The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (in Turkish Sultanahmet Camii, in English commonly called the Blue Mosque) is regarded as one of the greatest masterpieces of Islamic architecture.
The mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 by order of the Sultan Ahmed I, after whom it is named. He is buried in the mosque's precincts. It is located in the oldest part of Istanbul, in what was before 1453 the centre of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It is next to the site of the ancient Hippodrome, and a short distance from the great Christian Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia).
It is within walking distance of the Topkapi Palace, residence of the Ottoman Sultans until 1853 and only a short distance from the shore of the Bosphorus. Seen from the sea, its domes and minarets dominate the skyline of the old part of the city, as was its builders' intention.
The mosque was deliberately sited to face Hagia Sophia, to demonstrate that Ottoman and Islamic architects and builders could rival anything their Christian predecessors had created. The two buildings thus comprise a unique historical and architectural precinct.
Today Hagia Sophia is a museum, but the Mosque of Sultan Ahmed is still a place of Islamic worship. The mosque is closed to non-Muslims during prayer times, and certain areas are reserved for private prayer by Muslims. Visitors are expected to dress modestly and women to cover their heads. (As is the case in most Istanbul mosques, visitors can for a nominal fee rent cloth wraps at the entrance to cover their heads or bare limbs.) Shoes must be removed before entering. Although admission is free, all visitors are asked to make a donation on leaving to support the maintenance of the mosque.
The mosque became known in the west as the Blue Mosque because of the predominantly blue colouring of paintwork of the interior. However this blue paint was not part of the mosque's original decor so it is being removed. Today the interior of the mosque does not strike the visitor as being particularly blue.
The architect of the Sultan Ahmed, Sedefhar Mehmet Aga, was given a mandate to spare no expense in creating the most magnificent and beautiful place of Islamic worship in the world. The basic structure of the mosque is a cube measuring 64 by 72 metres. As is the case with all mosques, the cube is aligned so that when worshippers perform the Salah (Islamic prayers), they are facing Makkah (Mecca), with the mihrab or prayer niche in front of them.