Istanbul’s Blue Mosque is both an active mosque and one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. It was first announced that the mosque would undertake a series of renovations back in 2016. Numerous renovation works had been completed throughout Istanbul and the restoration of the Blue Mosque was to be the final project. Renovations were expected to take place over three and a half years and be completed by 2020.
Although the mosque went under renovations just over 30 years ago, the necessary underground work had not been made. Levels of groundwater had become excessively high and vital renovations were needed to the building’s foundations and drainage system. The project also targets the mosque’s exterior as the outer marble overlays are being strengthened and the outer lead cover on the mosque dome is being replaced. Likewise, the minarets, courtyard and toilets are all undergoing restoration.
Major conservation work has also begun to the Mosque’s famous ceramic blue tiles. Over the years, many of the exterior tiles had been stolen and nothing done to replace them. Many tiles contained Quranic inscriptions and authority was only recently given to install replicas as replacements. The entire renovation project is to be the most extensive of its kind since the mosque was first constructed.
During the 2018 renovations, the Blue Mosque was closed to all tourists between March 1st and May 15th. Although it was open for daily prayers, non-Muslim visitors were only able to admire the mosque’s magnificent outer appearance. Fortunately, visitors are now once again allowed to enter the mosque. However, with renovations still taking place, the experience will be altered and differ to what visitors will expect. Read the guide below for more information about visiting Istanbul’s Blue Mosque:
Guide to visiting the Blue Mosque
Famed for its stunning blue tiles, the Blue Mosque is the most photogenic building in Istanbul. Its construction was the grand plan of Sultan Ahmed I in the early 17th century and took around seven years to complete. The curvaceous exterior features a cascade of domes and six minarets – more than any other mosque built at that time. The mosque’s forecourt is the largest of all the Ottoman mosques and its interior is just as grand. Featuring a huge central prayer space, the mosque has around 260 windows and holds the tomb of its ruling founder. Despite being called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish, the thousands of blue Iznik tiles adorning the mosque’s interior gave the building its nickname.
When is the best time to visit?
As the Blue Mosque is also an active prayer venue, it’s closed to non-worshippers during the six daily prayer times. Spaced fairly evenly throughout the day, prayers take place two hours before dawn, at dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset and before the last light of day. This is because Islamic prayer times were traditionally based on the movements of the sun.
To avoid disappointment, it is best to time your visit to arrive mid-morning or between prayer times. Approach the mosque from the Hippodrome on the western side for the best view of its stunning architecture. If you are a non-Muslim visitor this is the direction you will be using to enter the mosque.
What do I need to wear?
Before entering the Blue Mosque, everyone is required to take off their shoes. This is traditional for Muslims when they go inside a mosque. Plastic bags are provided free of charge for you to place your shoes into.
Men are required to dress modestly to enter the mosque, wearing long trousers rather than shorts. Women are also expected to be modest, with knees and shoulders covered and a head scarf. Head coverings can be found at the Blue Mosque’s entrance and are also free of charge.
Simply place the fabric over your head with equal portions hanging down on both sides. Then wrap one side around your neck so it flows behind your back and covers your shoulders. The head scarves are not meant to cover women’s faces, just their hair, and should be returned to staff on exiting the mosque.
What are the rules inside the Mosque?
As the Blue Mosque is a place of worship, there are certain rules to abide by whilst visiting. Tourists are expected to be quiet and respectful at all times. Once inside, flash photography is not allowed, and neither is taking photographs or staring at those who are in prayer.
Although the mosque is free to enter, donations can be made to help with its maintenance. The Blue Mosque is a truly magnificent religious building and provides a stunning insight into Islamic history and culture.
Thinking of a trip to Turkey this year? We visit the Blue Mosque on many of our group tours.