Istanbul’s most-visited sight, the Blue Mosque, is referred to as Sultan Ahmet Camii in Turkish. Completed in 1616, the Blue Mosque is still used as a house of worship, despite also hosting some four to five million tourists annually. Most of these tourists come during a time when the mosque is not being used for daily calls to prayer—or ezan—and all visitors adhere to a strict dress code when visiting the Blue Mosque. A must-see for the Istanbul-bound traveler, the Blue Mosque’s beauty inside and out has been talked about for centuries. From the exterior featuring six 210-foot minarets to the 20,000 blue tiles found inside, touring the mosque is well worth it. Because visiting requires respecting the prayer schedule and dress code to show respect for this religious hub and still-functional mosque, we’ve made a quick guide on how to prepare for your visit to the Blue Mosque.
When Is the Best Time to Visit the Blue Mosque?
You can track the timing of daily calls to prayer online. But the general times to be aware of when planning a visit to the Blue Mosque are: dawn, midday, afternoon, sunset, and last light. The mosque is closed for 90 minutes for each period of worship, and non-worshipping visitors don’t typically enter for the 30 minutes following each prayer. One of the best times to visit the Blue Mosque is mid-morning.
Travelers should also keep in mind that the Friday prayers happening around noon are an important time of worship, and as a result, not the best time to visit the mosque.
Again, this points to mid-morning Monday through Thursday as the best time to visit the Blue Mosque. Admission is free, though you have the option to donate to the mosque as you exit.
What to Wear to the Blue Mosque
First, it’s mandatory to remove your shoes upon entrance to the Blue Mosque. Women will also need a head covering. Simply bring a scarf, shawl, or pashmina, and use it to cover your shoulders and wrap around your head. Your face shouldn’t be covered, just your hair and shoulders.
Additionally, legs must be covered for both men and women. Long pants or a long dress or skirt is mandatory.
Understanding the Blue Mosque’s History
Built between 1609 and 1616, the Blue Mosque was erected under Sultan Ahmet I. It was made with six minarets to mirror Mecca’s Sacred Mosque—which subsequently built a seventh minaret. Sultan Ahmet, the 14th Ottoman sultan, took his throne at age 14 in 1603, six years before they broke ground on the Blue Mosque. His goal was to build something to rival the likes of Hagia Sophia or Suleymaniye Mosque, and he commissioned architect Mehmet Aga to execute his vision. While many 17th-century labors of architectural love took decades to construct, the Blue Mosque went up in seven years. The opening ceremony for the only Turkish mosque with six minarets was held on June 2, 1616. Ultimately, Sultan Ahmet did accomplish his goal of outdoing Hagia Sophia; as of 2015, the Blue Mosque was the 20th most visited holy site in the world—Hagia Sophia was 29th.
Getting Around the Old City To See the Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is on the European side of Istanbul. It’s a five-minute walk to the Hagia Sophia, right across the square. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia fall within the Old City, about a 10-minute walk from the waterfront. The Old City’s walls stretch four miles—from the sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn, the freshwater estuary harbor on the European shores of Istanbul. From the Blue Mosque, it’s about a 13-minute walk (inland) to the Grand Bazaar.