Exploring Sultan Ahmet
A visit to Istanbul, the ancient Rome of the East, would not be complete without a visit to Sultan Ahmet Camii, or as it is more commonly referred to, the Blue Mosque.
Despite its popularity as a tourist attraction, it is still used as a regular mosque, so some planning before visiting is required. The mosque will be closed 5 times a day for around 40 minutes whilst the faithful pray, so keep that in mind. I've found that the ideal time to visit is at around 1.30 pm, right after midday prayers. Just before entering, however, I simply loved sitting in front of the mosque and listening to the prayers being sung out from the minarets, together with tourists and locals alike.
Whilst it is the stunning interior that gives the mosque its name, the exterior is just as sumptuous. Its courtyard is almost as large as the mosque itself, and it is surrounded by symmetrical marbled arcades. When construction was completed, the Sultan was criticized as being arrogant for having erected six minarets, which is the same number of the mosque in Mecca. How could a Sultan solve this problem? By building a seventh one in the middle, of course!
The interior simply cannot be described in words (but I shall give it my best shot). Over 20,000 handmade Iznik ceramic tiles line the walls and ceiling, adorned with more than fifty different tulip designs. The colour blue dominates both tiles and stained glass windows, whilst carpets cover the floor on which the faithful pray.
There is no entrance fee to enter the Blue Mosque, but there are simple rules to abide by. Shoes should be removed before entering, and both men and women should be wearing appropriate clothing. Women should also cover their heads as part of Muslim tradition.
Upon entering, what I'm about to say will become obvious, but here goes - as a place of worship, the only thing you should do is to treat it and its faithful with respect. That means no shouting or noises, no staring at anyone praying, and no flash photography. Yes you'll be tempted to take a million pictures and you'll want the best lighting, but respect should come first and foremost. Don't break the peaceful atmosphere within the mosque.
The world and its hustle and bustle rushes in again to greet you once you put your shoes on, but you've just experienced a moment of peace and quiet - relish it. Stay tuned for more posts from Istanbul, coming your way soon!