Churches are an important piece of the western tourism puzzle. To be honest, some of them really are spectacular. Consequently they can often be found on various top tourist attractions lists.
This however can not be said for the Islamic world and their mosques. If churches generally welcome visitors without exception, that is usually not the case with mosques.
Mosques are above all a place of worship and usually as such do not welcome tourist visitors.
Some places are quite strict about this and other not so much. Istanbul is definitely one of the less strict places - there is a free entrance for everyone to all mosques.
That gives a visitor of this great city a chance to see some great architectural monuments from up close.
Usually mosques look pretty spectacular on the outside but not so much on the inside. Even more so if you compare them with richly decorated basilicas of the Christian world. Often a large dome of a major mosque is accompanied with a few high minarets.
These dominate the skyline of Istanbul and offer great photo opportunities - especially at sunrise and sunset.
When choosing from many of the city's Mosques (according to Wikipedia, in 2007, there were 2,944 active mosques in Istanbul), you should definitely at least consider these:
- Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka Blue Mosque) is the only Ottoman mosque with six minarets. It was completed in 1609 and was built in a period of 10 years.
- Suleymaniye Mosque was built in 1558 after only 8 years of construction. It is one of the most monumental examples of the classical Ottoman architecture and seems to be partly inspired by Hagia Sophia. It is the largest mosque in the city.
- Mosque of the Valide Sultan (aka Yeni Mosque) is an Ottoman imperial mosque located in the Eminonu district of Istanbul, near the Spice Bazaar. It was built between 1597 and 1660.
- Bayezid II Mosque has a central large dome surrounded by four semi-domes. It's construction began in 1500 and was completed only 5 years after.
From today's perspective it is truly remarkable that half a millennium ago they were able to build such architectural masterpieces in such a short time. I doubt we could do it today with all technical equipment of our time and also make the results last for such a long time.
Apart from those listed above, there is also the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), literally meaning Holy Wisdom. Standing directly across the Blue Mosque (or the other way around), it was originally built as a Christian basilica in 537 but was converted to a mosque in 1453. In 1935 it was transformed into a museum. Some original Christian frescoes and mosaics have been preserved to this day.
Since it is a museum, they charge an entrance fee of 25 TL. It is not cheap but still worth a visit in my opinion.
I visited a few mosques before during my other trips. You can check out a post from my Moroccan adventure (Casablanca and Hassan II Mosque) and a photo of a Blue Mosque from my first time visit of Istanbul.
Even if open to public, mosques are still a place of worship. Do try to remember that and behave respectfully during your visit. Usually they even provide scarves (which you can borrow for free) and bags (to carry shoes you take off, with you) at the entrance.
Clicking on any one of above photos will reveal it in a much more flattering resolution.