Construction of the Blue Mosque Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Constantinople’s Blue Mosque is a landmark in Ottoman architecture because of its monumental size, noted interior decoration and design, interior illumination, and six minarets. It was inspired partly by the Byzantine Empire’s sixth century church complex Hagia Sophia, also in Constantinople, and symbolizes the deep Islamic faith of the Ottomans.

Summary of Event

The Blue Mosque, built on the prominent site of the Great Palace of Byzantium near the former Hippodrome on the European side of the Bosporus, is the masterwork of Ottoman architect Mehmed Ağa Mehmed Ağa . The architect was inspired both by Byzantine emperor Justinian’s sixth century Christian church complex, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)—before the empire’s conquest by the Ottomans—and also by aspects of Sinan’s Sinan famous Süleymaniye Mosque of the sixteenth century. [kw]Construction of the Blue Mosque (1609-1617) [kw]Mosque, Construction of the Blue (1609-1617) [kw]Blue Mosque, Construction of the (1609-1617) Architecture;1609-1617: Construction of the Blue Mosque[0530] Cultural and intellectual history;1609-1617: Construction of the Blue Mosque[0530] Religion and theology;1609-1617: Construction of the Blue Mosque[0530] Organizations and institutions;1609-1617: Construction of the Blue Mosque[0530] Middle East;1609-1617: Construction of the Blue Mosque[0530] Ottoman Empire;1609-1617: Construction of the Blue Mosque[0530] Blue Mosque Architecture;Ottoman Empire

Fired by a deep religious feeling and compensating for the humiliating treaties that the young Sultan Ahmed I Ahmed I was compelled to sign with Persia and Austria, Ahmed decided to erect a complex worthy of his ancestors. The Blue Mosque, also known as the Mosque of Sultan Ahmed (Ahmediye), is the largest of all the imperial mosques and surpasses all of its predecessors in the lavishness of its decoration. Like previous imperial complexes, the Blue Mosque physically dominates the diverse social institutions attached to it.

However, the mosque’s proposed construction was protested by ulema (teachers of Islamic law), who claimed that a mosque should be built only from the spoils of conquest and not under the tight circumstances of political defeat and increasingly heavy taxation. The ulema also objected to the Blue Mosque’s six minarets because the usual four minarets were meant to symbolize the four corners of the world. They asserted that six minarets was not canonical. The mosque and its minarets would be built starting in 1609, however, in the distinctive Ottoman style of tall, tapering towers with conical tops indicating the sultan’s patronage of the mosque.

The Blue Mosque takes its name from the predominant color of its interior, namely its blue Iznik (Anatolia) tile work and blue stencils. The imperial complex—more than just a house of worship—includes three schools for religious instruction at various levels, a service kiosk, and rows of single- and double-storied shops. There is also a public bath; a soup kitchen, bakery, and larder for the poor; a hospital; fountains; and Sultan Ahmed’s imperial tomb. These civic institutions, scattered seemingly haphazardly around the southern and eastern borders of the square, show that Ottoman mosque complexes were centers not only of religious life but also of educational, charitable, social, and even commercial activity.

The mosque is surrounded on three sides by a broad, nearly square, courtyard of some 175 yards on each side. Access is provided by eight portals. The inner court is reached through three gates and surrounded in turn by domed or vaulted colonnades enclosing the courtyard. A fountain for ablutions takes up the center of the courtyard, and is surrounded by six marble columns. Of the six minarets, four have three balconies and two have two balconies each, totaling sixteen, to allow the muezzins (Muslim crier of daily prayers) to call the faithful to prayer.

Exceeding Hagia Sophia in size, the Blue Mosque proper covers an area of some 70 by 78 yards, even though its central dome is slightly smaller than Sinan’s Süleymaniye or Selimiye Mosques. This central dome is supported by four corner arches with corner pendentives, which are in turn set on four large round and fluted piers about 1.75 yards in diameter. Four semidomes, one on each side of the central dome, and small cupolas in the corners complete the roof system of the mosque. It is this construction of semidomes and turrets that reaches a climax with the major dome from all four sides. Another original feature of the mosque is the 260 windows allowing light to enter the interior. Some of the Venetian glass through which the light filtered in was later replaced to generate even more illumination.

The walls and piers are covered with glazed earthenware for one-third of their height to the level of the upper consoles. A total of 21,043 tiles were used, producing the bluish hue. The glazed earthenware bears floral motifs of various colors on white background, suggesting architect Mehmed Ağa’s skill as an inlayer as well. The calligraphy of Qur՚ānic verses and professions of faith was created by Ahmeti Kasim Gubari Ahmeti Kasim Gubari , considered the greatest calligrapher of the time. Additionally, there are bronze and wooden decorations. Eight volumes of records meticulously kept track of the cost of construction materials and other expenses.

Significance

Grand royal complexes like the Blue Mosque completed (in 1617) in the postclassical period after 1600 would become rare. Political instability, military reverses, and economic setbacks—already evident under Ahmed I—all served to limit the number and size of new imperial mosques through most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the meantime, however, the Blue Mosque came to be considered the first mosque of the Ottoman Empire, the people’s favorite with its oversized courtyard, the largest in the land. During its construction, the entire output of the tile factories in Iznik was used in the mosque’s decoration, even though much of what looks like tiles is in fact stencil work. The construction of the mosque involved so much material that it used up the empire’s entire production of stone and marble, in addition to available tiles. Still, various construction materials were plundered from other buildings.

Critics are divided in their evaluation of the complex. Some see it as comparable to the magnificence of the Byzantine Hagia Sophia, while others highlight its lack of originality (even monotony), the mosque’s heavy handed interior, and the garishness of the altered lighting arrangement. Still others view its external profile as the most successful pyramidal composition of all the great Ottoman mosques, with the large dome cascading into smaller ones. To many visitors, the Blue Mosque is one of the most noteworthy of Constantinople’s landmarks.

It is paradoxical that Sultan Ahmed I, during whose tenure the Ottoman Empire had already seen its peak, was to order the construction of one of Constantinople’s most distinctive monuments. Furthermore, the great Sinan’s “pupil,” Mehmed Ağa, should have come to equal his former master in building skills even though Mehmed Ağa paid his former mentor the highest of compliments when he replicated his vaulting scheme for the Sehzade Mosque. A final seeming contradiction is that Atatūrk (1881-1938), the founder and hero of modern republican Turkey in the 1920’, who espoused secularism, should have been unable to diminish the symbolic significance of this or any other mosque, having to resign himself into converting Hagia Sophia from a mosque into a museum in 1934. The Blue Mosque, however, remains a “working” mosque but is open to visitors.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aksit, Ilhan. Treasures of Istanbul. Istanbul: Haset Kitabevi Tunel, 1982. This handsomely illustrated survey by a Turkish archaeologist includes a chapter entitled “The Mosque and Tomb of Sultanahmet,” stressing the beauty of the Blue Mosque.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bierman, Irene A., et al., eds. The Ottoman City and Its Parts: Urban Structure and Social Order. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Aristide D. Caratzas, 1991. A collaborative work by Islamic, Ottoman, and art historians, pointing to the role of Ottoman Islam in architecture, urban development, and civic life. Illustrations, including the plan of the Blue Mosque complex, glossary, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Frishman, Martin, and Hasan-Uddin Khan, eds. The Mosque: History, Architectural Development, and Regional Diversity. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1994. Chapter 8 by Gulru Necipoglu, “Anatolia and the Ottoman Legacy,” compares the Blue Mosque with others in the classical and postclassical period (pre- and post-1600). Bibliography, glossary, chronology, illustrations, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodwin, Godfrey. A History of Ottoman Architecture. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1987. An authoritative work that includes one of the best illustrated descriptions of the Blue Mosque. Glossary, bibliography, illustrations, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goodwin, Godfrey. Sinan: Ottoman Architecture and Its Values Today. London: Saqi, 1993. Goodwin suggests the architectural training that Sinan gave to Mehmed Ağa is evident in a number of the Blue Mosque’s features. Illustrations, glossary, notes, maps, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Macauley, David. Mosque. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. A simple but graphic description of how, why, and by whom Ottoman mosque complexes were built up to the seventeenth century. Well illustrated in color (including the blue Iznik tiles that decorate the Blue Mosque) and includes a glossary.
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