The minarets and domes of the imposing Blue Mosque, as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque is also known, dominate the scene. It faces another symbolic building, the Hagia Sophia, across Sultanhamet Square. Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire’s eternal standoff.
The activity is the square is incessant: sahlep and simit vendors, tourists by the busload even though it isn’t peak season, locals going about their business, busy open-air cafes, pensioners enjoying the feeble winter sun. We stop for a steaming cup of sahlep, a hot dense drink made with, among other ingredients, flour from certain tulip bulbs. Although it burns my lips, I welcome the warmth in this cold December afternoon.
As we get closer to the Blue Mosque, self-appointed guides swarm us offering their services. We patiently reject every single one, although it’s not easy because they, like most vendors, are very persistent. My husband decides to wait outside while I visit the mosque.
I enter a courtyard, trying to find the way in. As it turns out, there are two different lines, one for worshippers and one round the corner for visitors. I clumsily wrap my pashmina round my head in a failed attempt at copying the style of the Muslim women and stand in line.
There’s a sign in the courtyard warning visitors about the correct dress code to enter the mosque. Men are not allowed to wear short and women should cover their bare shoulders in the summers and their heads, all year round as a sign of respect. I’ve seen a similar sign –minus the head cover- outside the Vatican.
The line slowly moves forward. We enter a room where we’re given a bag for our shoes as no one is allowed to wear them in the Blue Mosque. There is a special area where parents must park their strollers as these aren’t allowed inside either. The mosque staff makes sure women cover their head. They hand light blue veils to those who forgot to bring their own. I see robes of the same material hanging from pegs along the wall. I assume these are used in the summer to cover bare shoulders.
Once shoeless and pashmina’ed, I walk into the mosque proper. I’m not too happy to see the enclosed area for women to worship in but it is neither my religion nor my culture so I make an effort not to judge.
Amazing, awe-inspiring, remarkable, extraordinary, outstanding, marvelous, gorgeous, great, beautiful, wonderful, astonishing. Take your pick of an adjective; however trite, highfalutin or descriptive, you can’t go wrong. The inside of the Blue Mosque is all that and more.
About the Blue Mosque
- It was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Sultan Ahmed I.
- The mosque closes for about 30 minutes at prayer time and there are five calls to prayer throughout the day. Make sure your visit doesn’t fall within those times.
- Make sure to cover your head and bare shoulders if you’re a woman and don’t wear shorts or short skirts in the summer. Men should not wear shorts. Both men and women make sure your socks have no holes!
- The interior of the mosque is covered in 20,000 Iznik tiles depicting flowers, fruit and trees. The dominant colour is blue, in different shades, and is what gave the mosque its name.
- Entry is free but visitors can make a donation on the way out and are given an official receipt.
- It is located at one end of Sultanahmet Square.