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Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey


The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Turkish: Sultanahmet Camii) is a mosque in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey and the capital of the Ottoman Empire (from 1453 to 1923). The mosque is one of several mosques known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah and a hospice. The Sultan Ahmed Mosque has become one of the greatest tourist attractions of Istanbul.


After the humiliating Peace of Zsitvatorok and the unfavourable result of the wars with Persia, Sultan Ahmed I decided to build a large mosque in Istanbul to placate Allah. This would be the first imperial mosque in more than forty years. Whereas his predecessors had paid for their mosques with their war booty, Sultan Ahmed I had to withdraw the funds from the treasury, because he had not won any notable victories. This provoked the anger of the ulema, the Muslim legal scholars.
The mosque was to be built on the site of the palace of the Byzantine emperors, facing the Hagia Sophia (at that time the most venerated mosque in Istanbul) and the hippodrome, a site of great symbolic significance. Large parts of the southern side of the mosque rest on the foundations, the vaults and the undercrofts of the Great Palace. Several palaces, already built on the same spot, had to be bought (at considerable price) and pulled down, especially the palace of Sokollu Mehmet Pasa, and large parts of the Sphendone (curved tribune with U-shaped structure of the hippodrome).


Construction of the mosque started in August 1609 when the sultan himself came to break the first sod. It was his intention that this would become the first mosque of his empire. He appointed his royal architect Sedefhar Mehmet Aga, a pupil and senior assistant of the famous architect Sinan as the architect in charge of the construction. The organization of the work was described in meticulous detail in eight volumes, now in the library of the Topkapi Palace. The opening ceremonies were held in 1617 (although the gate of the mosque records 1616) and the sultan was able to pray in the royal box (hünkâr mahfil). But the building wasn't finished yet in this last year of his reign, as the last accounts were signed by his successor Mustafa I.
The design of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development. It is the last great mosque of the classical period. The architect has ably synthesized the ideas of his master Sinan, aiming for overwhelming size, majesty and splendour, but the interior lacks his creative thinking.


Mehmet Pasa used large quantities of materials for the construction, in particular stone and marble, draining away supplies for other important works. The layout of the mosque is irregular, as the architect had to take into account the existing constraints of the site. Its major façade, serving as the entrance, faces the hippodrome. The architect based his plan on the ?ehzade Mosque (1543-1548) in Istanbul, the first major large-scale work of Sinan, with the same square-based symmetrical quatrefoil plan and a spacious forecourt. This prayer hall is topped by an ascending system of domes and semi-domes, each supported by three exedrae, culminating in the huge encompassing central dome, which is 23.5 meters in diameter and 43 meters high at its central point. The domes are supported by four massive piers that recall those of the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, another masterpiece of Sinan. It is obvious that Mehmet Pasa was overcautious by taking this inflated margin of safety, damaging the elegant proportions of the dome by their oppressive size. These "elephant feet" consist of multiple convex marble grooves at their base, while the upper half is painted, separated from the base by an inscriptive band with gilded words. Seen from the court, the profile of the mosque becomes a smooth succession of domes and semi-domes. The overall effect of the exterior on the visitor is one of perfect visual harmony, leading the eye up to the peak of the central dome.


The façade of the spacious forecourt was built in the same manner as the façade of the Süleymaniye Mosque, except for the addition of the turrets on the corner domes. The court is about as large as the mosque itself and is surrounded by a continuous, rather monotonous, vaulted arcade (revak). It has ablution facilities on both sides. The central hexagonal fountain is rather small in contrast with the dimensions of the courtyard. The monumental but narrow gateway to the courtyard stands out architecturally from the arcade. Its semi-dome has a fine stalactite structure, crowned by a rather small ribbed dome on a tall drum.


A heavy iron chain hangs in the upper part of the court entrance on the western side. Only the sultan was allowed to enter the court of the mosque on horseback. The chain was put there, so that the sultan had to lower his head every time he entered the court in order not to get hit. This was done as a symbolic gesture, to ensure the humility of the ruler in the face of the divine.

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is one of the two mosques in Turkey that has six minarets, the other is in Adana. When the number of minarets was revealed, the Sultan was criticized for presumption, since this was, at the time, the same number as at the mosque of the Ka'aba in Mecca. He overcame this problem by paying for a seventh minaret at the Mecca mosque.
Four minarets stand at the corners of the mosque. Each of these fluted, pencil-shaped minarets has three balconies (?erefe) with stalactite corbels, while the two others at the end of the forecourt only have two balconies.


Until recently the muezzin or prayer-caller had to climb a narrow spiral staircase five times a day to announce the call to prayer. Today a public address system is used, and the call can be heard across the old part of the city, echoed by other mosques in the vicinity. Large crowds of both Turks and tourists gather at sunset in the park facing the mosque to hear the call to evening prayers, as the sun sets and the mosque is brilliantly illuminated by coloured floodlights.

 

 

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