Istanbul's Old City Pt II: Sultanahmet Mosque
The number of mosques in Istanbul is far too many to count but few of them have as much grandeur as the Sultanahmet Mosque. Built in the early 1600s, the facade appears massive and its 6 minarets gives the mosque its uniquely recognizable structure. If you see a dome cascade with its accompanying 6 minarets from afar, you know you're looking at the Sultanahmet Mosque.
Approach the mosque through the west entrance from the Hippodrome gives you the best view of entering the grand structure, first going up a few steps, through the arch, and then into the forecourt of the Sultanahmet Mosque. There is a side entrance from the north and if you are coming from the Hagia Sophia, you will most probably be coming in from this side where the ablution facilities are before entering the forecourt.
The forecourt leads you to the main door to enter the mosque but this is only for Muslim visitors. Non-Muslims go around the corner and enter through the south door. The Sultanahmet Mosque is a working mosque which means that it is closed to non-worshippers during the prayers sessions five times a day but reopens again after each prayer time is over. We first arrived when they were just about to begin prayer time and were gently informed by an usher to come back in 1.5 hours. Along with the neighboring mosques, the ezan is blared from the minarets and the combined sounds of the call to prayer from all over town is a calming experience not to be missed. If your time of visit happens during prayer time, the good thing is that the historical attractions are within close proximity to each other so you can conveniently return to the mosque a short while later.
The Sultanahmet Mosque draws a large tourist crowd daily and that is probably the very reason this house of worship is extremely tolerant of women entering without a headscarf. Large tourist crowds mean that there will be many people inside the mosque during the visit. If you can tolerate that, the interior of the mosque is something to behold. We later visited the Suleymaniye Mosque, known for being the most striking mosque most in Istanbul, which offered a greater sense of serenity. I suggest visiting both Sultanahmet and Suleymaniye Mosques-- both are beautiful and complement each other in one's experiences in visiting the Islamic house of worship.
The Sultanahmet Mosque is affectionately nicknamed the Blue Mosque for its blue interior ceramic tiles in the dome ceiling. The art of the ceramic tiles is intricate and carefully detailed and defined.
As with all mosques, the central area is for prayers and only for worshippers. Visitors remain outside the central area.
Istanbul's Old City Pt 1: Hagia Sophia
Istanbul's Old City Pt III: Yerebatan Cistern, Divan Yolu