Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul
Guide Type: Self-guided city tour
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.2 km
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Dersaadet
Istanbul has been a center of Islam for over half a millennium. Add to the fact that it was always growing in population and wealth, and we have the reason why there are so many dazzling mosques in the city.
Tour Stops and Attractions
1) Gül MosqueGul Mosque means “The Mosque of the Rose”. This famous mosque is present in the district of Fatih, in the Ayakapi (Gate of the Saint) neighborhood in Istanbul, overlooking the Golden Horn.
Originally known as “the Church of St Theodosia” the Gul Mosque was a former Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople. It was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans during the 14th century. The Gul Mosque is one of the most important religious Byzantine structures, predating the Ottoman rule in Istanbul.
The original construction of the Church is disputed by scholars, but most agree that it was built during the 11th century. The Mosque has been renovated a few times ever since, and it was also used as a naval dockyard during the initial years of the Ottoman rule. A minaret was added to the Mosque during the reign of Salim II (1566-1574).
This was one of the most important cross-in-square churches in Istanbul. The mosque consists of a central, high dome, which was added by Ottoman rulers on top of the original construction. The mosque is still visited by worshippers, who flock to its premises during the five designated prayer times. It is open for tourists 24 hours a day, except during prayer times.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and A. Fabbretti
2) Fatih MosqueThe Fatih Camii translates to the “Conqueror’s Mosque” from the Turkish language. The Fatih Mosque is one of the largest examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture in Istanbul, and it was built over the original site of the Church of the Holy Apostles. It is an Ottoman Mosque, located in the Fatih district.
Constructed during 1462- 1470 by Sultan Fatih Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror), the Fatih Mosque is distinct in its construction. It consists of a hospital, a caravansary, kitchens, a market place and several hamams (Turkish baths). The mosque also consists of a madrassah (Islamic school) which can house over 1000 students.
The Sultan wanted to make a spectacular structure, rivaling the Avasofya Church (Hagia Sophia), and when the architect, Atik Sinan was unable to create a mosque higher than the Avasofya, the Sultan ordered both the architects hands cut off. Located atop the highest hill in Istanbul, the Fatih Mosque consists of a tall central dome, and semi domes on all four sides.
An earthquake devastated the structure in 1771, and the complex went under major restoration by Mustafa III. From the original complex, the inner courtyard, the madrassah (Islamic school) and the mirhab (prayer direction niche) survive today. The mosque’s interior has many depictions of Islamic Art. Outside the mirhab wall, tombs of Sultan Mehmet II and his wife are located.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Muscol
3) Şehzade MosqueThe Şehzade Cammi translates to the Prince Mosque from the Turkish language. This is an Ottoman Imperial mosque located in the Fatih district in Istanbul.
Sultan Suleiman I commissioned the mosque in memory of his son, Prince Mehmet, who died at the age of 21 of small pox. Hence the name of the mosque - Sehzade, or Prince. It was completed in 1548, and was the first major commission of the Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan. The mosque is still considered by historians as the first masterpiece of Ottoman architecture created by Mimar Sinan, who went on to complete many mosques and monuments after this.
The mosque complex, also called the Sehzade complex contains two madrassah (Islamic schools), kitchens which served food to the poor and a caravansary. The tomb of the prince is also located in the mosque complex. The mosque and its courtyard are separated from the rest of the complex by a wall. The courtyard is bordered by 5 bays that are domed on each side. White and pink marble arches are also present here. An ablution fountain is present in the center of the courtyard, a later donation by Sultan Murat IV. The mosque’s interior is simple, and does not have any galleries.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Darwinek
4) Yavuz Selim MosqueThe Yavuz Selim mosque is an Ottoman Imperial mosque. The mosque is also called the “Selim I Mosque”. It is located on top of the fifth hill of Istanbul, and overlooks the Golden Horn. This mosque is the second oldest imperial mosque in Istanbul, and it was completed in 1522.
The Yavuz Selim Mosque was commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan, “Suleiman the Magnificent” and was constructed by the Imperial Architect of that time. Many scholars say it was built by the celebrated Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan, but apart from a turbe (tomb), in the garden of the mosque, there is little evidence that supports this theory. The mosque is decorated by Iznik tiles (highly decorated ceramic tiles), and the Yavuz Selim mosque boasts one of the earliest examples of these tiles in Istanbul. Minarets flank the mosque on either side, and there is a large courtyard with marble and granite columns in the mosque complex.
The interior of the mosque consists of a simple room, twenty four meters on each side, and a shallow dome. The windows have spectacular displays of Iznik tiles decorating the interior of the mosque. There are four small domed rooms that used to house travelling dervishes present to the north and south of the main room.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Muscol
5) Bodrum MosqueFormally known as “The Church of the Monastery of Myrelaion” or “The Place of Myrrah”, the Bodrum Mosque used to be a cross-in-square designed church in Istanbul. Bodrum translates as “basement” from Turkish, and this probably refers to the crypt that is still present beneath the mosque. The church was converted into a mosque by Ottoman Grand Vizier, Mesih Pasa, in 1500.
The mosque was damaged by fire in 1784 and 1911 and it was also abandoned for some time, until the Istanbul Archaeology Museum tried to replace most of its architecture with masonry during the 1960s. The mosque lost some of its historic appearance due to the renovation. A cistern was also restored during the 1990s and has been converted into an underground shopping mall.
The wooden portico that was present inside the mosque has been demolished during the many restorations and renovations that mosque has undergone. None of the original mosaics and marble revetments that decorated the church remain today and the mosque is surrounded on all four sides by apartment buildings. Regardless of the many restorations the mosque has endured, its crypt and interior are still worth visiting as they date as far back as the Byzantine period.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and A. Fabbretti
6) Bayezid II MosqueThe Bayezid Mosque is an Ottoman Imperial Mosque located near the ruins of the Forum of Theodosius, at the Bayezid Square in Istanbul.
Commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan, Bayezid II, it was one of the largest mosque complexes to be erected after the conquest of Istanbul. The mosque complex consists of a madrassah (Islamic school) an imaret (public kitchen), shops and also a hammam (Turkish bath). The mosque’s architecture is that of the classic Ottoman style and unlike the Fatih Mosque, that was demolished by earthquakes, the Bayezid Mosque has not undergone any major renovations.
The famous Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan renovated the dome and minarets after an earthquake in 1573-74. Minor repairs on the minarets were also done in 1767 after a fire. Behind the mosque, there is a garden that contains the tomb of Sultan Bayezid II, his daughter Selcuk Hatun and Grand Vizier Koca Mustafa Resid Pasha.
The mosque complex consisted of shops and kitchens, designed by Mimar Sinan. The rent from the shops was taken to support the mosque. Today, the kitchens have been converted into the State Library of Istanbul. The interior of the mosque was fashioned after the Hagia Sophia, but on a much smaller scale.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Zaparojdik
7) Süleymaniye MosqueThe Süleymaniye Mosque is a 16th century mosque built by Suleiman “The Magnificent” in Istanbul in 1557. The mosque was built by the famous Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan. The mosque is modeled in part on the Hagia Sofia, and in part on a Byzantine Basilica, in order to reflect the grandeur of the city’s past architectural monuments.
In 1660, the Süleymaniye Mosque was ravaged by fire, and was restored by Mehmet IV. The restoration work was commissioned by the architect Fossati. Unfortunately the restoration changed the mosque into a baroque styled structure, and ruined the original architecture. The mosque has undergone many restorations ever since. Today it is one of the most popular tourist sites in Istanbul.
The mosque complex consists of a caravanserai, an imaret (public kitchen), a madressa (Islamic school), a hospital and a hammam (Turkish bath). The public kitchen was constructed to serve food to the poor. The gardens behind the mosque consist of Turbe (tombs) of the great Sultan Suleiman, his wife Roxelana, his mother Dilasub Saliham, his daughter Mihrimah and his sister Asiye. The tombs are fashioned on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The mosque is distinct from others as it contains the tomb of the great architect Sinan, designed by the occupant himself.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Johann H. Addicks
8) Rustem Pasha MosqueThe great Rustem Pasha Mosque is located in Hasircilar Carsisi, in Eminonu, Istanbul. This mosque is an Imperial Ottoman mosque of great significance. It was designed by the famed Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan for the Grand Viziar Damat Rustem Pasha, husband of Princess Mihrimah, daughter of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent”. It was built during 1561-1563.
The mosque has a large number of Iznik tiles (decorated ceramic tiles) that make it distinct from others. The tiles are set in many floral and geometric patterns that cover not only the interior of the mosque, but are also found on the columns and porch outside. No other mosque in Istanbul makes use of these tiles in such a manner. Tiles of the characteristic tomato-red color decorate the Rustem Pahsa Mosque, which denote the early Iznik period.
The mosque was built overlooking a vast complex of shops whose rent used to financially support the mosque complex. The main dome of the mosque rests on four semi-domes and the design of the building is that of an octagon inscribed in a rectangle. Galleries are present to the north and south of the main room, and these are supported by marble columns and pillars.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Simm
9) Blue MosqueThe Sultan Ahmed Mosque is also called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish, and is one of the most frequently visited and famous tourist spots in Istanbul. The mosque is popularly known as the “Blue Mosque” due to the blue tiles that adorn the walls of its interior.
The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616 during the reign of Ahmed the First. It contains a tomb of the Sultan, a madrassah (religious school) and also a hospice. The Blue Mosque is a very famous tourist attraction, but it still functions as a mosque, and a call for prayer (azaan) still draws the faithful to its gates from far and wide. Usually open 24 hours a day, the mosque is not open for tourists during prayer time, which is approximately half an hour, five times a day, unless they are there to pray.
Built near the Hagia Sophia, and surrounded by a popular tourist district, visitors to the mosque can enjoy several museums, cafes, restaurants and parks that are present in the nearby vicinity.
The Blue Mosque was originally built on the site of the ancient Byzantine Imperial Palace and hippodrome and took nearly seven years to complete. This masterpiece of Ottoman architecture boasts many examples of Islamic Art and calligraphy that adorn the walls of the Mosque from the inside.
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia and Kamiox
Private Tour Guides in Istanbul
Out of the Ordinary Trips in Turkey