Istanbul Blue Mosque

Istanbul's Blue Mosque is the city's crowning glory.
Istanbul's Blue Mosque is the city's crowning glory.

Sultanahmet Camii, also known as the Blue Mosque, is located in the touristy Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. It's one of Istanbul's top tourist attractions, and after checking out the Haghia Sophia, it's worth a look at the Islamic equivalent.

Built during the reign of Sultan Ahmet I (1603-1617), the sultan set out to build a monument that would surpass the Hagia Sophia in beauty and sheer grandeur. It was said that the sultan was so enthusiastic about the project he pitched in himself at times, working alongside the labourers.

Whether he succeeded in surpassing the Hagia Sophia's magnificence is up for debate, but there is a reason hotels in the area love to boast about their Blue Mosque views - its curves are full, it has more minarets than any other mosque in the city, and its courtyard is the biggest of any Ottoman mosque. Inside, you're bathed in the light that shines through 250 windows and bounces off the thousands of blue tiles that give the building its name. The interior's intricate decor was designed so all eyes would lift heavenward to the Imperial Loge.

The mosque also holds the tomb of its patron, Sultan Ahmet I. Ahmet ascended to the throne at just 13 years of age, and died a year after the mosque's completion, at just 27 years old. You can visit his tomb, which is on the mosque's north side. He is buried with his wife and his sons. You will need to pay a donation for admittance.

The mosque remains the symbol of Islam in Istanbul, and is a constant hive of activity. So much so that visitor numbers are strictly controlled so as to preserve its sacred ambience. During the high season, only worshippers are allowed through the front door; tourists must use the north door. There's no charge to enter the mosque, but donations are appreciated.

When the sun goes down in the summer there is a light and sound show, alternating between English, Turkish, French and German on successive nights.

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