Istanbul is a haven for history lovers and architecture buffs, and some of the most remarkable traces of how the city’s history and architecture cross are exemplified in its mosques. Here are a few of the city’s must-visit mosques:
1. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Following a devastating series of military defeats, Sultan Ahmed I realized that no new mosque had been built in Istanbul for about forty years and set out to initiate a project to revitalize the city’s morale. Construction on the mosque began in 1609, and its chief architect, Sedefkar Mehmet Aga, was a student of the famed architect Mimar Sinan, the grandfather of the Ottoman style, whose most famous work is the nearby Süleymaniye Mosque. The interior of the Sultan Ahmed is splendidly decorated, featuring columns entwined with decorative lilies, carnations, roses, tulips and other ornaments; intricate carpets; soft light streaming in through its 260 windows; an enormous dome measuring 23.5 meters in diameter and 43 meters high decorated with scripture; and of course the delicate tiles of cerulean blue adorning the walls of its interior, which have lent themselves to the structure’s nickname as the “Blue Mosque”.
2. Hagia Sophia Mosque
The original Magna Ecclesia church on the site of today’s Hagia Sophia was originally built by Byzantine Emperor Constantius I in the years 324-337 C.E. For the construction of such a project in the Byzantine capital, no expense was spared: legend held that the Byzantine Empire spent the equivalent of three entire annual budgets on its construction. After two centuries’ worth of damage from revolts, fires, and general usage, it was rebuilt again by Emperor Justinian I. The new cathedral was created with such grandeur that it inspired a legend of celestial powers helping the construction. Having survived an earthquake, plundering aplenty and several changes of Empire, in the year 1453, it underwent a conversion by Sultan Mehmed II: four minarets were added, internal structures reworked, and the cathedral was transformed into the Aya Sofia Mosque.
Widely considered the building that changed the course of European architecture, the Hagia Sophia today stands as an exquisite landmark blending the influences of Eastern and Western civilizations. The magnificent mosaics that adorn its interior include religious imagery, geometric ornaments, and portraits of royalty, and were refurbished in 1935 following the structure’s transformation into a museum.
3. Şehzade Mehmed Mosque
Another classic example of Ottoman architecture at its zenith, the Şehzade Mehmed Mosque is comparable in size to other royal mosques built by the sultans in Istanbul and other major Ottoman cities like Edirne and Bursa. Unlike other royal mosques, however, this mosque does not carry the name of a sultan. While it was commissioned between 1543-1548 by the Sultan Suleyman I, it was dedicated to his son, Prince Muhammed, who had died in 1543 at the young age of 21. It stands in the historic core of Istanbul, in Fatih Square on what is referred to as the third hill of Istanbul. Designed and built by famed chief Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, it was the famous architect’s first large mosque after accepting the prestigious function of first architect of the Ottoman Empire in 1538. His creation of the Şehzade Mosque was an expression of his structural originality while simultaneously approaching what would become classic Ottoman architecture.
4. Mosque of the Valide Sultan
Located in the Eminonu district near the famous Spice Bazaar, the Mosque of the Valide Sultan was commissioned by Safiye Sultan, the wife of Sultan Murad III. Also referred to as the Yeni Mosque, its construction commenced in 1597 during the rule of Sultan Mehmet III and was only finished more than six decades later in 1660. The architect Davut Aga, a student of the master Mimar Sinan, began its construction and it was completed under the watchful eye of architect Mustafa Aga. With a floor plan similar to the Şehzade Mehmed Mosque, it is noteworthy for its exceptionally elegant forms and opulent interiors.
5. Süleymaniye Mosque
The Ottoman chief architect Sinan constructed the Süleymaniye Mosque from 1550-1557 on the order of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. Together with its adjacent buildings, including educational institutions, bath houses, and a cemetery, the mosque forms a complex the size of a city block. It is an amalgamation of traditional Byzantine and Islamic elements with lavish opulence, and one of the iconic examples of the Ottoman architectural style. Nearly a half-millennium after its creation, the Süleymaniye remains Istanbul’s largest mosque and commands an imposing view over the city, making its instantly recognizable mark on the skyline from both the Asian and European sides.
There’s so much to see and discover in Istanbul, which is why Hotel Büyük Keban, located in the heart of Istanbul’s historic district, is the perfect choice for you stay in this amazing metropolis!