11 Jun 2021

10 Incredible Facts You Didn’t Know About Istanbul’s Blue Mosque

Istanbul is a city not exactly short of mosques. In fact, the former Ottoman capital is home to over an estimated 3000 holy buildings. Not all mosques were made equal however, and some of the grander edifices have become symbols of the city. The Hagia Sophia is probably the most famous, but hot on its heels is the famed Blue Mosque. Like most things in this ancient city, there is more to the Blue Mosque than meets the eye. So, get ready as we take you through 10 incredible facts about Istanbul’s Blue Mosque.

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1. Real Name – Royal Narcissist

The blue Mosque in Istanbul

Though the Blue Mosque is what it’s most commonly known as it actually has a different official name. Its real name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. As the name suggests it was named after the Sultan who ordered its construction, Ahmed I.

Ahmed only ruled for 14 years but his time in charge was still a significant one. As well as building one of the most iconic mosques in all of Constantinople, Ahmed also put an end to the Ottoman royal family’s habit of committing fratricide every time someone new became Sultan.

2. Origins – Founding and Funding

Istanbul skyline

Ahmed I’s military adventures against the Austrian Hapsburgs in the West and Persians in the East didn’t end too well for our dear Sultan. In fact, the Ottomans were humiliated in both and ended up having to abolish the Austrian tribute that had been flowing in, and also cede land to the Persians.

Naturally, national morale was a little low. The construction of the Blue Mosque, therefore, was an attempt to restore some Ottoman pride. There was just one small problem, however. Previous Sultans funded ambitious public works like this with wealth won in wars. Ahmed, having completely failed at this had no choice but to fund the Blue Mosque with funds from the treasury. As you would expect this didn’t go down great in the Ottoman court, but nonetheless the project was completed in 1616.

3. The Architect – Man Behind The Mosque

The honour of designing the Blue Mosque fell upon one Sedefqar Mehmeti of Elbasan. This Albanian architect has quite the CV even without the Blue Mosques inclusion, having designed both the Sultanahmet square and the walnut throne.

Sedefgar initially studied music in Istanbul before switching to architecture and becoming an apprentice of Mimar Sinan. His talent was obvious and so began a steady climb up the city’s architectural ranks. First, he was appointed as gatekeeper, and then as chief bailiff, and then promoted once more to the inspector of works. Next up he ascended to master of the waterways before finally becoming chief imperial architect at the top of the hierarchy.

4. The 7th Minaret of Mecca – Ancient Solutions

Blue Mosque in Istanbul at night

When it was first built the Blue Mosque only had six minarets. Do you know where else has six minarets? Only a certain Mosque in Mecca that surrounds the Kaaba, the holiest place in all of Islam. As such many felt the design was a little presumptuous, to say the least.

To solve this blasphemous problem Sultan Ahmed simply ordered the construction of a 7th minaret at the mosque in Mecca which was under Ottoman control at the time. To this day the Blue Mosque remains the only Mosque in Istanbul with six minarets.

5. Iznik Art – Eurasian Elegance

Interior of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The interior of the Blue Mosque showcases artistic excellence at every opportunity. When talking about the intricacies of such an interior it’s hard to know where to start but the 20,000 handmade Iznik tiles seem like a safe bet.

For context, Iznik was a style of ceramics thought to be named after the town that bears its name. They are typically decorated with floral patterns and natural forms and often feature, blue, white, or turquoise.

The ones in the Blue Mosque specifically feature fifty different tulip designs that are repeated. On the lower level, these are kept relatively simple, but as you move up through the Blue Mosque, they gradually get more complex.  

6. Iznik Prices – Market Theory

As you might suspect, 20,000 handmade Iznik tiles don’t come cheap. Every single one of the tiles was made under the careful eye of an experienced Iznik master.

To try and keep expenses reasonable, Sultan Ahmed issued a price-fixing decree on Iznik tiles. This had the fun end result of the price steadily increasing while the individual quality of the tiles went down.

We love Ottoman economics!

7. Complex – Mosque of all Trades

Mosque in Istanbl

The Blue Mosque functioned as a mosque… shocking I know. It also served several other purposes alongside its religious duties, however. These included buildings dedicated as among other things, a primary school, a bazaar, a madrasah, an imaret, and even an astronomy room!  

The Blue Mosque even had space to fit in a hospital, just in case you pulled a muscle while praying. Sadly, over the years most of these extra buildings were demolished/burnt down.

8. The Iron Chain – Stay Humble

the blue mosque in Istanbul

At first glance, the imposing iron chain that hangs in the western court entrance might seem out of place. By modern design standards, it certainly is, yet there is a very good reason for its conspicuous placement.

You see a Sultan, by the very nature of his job, is not a humble man. The sultan was also the only person allowed to enter the Mosque court on horseback. By putting the chain in this position, the Sultan, therefore, had two options. The first was to ride straight into it and hope he didn’t end up on the Ottoman equivalent of You’ve Been Framed. The second was to lower his head, a symbol of humility in the face of the almighty.

9. The Mihrab – Niche Interests

The Mihrab is the heart of any mosque. They are essentially a niche inside one of the Mosques walls. The nearest point to Mecca to be specific. They are often highly ornate and comprise the most beautiful part of these beautiful building.  

The one found at the Blue Mosque is no exception. It has been carved out of marble so smoothly, it would still be difficult to replicate today even with the help of modern technology. Just above it sits a gorgeous stalactite inspired position. The incredible detail doesn’t stop there either with two green inscription panels positioned above the stalactite. The dazzling display is complete with the surrounding stained-glass windows that exist on either side of the Mihrab.

10. The Nickname – Blue Monday

the domes of the blue mosque

This article started by talking about the Blue Mosque’s official name, so it seems fitting that we end it by talking about its adopted moniker. Now I’m sure you can take an educated guess as to why it’s been nicknamed the Blue Mosque. That would be the large amounts of blue paint and décor that make up the interior.

What you might be surprised to learn however is that Blue Mosque was first coined as such, not from the locals of Constantinople, but foreign visitors. These foreigners came from both within the Ottoman empire and outside its borders. Constantinople was after all perhaps the most famed city in the world at the time. Unsurprisingly the first thing many of these visitors picked up on was the distinctive blue interior and thus the Blue Mosque was born, and it became known throughout the land from Paris to Palmyra.   

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