles, calligraphy and even art of carpet continued to preserve itself well and kept on improving. Because the religious motif painting art inside churches is forbidden in Islam, today we almost have no art museums to show our foreign visitors. But the museums of carpets, calligraphy and ceramics can be found in our every city.
Here, the Blue Mosque is one of our rarest mosques with splendid interior decoration. Its 260 window was adorned with colored glass window in the original architecture, and later with restoration except the qibla part was converted to a flat glass. After Iznik tiles adorning the walls of women’s section, then further up, crafting items begin towards the moving parts. The arches decorated with pen work and being sticked to the pattern and color of tiles, semi domes and wall surfaces were done by Kasim Gubari, one of the famous calligraphers of that era.
23.5 meters in diameter and 43 meters high dome rests on four pillars. The 4 semi-dome supporting the main dome help to provide the further extension of space. Thanks to this central plan, everyone that comes to worship, can visually dominate the altar and the pulpit from where they stand in the mosque. Again since the acoustic could be obtained through this plan, the entire congregation can hear the preaching of the imam. Because the language of the worship of Islam is Arabic, it is quite normal that Quran is incomprehensible for Muslim Turks. That explains why imams read hadits in Arabic and then explain it in Turkish every Friday prayer. When the sizes of the imperial mosques, that don’t have, today’s sound technology, is considered, it can be thought that having only dome and the pyramidal internal structure are due to the worry of acoustics. However, there mustn’t be this kind of worry in the architecture of Arab mosques, since arcaded interiors are seen. Cordoba Mosque in Spain is the best example of this. In this type of architecture, there can’t be neither acoustics nor visual communication. But it is understandable that Arabs don’t have such a concern since they can worship in their own language.
It is said that the 21.000 tiles used in the construction of Blue Mosque, absorb the echo and provide the acoustic.
Five prayers a day, in fact, might have arose from the need to organize the daily life. The first azan of the day was recited at the dawn, when we can distinguish black yarn and white yarn from each other. It is like a collective wake-up call to prayer. The second azan was recited when the sun is right at the top of our heads so that the person can go home to have lunch, to rest, to have a nap and to be protected from the heat. The person goes back to the rhythm of everyday life with the third azan. The fourth azan gives the message of upcoming night. It is time to go back home, to the village. The person eats his dinner, chats and with the fifth azan goes to the bed when it is so dark that we cannot distinguish the color of the yarns.
Perhaps, unfortunately, not in every azan, 16 minaret balconies of Blue Mosque have 16 muezzin like it was in the past, but, with the advancing technology, its Hagia Sophia frontage, with hundreds of electric bulbs, sheds lights on us with sacred sentences in every religious holiday and Ramadan.Blue Mosque, that outshines many buildings with its glorious, obtained the treatment that it deserved with the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum. Today it is in the first place among the mosques visited by the foreign visitors. In addition, it preserves its importance with the religious occasions and the events around the mosque that are organized in Ramadan.
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