Istanbul, Turkey

This page contains pictures of the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, the Suleymaniye, the Ortakoy Mosque, and others.

The Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet

(High-Res) The Blue Mosque is just east of the ancient Hippodrome. Built by Mehmet Aga for Sultan Ahmet I, it was completed in 1616 and features 260 windows which illuminate the magnificent blue Iznik tiles of the interior from which the Mosque gets its common name. Although only four are visible in this picture, this mosque actually has six minarets. (High-Res) Looking up at the domes of the Blue Mosque. The courtyard is as large of the interior of the mosque itself. The sultan was criticized for building a mosque with six minarets, since the great mosque of the Ka'aba in Mecca had only six minarets itself. The sultan solved this problem by having a seventh minaret built for the great mosque in Mecca.
(High-Res) The Blue Mosque sits directly across from Hagia Sophia, the implication being that Ottoman architecture could meet or exceed that of the Byzantines. Located in the middle of what was once old Constantinople, the Blue Mosque sits atop portions of the Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors.

In Byzantine times, the Great Palace extended over a vast terraced site stretching from the Hippodrome to the Sea of Marmara. Built by Constantine in the 4th century, enlarged by Justinian in 532 (after the Nika revolt), and extended by Basil I in the 9th century, the Great Palace had no equal in Europe.

(High-Res) Unfortunately for Sultan Ahmet I, he did not have much time to enjoy his mosque. He died at the age of 27, just a year after the completion of the Blue Mosque.

The octagonal fountain is now only decorative. Ritual ablutions are now performed in the outer courtyard.

(High-Res) This is a close-up view of an arch above one of the doors to the courtyard of the Blue Mosque. The stonework is fantastic. You can clearly see red and white stones fitting together almost seamlessly. Immediately above the door, the stones are shaped in such a way that they lock together to form an arch. (High-Res) The courtyard is bordered by 26 columns and 30 small domes.

In a nearby tomb (turbe) are buried Sultans Ahmet I, Murat IV, and Osman II, along with other members of the imperial family. Curiously, the tomb also holds Prince Beyazit, who was murdered on the orders of Murat IV.

(High-Res) Another view from inside the Blue Mosque. Seyyid Kasim Gubari, the greatest calligrapher of the day, was commissioned to write verses from the Koran throughout the mosque.

Attached to the mosque is a carpet museum, housing a collection of Turkish carpets ranging over the entire Ottoman period. A number were used in the tents sultans when on military campaigns.

(High-Res) In this view we have glimpses of three of the massive columns (5 meters in diameter) which support the dome of the Blue Mosque. Additionally, one can see the beautiful floral tiles which adorn the interior.
(High-Res) The dome is 23.5 meters in diameter and 43 meters high. (High-Res) There are 260 stained glass windows in the Blue Mosque. Over 20,000 handmade tiles from Iznik (Nicaea) adorn the walls and columns.

The Suleymaniye

(High-Res) Across the Golden Horn, we see the Suleymaniye mosque complex, built during the period 1550-1557 by the Sinan, the greatest of all Ottoman architects, for Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (who ruled from 1520-1566). Sinan died at the age of 97, having built 131 mosques and almost 200 public buildings. (High-Res) The Suleymaniye has four minarets, signifying that Suleiman was the fourth Sultan to rule in Istanbul, with ten total serefes or balconies, signifying that he was the tenth Sultan in the imperial line of Osman (1258 - 1326).

The name Osman has also been translated as Othman, giving rise to the Western name of the empire: Ottoman.

(High-Res) Crossing the bustling Galata bridge we see the Suleymaniye behind the much smaller Rustem Pasa Mosque. The Rustem Pasa Mosque dates from 1561 and is built on a terrace over a vaulted shopping complex. For a small Mosque, the interior is quite impressive.

The Suleymaniye is the second largest imperial mosque complex in Istanbul. To the left lies a small graveyard which contains, among other things, the turbes (tombs) of Sultan Suleyman and Haseki Hurrem, widely known in the west as Roxelana.

(High-Res) An Italian page named Bassano wrote that Suleyman
"...bears her [Roxelana] such love and keeps such faith in her that all his subjects marvel and say that she has bewitched her, and they call her Cadi, or the Witch."
Unfortunately for the empire, she convinced Suleyman to execute his eldest son (by a different wife), thereby clearing the way for her own misfit son, Sultan Selim II ("the Sot"), who ruled from 1566 - 1574..
(High-Res) In this older (35mm) picture, you can perhaps see me underneath a tree. Anyhow, continuing on about history, we quote Lord Kinross:
"Suleiman's passions, fanned by Roxelana, had overridden his judgment, his wisdom, his sense of statesmanship, to destroy at his death much that he had worked for in his life... Selim II cut a dismally poor figure as Sultan... he was aptly named 'the Sot' - Selim the Drunk - from his chronic addiction to wine... He had no stomach either for the hazards of war or for the affairs of state... [In the Seraglio], with cronies and flatterers around him he lived without purpose for the day, giving little or no thought to the morrow."
(High-Res) As with most of the grand imperial mosques of Istanbul, the Suleymaniye is preceded by an avlu, a large courtyard. The columns are of porphyry, marble, and granite.

Unlike some of the other imperial mosques, there are two stories of chambers in the walls of the avlu. These apparently were the muvakkithane, the home of the mosque astronomer (who determined the proper times to pray).

It is believed that the columns in the courtyard of the Suleymaniye came from the ruins of the imperial box in the Hippodrome, once reserved for the Byzantine royalty.

(High-Res) Since the Suleymaniye is built atop a hill, much of the courtyard rests above vaulted substructures. From the terrace, we can see the small domes of one of the medreses (now defunct) associated with the Suleymaniye. There are four medreses (Evvel, Sani, Salis, Rabi) nearby (this being the Rabi medrese, I believe), each corresponding to one of the four orthodox schools of Islamic law.

From the terrace, we see the Bosphorus (with the Bosphorus Bridge in the distance). In the center of the picture, we can see a sliver of the Golden Horn and the Galata Bridge.

(High-Res) This is a detail of the ceiling of the dome immediately preceding the entrance (from the avlu) to the mosque itself. The courtyard was used as a weapons depot during World War I - predictably it caught fire and damaged the mosque. It was finally restored in 1956.
(High-Res) The mosque was damaged by fire in 1660 and restored by Sultan Mehmet IV in a baroque style. (High-Res) Under Suleyman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith in terms of power, influence, and wealth. He modestly described himself as:
"Slave of God, powerful with the power of God, deputy of God on earth, obeying the commands of the Koran and enforcing them throughout the world, master of all lands, the shadow of God over all nations, Sultan of Sultans in all the lands of Persians and Arabs, the propagator of Sultanic laws, the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Khans, Sultan, son of Sultan, Suleiman Khan."
(High-Res) Another interior view. (High-Res) The minbar and mihrab are of Proconnesian marble.

From this view, we see how the central dome is supported on the east and west sides by semidomes, which themselves rest on window filled tympana and subsidiary semidomes.

The stained glass windows on the east wall (pictured here) were made a the glazier known as Sarhos Ibrahim (Ibrahim the Drunk). The tiles are among the earliest examples of Iznik tiles.

(High-Res) A closer view of one of the semidomes which support the central dome. (High-Res) A closer view of one of the semidomes which support one of the semidomes which supports the central dome. The overall effect of so many semidomes is to maximize the total available floor space while distributing the weight of the structure laterally so that the center of the structure remains relatively open.
(High-Res) The diameter of the dome is approximately 27.5 meters, while its maximum height above the floor is approximately 47 meters. (High-Res) In this view, we can see a small semidome supporting a larger semidome.
(High-Res) In this view we can see one of the four pendentives which support the main dome. This architectural technique, borrowed from Haghia Sophia, allows the weight of the central dome to be transferred onto the square base formed by the four subsidiary arches (two of which are pictured here). (High-Res) In a walled garden behind the mosque are the turbes (tombs) of Sultan Suleyman and Haseki Hurrem (known in the west as Roxelana). Pictured here is the interior of the tomb of Suleyman. The sign on the sarcophagus reads: "Kanuni Sultan Suleyman, 10. Osmanli Padishah" -- Sultan Suleyman the Lawgiver, 10th Ottoman Padishah.

Note the proliferation of Iznik tiles, as well as the fine wood inlay on the rails, and the interlocking red and white stones that form the arches. Unfortunately, the sarcophagi of Suleyman's daughter, Princess Mihrimah, and the later sultans Suleyman II and Ahmet II have been stuffed into the same chamber. The immense white turban worn by Suleyman can also be seen.

The New Mosque

(High-Res) From the top of Galata Tower, we see the New Mosque (Yeni Cami) across the Golden Horn at the end of the Galata Bridge. To the right of the New Mosque, one sees the Spice Market, a peculiar building with many small domes. (High-Res) This is the view from the courtyard of the New Mosque. The first mosque on the site was built in 1597 by the mother of Sultan Mehmet III. In 1603, Mehmet III died, construction stopped, and the partially completed mosque fell into ruins. In 1660, the mother of Mehmet IV had the present mosque built on the site. The New Mosque was consecrated on November 6th, 1663.
(High-Res) This is an interior view of the New Mosque. The cables running down from the dome provide support for a complex system of chandeliers. (High-Res) The Spice Market behind the New Mosque is a colorful place where spices, herbs, and other items are sold. This L-shaped complex was built in the early 17th century.
(High-Res) This is another view of the courtyard of the New Mosque. (High-Res) A view of the interior of the Spice Market. These buildings were built with taxes on Egyptian imports and hence the area is sometimes known as the Egyptian Bazaar.

Ortakoy Mosque

(High-Res) On the Ortakoy waterfront lies the picturesque mosque built by Sultan Abdul Mecit in 1854. The architect, Nikogos Balyan, also constructed Dolmabahce palace and its mosque. (High-Res) Were it not for the minarets, it would be difficult to tell from the architecture that this is, in fact, a mosque. The mosque at Ortakoy is an fascinating building in which standard Ottoman fixtures are executed in the context of 19th century Western European designs.
(High-Res) Another view of the mosque. In the background we see the Bosphorus Bridge (Bogazici Koprusu), which opened on October 29th, 1973 (the 50th anniversary of the Turkish Republic). (High-Res) This is the dome of the mosque at Ortakoy. Observe how the interior design clearly reflects Sultan Abdul Mecit's taste for Western European artistic styles. Compare the interior of this mosque to the interiors of the older mosques on this webpage.
(High-Res) Another view of the interior of the Ortakoy mosque. The presence of the calligraphic roundel is the only indication that this is the interior of an Ottoman mosque, and not a 19th century French estate. (High-Res) Note the interesting fusion of styles in this picture.

Sokollu Mehmet Pasa Mosque

(High-Res) The Sokollu Mehmet Pasa Mosque is one of the smallest mosques built by the architect Sinan. It was built in 1572 for Esmahan Sultan, a daughter of Sultan Selim II, and the wife of Grand Vezir Sokollu Mehmet Pasa. (High-Res) This is Sokollu Mehmet Pasa Mosque again. Above the front door and in the mihrab of this mosque are small pieces of black stone from the Kaaba in Mecca.
(High-Res) An Ottoman graveyard near the Sokollu Mehmet Pasa Mosque in Istanbul. Notice that the writing is in the Arabic script. Modern Turkish (after the foundation of the Turkish Republic by Ataturk) employs Roman characters.

The "Arab Mosque"

(High-Res) This curious edifice was built by Dominicans between 1323 and 1337 and dedicated to St. Dominic, originally on the spot of a chapel dedicated to St. Paul. Originally a typical Latin church with belfry and a long hall ending with three rectangular apses, it is now one of the most unusual mosques in Istanbul.

The name "Arab Mosque" originates from the fact that it was converted into a mosque in the early 16th century given to Moorish refugees from Spain.

(High-Res) The belfry now functions as a minaret.

Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the mosque. The wooden galleries inside date from a late Ottoman-era restoration (1913 - 1919). When the original floor was uncovered, many Geneoese tombstones were revealed. These are now housed in the Archaeological Museum.

The Beyazit Mosque

(High-Res) On the eastern side of Beyazit Square is Beyazit Mosque, built by Sultan Beyazit II (1481 - 1512), the immediate successor of Mehmet II. Built between 1501 - 1506, it is the oldest surviving imperial mosque in the city (Fatih Mosque, built by Mehmet II, was destroyed by an earthquake in 1766 and rebuilt by architect Tahir Aga under Mustafa III (1757 - 1789)).

The columns in the courtyard are made of granite and porphyry.

(High-Res) Most likely the architect was Hayrettin or Kemalettin, but possibly the mosque is due to Yaqub-sah bin Sultansah.

Note that the minaret shafts have geometric designs in terra cotta.

(High-Res) The general layout of the mosque is inspired by Haghia Sophia, although somewhat simplified and smaller. A great central dome with east and west semidomes forms a nave with aisles on north and south.