See the Most Famous Mosques in Istanbul
The land of the mosques, Istanbul is home to over 3,000 mosques ranging from the small but beautiful Rüstem Pasha to the impossibly large Süleymaniye Mosque. Thanks to its rich historical, architectural and cultural past, Istanbul also has some of the greatest displays of Ottoman architecture, like the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, and Byzantine structures, like the world-famous Hagia Sophia. With a city bursting at the seams with stunning mosques, it’s hard to know which ones to visit. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the most impressive mosques in Istanbul that you don’t want to miss.
Once the largest mosque in the world, Hagia Sophia is now the most controversial. This magnificent mosque was built in 532 by the Roman Emperor Justinian with the brief that it must be “one that has never existed since Adam’s time, and one that will never exist again”. He succeeded. To this day, Hagia Sophia is one of the most famous buildings in the world and is an awe-inspiring landmark of Istanbul. However, due to the Hagia Sophia’s unfathomable size, fascinating history and popularity, this mosque has been functioning as a museum for over 80 years. Understandably, the Turks have been calling and petitioning for this magnificent building to be given back to the people and turned back into the religious building it was intended to be. However you feel about the use of this building, with its impressive size, spectacularly high domed ceilings, exquisite interior decor and warm hue, the Hagia Sophia is one of the most impressive mosques in Istanbul.
Sultan Ahmet Mosque
At the ripe age of 19, Sultan Ahmet I decided that he wanted to build a mosque that made the Hagia Sophia pale in comparison. He built his masterpiece on the opposite side of Sultanahmet Park to the ‘opposing mosque’, creating a stunning contrast between the blue and red of the two famous buildings. Whether Ahmet I succeeded in his endeavour is down to personal opinion, but there’s no denying the beauty of this impressive mosque in Istanbul. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque is often referred to as the Blue Mosque due to its unmistakable shimmering blue İznik tiles that glisten and gleam in the sun. With its undulating, voluptuous interior and grand sun-speckled interior, it’s no surprise that the Sultan Ahmet Mosque is the most photographed building in Istanbul.
The Şehzade Mosque
This shining white oasis is a pillar of beauty sitting amongst vibrant green gardens. The Şehzade Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Suleiman I after he lost his oldest son to smallpox at the age of 21. To honour his memory, Sultan Suleiman I chose Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan to design his stunning mosque and Sinan completed the build in 1548. The Şehzade Mosque is classed as Sinan’s first Ottoman masterpiece and is an interesting display of the young architect testing out different design techniques. Unlike many mosques, this white beauty is covered in elaborate patterns and geometric structures, a true creative sight to behold. Despite its seemingly inexperienced architect, the Şehzade Mosque is undoubtedly one of the most impressive mosques in Istanbul.
When the only daughter of Suleiman the Great was widowed by her husband Rüstem Paşa 1561, she decided to build a mosque in his name to honour his legacy. On top of wanting her mosque to be breathtakingly beautiful, she also wanted it to be financially sustainable and stand the test of time. So, Mihrimah Sultan decided to build the Rüstem Pasha mosque over the Grand Bazaar. A steady stream of maintenance money from the stalls below and a steady flow of visitors was guaranteed. Inside, the mosque is unlike anything even the best religious architects have seen. The Rüstem Paşa is covered with the greatest collection of Iznik’s tiles in the world. From the inside out, the top to the very bottom, this impressive mosque is covered in elaborate and colourful tiles. Shining teal, emerald, ruby red, royal purple and cobalt, you’ve never seen such a magical display of colour. This vibrant mosque definitely isn’t the grandest in Istanbul, but it’s by far the prettiest.
The second largest mosque in the city is one of the most famous sights in Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque. Built in the 16th-century by Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who also built the Şehzade Mosque years earlier, this mosque is classed as his masterpiece. Standing a towering 59 meters high and 58 meters in width, the Süleymaniye Mosque is a powerful presence that looms over the entire city. Inside, you can find the main mosque and prayer hall, a kitchen that serves food to the poor to this day, a hospital, a religion based school and a splendid bathhouse. Through the grand courtyard, in the spectacular surrounding gardens, you will find the tombs of Sultan Suleiman I, his wife, his daughter Mihrimah, his mother and his sister. Playing to his inflated ego, Sultan Suleiman I built the tombs with a layered dome structure, copying the world-famous Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Due to it’s impossibly large size and stunning design, the Süleymaniye Mosque is unquestionably one of the most impressive mosques in Istanbul.