Written By: Maham Shahbaz
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, popularly known as the Blue Mosque was built in the period from 1609 to 1616. The construction of the mosque lasted for seven years. It was completed in 1617 just prior to the untimely death of its then 27-year old patron, Sultan Ahmet I. The mosque dominates Istanbul’s majestic skyline with its elegant composition of ascending domes and six slender soaring minarets. Although considered one of the last classical Ottoman structures, the combination 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. The architect, Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa, synthesized the ideas of his master Sinan, aiming for overwhelming size, majesty and magnificence.
A Symbolic location.
Majestic mosques of Ottoman were placed far from the city 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 Hippodrome near the Ottoman royal residence, Topkapı Palace. In fact, the choice of location caused some concern 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.
This mosque has received in Europe, the name "Blue Mosque" because it’s interior is formed of tiles in blue and blue colors in organic combination with a white background. Total used for decoration over 20,000 tiles. Iznikskie ceramic tiles hand-made, which were used in the interior decoration of the mosque at the time is particularly famous for their quality.
The Main Gate of the Mosque is at the side of the ‘Hippodrome’ where the obelisks are. When you approach the main gate you see two Arabic verses to the visitors. The first one on top is called Shahadah (Declaration of Faith) and means:
I bear witness that there is no god except Allah and Muhammad(PBUH) is His Messenger.
The second is placed just above the arch and is a quotation from the Qur’an. This also explains the purpose of the building. It means:
“Indeed, prayer has been decreed upon the believers at specified times.”Qur’an 4:103
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 blind arcade. Huge elevated and recessed entrances penetrate three sides 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.
Dome and Pendentives.
Inside, the central dome rests on pendentives (triangular segments of a spherical surface) with its weight supported on four massive columns. In order to extend the prayer space and to structurally support the centeral dome, a series of half-domes cascade outwards from the center to ultimately join the exterior walls of the mosque. The central stone was called ‘kilit taşı’ which literally means ‘locking stone’. This is a huge stone carefully carved and placed so that it pushes all the smaller stones to the sides with its size and weight (locking them in a way). On the central stone there is a quotation from the Qur’an provoking thought again.
“Indeed, Allah holds the heavens and the earth, lest they cease. And if they should cease, no one could hold them [in place] after Him. Indeed, He is Forbearing and Forgiving.”Qur’an 35:41
There are a total of six minarets. four are positioned on the corners of the mosque’s prayer hall while the other two are on the external corners of the courtyard. All of these "pencil" minarets have a series of balconies beautifying its lean form.
The number of minarets caused a little unrest among the population because an imperial mosque had the same number of minarets as that of the mosque of mecca. To symbolize superiority of mosque in mecca, a seventh minaret was added to it. evidence to support this claim are 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.
The area of courtyard is almost the same as that of the mosque. At the center of the courtyard there is a hexagonal fountain, surrounded by 6 columns. Courtyard of the Blue Mosque is the same size as the mosque itself. The walls are decorated with arcaded courtyard.
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 qibla wall. A carved marble niche set into the center of this wall guides the faithful to the correct direction for prayer, this niche is known as mihrab. On top of the mihrab there are two verses from the Qur’an which mention the names of some holy people mentioned in relation to a special praying place (mihrab).
On top: Whenever Zachariah entered the Mihrab, he found provision (food) with her (Mary). Qur’an 3:37
Second one: So the angels called him while he was standing in prayer in the Mihrab, ("Indeed, Allah gives you good tidings of John…) Qur’an 3:39
To its right is a tall and thin marble podium (mimbar) covered with an ornamental turret. It looks like a staircase however it’s used as a raised platform to deliver a sermon on congregational prayer days
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 name the blue mosque.
Traditional motifs on the tiles such as cypress trees, tulips, roses, and fruits evoke visions of a bountiful paradise. Sultan Ahmet demanded 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 highlighted 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.
Dimensions for the Sultan Ahmed Mosque.
- 6 minarets altogether. 4 of them have 3 balconies and their size is 73m and 2 have 2 balconies and 60m high.
- The size of the prayer hall is 53.50 x 49.47 (2646 m2).
- The inner courtyard has about 30 domes seated on 26 separate columns.
- The dome is about 43 metres high and is a diameter of 23.5 metres.
- Main prayer hall can accommodate up to 10.000 worshippers at a time.
- It has 260 windows.