Mosques Walking Tour (Self Guided), Istanbul

Once a citadel of Christianity, for over half a millennium now Istanbul (former Constantinople) has been a major center of Islam, replete with mosques – both, originally-built and converted from Christian churches – dotting the city scape. Whether religious or not, you may wish to explore the local mosques out of purely historical or architectural interest. In case you do, this self-guided walk will take you to some of the most prominent mosques of Istanbul.
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Mosques Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Mosques Walking Tour
Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul (See other walking tours in Istanbul)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.6 Km or 3.5 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Blue Mosque
  • Rustem Pasha Mosque
  • Suleymaniye Mosque
  • Bayezid II Mosque
  • Bodrum Mosque
  • Sehzade Mosque
  • Fatih Mosque
1
Blue Mosque

1) Blue Mosque (must see)

One of the most frequently visited and famous tourist spots in Istanbul, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque – popularly known as the “Blue Mosque” due to the blue tiles that adorn the walls of its interior – 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. Despite being a very famous tourist attraction, it still functions as a mosque, and a call for prayer (azaan) still draws the faithful to its gates from far and wide. Usually accessible 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 in the nearby vicinity. The mosque itself 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 its walls from the inside.

Why You Should Visit:
Compared to other mosques in Istanbul, this one is significantly easier to access because of its free admission and central location.
Timings are strict, a dress code is enforced and the queues are long, but the sense of tranquility that you get inside (even with crowds around) is worth it all.

Tip:
Go early to avoid queues and if you need to wait, look at the details rather than focus on the line. The details in Islamic architecture/design are what sets it apart.
Close by, there are places to eat and drink if you need sustenance after or before visiting.
You could also simply walk around it as much as you are allowed, and snap some pics.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30-11:30am / 1-2:30pm / 3:30-4:45pm (except Fridays – only at 1:30pm)
2
Rustem Pasha Mosque

2) Rustem Pasha Mosque (must see)

Built during 1561-63 and located in Eminonu, Istanbul, this is an Imperial Ottoman mosque of great significance. It was designed by the famed Imperial Architect Mimar Sinan for the Grand Vizier Damat Rüstem Pasha, husband of Princess Mihrimah, daughter of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent”.

The mosque has a large number of Iznik tiles (decorated ceramic tiles) that make it distinct from others. They are set in many floral and geometric patterns that cover not only the interior but are also found on the columns and porch outside. No other mosque in Istanbul makes use of such tiles in such a manner. The tiles used to decorate Rüstem Pasha are of the characteristic tomato-red color, which denotes 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.

Why You Should Visit:
Stunning mosque demonstrating some of the greatest Ottoman architecture and tile work of the classic period.
Tricky entrance on a 2nd floor, through a small gate and a short stair, but once you make it to the front you get fascinated.

Tip:
Entry is free, but as expected – shoes off before entering and head scarves for the women.
The mosque is right beside the Spice Market, so it's very easy to visit the two spots in one morning/afternoon.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
3
Suleymaniye Mosque

3) Suleymaniye Mosque (must see)

Built for Suleiman “The Magnificent” by the famous imperial architect Mimar Sinan in 1557, the Süleymaniye 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. Unfortunately, that restoration work had changed the mosque into a baroque-style 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 madrassa (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.

Why You Should Visit:
Great picturesque neighborhood, fewer tourists, sensational views of the city and quite a peaceful and solemn overall experience.

Tip:
To really enjoy the views, go down and find some restaurants on the rooftops of the buildings close to the mosque.
If you have trouble walking up and down, consider renting a (reliable) taxi cab or plan your ascent/descent accordingly.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
4
Bayezid II Mosque

4) Bayezid II Mosque

The Bayezid Mosque is an Ottoman imperial mosque located near the ruins of the Forum of Theodosius in Bayezid Square in Istanbul. Commissioned by the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II, it was one of the largest mosque complexes erected after the conquest of Istanbul.

The complex consists of a madrassah (Islamic school), imaret (public kitchen), shops and a hammam (Turkish bath). The shops and the kitchen were designed by famous imperial architect Mimar Sinan, and the rental proceeds from them were used to support the mosque. Presently, the kitchen premises accommodate the State Library of Istanbul.

The interior of the mosque has been fashioned after the Hagia Sophia, but on a much smaller scale. The architectural style is classic Ottoman and, unlike the Fatih Mosque – repeatedly damaged by earthquakes, the Bayezid Mosque has never undergone any major renovations, except for minor repairs to the dome and minarets done in 1573-74 following an earthquake, and also to the minarets – after a fire – in 1767.

Behind the mosque, there is a garden holding the tombs of Sultan Bayezid II, his daughter Selcuk Hatun, and Grand Vizier Koca Mustafa Resid Pasha.
5
Bodrum Mosque

5) Bodrum Mosque

Formally known as “The Church of the Monastery of Myrelaion” or “The Place of Myrrah”, the Bodrum Mosque in Istanbul used to be a cross-in-square style church. The word “bodrum” translates from Turkish as “basement” and probably refers to the crypt that is still present underneath the building. In 1500, the site was made into a mosque by Ottoman Grand Vizier, Mesih Pasa.

The mosque was damaged by fire twice, in 1784 and 1911, and was also abandoned for some time, until the 1960s when the Istanbul Archaeology Museum undertook restoration works largely replacing most of the original elements with new masonry, thus causing the mosque to lose much of its historic appearance. A cistern, also restored during the 1990s, has been converted into an underground shopping mall.

The wooden portico once present inside has been demolished in the course of many renovation attempts. None of the original mosaics and marble revetments, that used to decorate the building, remain today and the mosque itself now stands surrounded with apartment blocks. Still, regardless of all these changes, the preserved crypt and the interior, dating back to the Byzantine period, are well worth a look.
6
Sehzade Mosque

6) Sehzade Mosque

The Şehzade Cammi, or Prince Mosque in Turkish, is an Ottoman Imperial mosque found in the Fatih district of Istanbul. Sultan Suleiman I commissioned the mosque in memory of his son, Prince Mehmet, who died of small pox at the age of 21; hence the name.

The building was completed in 1548, and was the first major project of the imperial architect Mimar Sinan. It is also largely regarded by historians as the first masterpiece of Ottoman architecture created by Mimar Sinan, who went on to create many more mosques and monuments throughout the empire after that.

Other than the mosque, the Sehzade complex contains two madrassah (Islamic schools), kitchens that used to serve food to the poor, and a caravansary. The tomb of the prince himself is also located within the compound. The mosque and its courtyard are separated from the rest of the complex by a wall. The courtyard is bordered by 5 bays domed on each side. Adorning the place are white and pink marble arches. In the center of the courtyard there is an ablution fountain, a later donation by Sultan Murat IV. As to the mosque’s interior, it is rather simple and does not have any galleries.
7
Fatih Mosque

7) Fatih Mosque (must see)

The Fatih Camii (“Conqueror’s Mosque”) is one of the largest examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture in Istanbul and was built over the original site of the Church of the Holy Apostles.

Constructed during 1462-1470 by Sultan Fatih Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror), the Fatih Mosque is rather distinct in structure. It consists of a hospital, a caravansary, kitchens, a marketplace and several hammams (Turkish baths). The mosque also houses a madrassah (Islamic school) which can accommodate over 1000 students.

The Sultan wanted to make a spectacular structure and when architect Atik Sinan was unable to create a mosque higher than the Avasofya (Hagia Sophia), the Sultan ordered both his 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 complex in 1771, upon which it went under major restoration by Mustafa III. From the original compound, only the inner courtyard, the madrassah (Islamic school) and the mihrab (prayer direction niche) have survived. The mosque’s interior has many depictions of Islamic Art. Outside the mihrab wall, the tombs of Sultan Mehmet II and his wife are found.

Why You Should Visit:
Maybe the best mosque to observe the culture & architecture of conservative Turks (you won't see many non-Muslim tourists).
Surrounded by numerous shops selling spices, sweets etc. (on Wednesdays there's a big open market, too).

Tip:
Make sure to take your shoes off and wear long trousers/skirts (ladies should bring a scarf).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-6pm (closed at prayer times)

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