Although the monumental Hagia Sophia remains Istanbul’s most significant symbol, many more historic mosques exist in this centuries-old metropolis. The great shrines with soaring minarets reaching the sky are part of Turkey’s history, as turbulent as it is rich, attracting tourists worldwide.
Today, there are nearly 2,700 mosques in the city. How can you find the most valuable ones, often listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Here is a short guide to eight of the most important, and – at the same time – the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul.
This remarkable, twice-destroyed building, with its exquisitely ornate interiors, perhaps best illustrates Turkey’s turbulent history. It was originally a Byzantine church, but after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, it was converted into a mosque and enriched with four 60-metre-high minarets. In 1934, it ceased to serve a religious function and became a museum; however, this decision was overturned in 2020, and its status as a Muslim temple was restored. Nonetheless, it can still be visited, albeit outside the prayer times.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Better known as the Blue Mosque, it owes its circulating name to the more than 20,000 turquoise tiles decorating its interior. It rises opposite the Hagia Sophia and is another must-see on the map of Istanbul’s historical religious sites. Its construction began in 1609 and was intended to overshadow the neighbouring temple. The mosque boasts as many as six 64-metre-high minarets. Legend has it that the number of minarets resulted from a mistake on the part of the architect…
Another significant symbol of the city dates from the mid-16th century. It rises on a special foundation made up of cisterns filled with water. This is to ensure its resilience during earthquakes. Four minarets stand at the mosque – two 56 metres high and two taller, 74 metres high. Within the complex are the tombs of the Sultan and his wife Hürrem, known as Roxolana. The highly picturesque location of the mosque offers unforgettable views of the Golden Horn, a narrow, natural bay of the Bosphorus.
Despite its name, this temple has been towering over Istanbul for several centuries. Its construction began in 1597 and took as long as 60 years. The mosque has two 52-metre-high minarets and as many as 66 domes and half-domes. Today, this is where the highest number of worshippers in the city can be expected to attend. However, the building is not only a place of prayer, but also a cultural and social centre. It includes a primary school, a library, a hospital and the Egyptian Bazaar, where spices, sweets and other goods can be purchased.
Slightly younger, as it was built in the mid-18th century, this mosque stands next to Istanbul’s other great attraction, the Grand Bazaar, with its staggering 3,500 shops. The temple has two minarets about 60 metres high. It is the first monumental building erected in the Ottoman Baroque style, which, at the time of construction, was criticised by the Muslim clergy of the time. Between 2010 and 2012, the building underwent a major renovation at a cost of around $3.5 million.
Eyüp Sultan Mosque
One of the most important mosques for the faithful in Turkey was erected on the banks of the Golden Horn in 1458, five years after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Due to its poor condition as a result of earthquakes, the original building was demolished in 1798 and reconstructed two years later. The mosque is adorned with two soaring minarets. Although it is today a pilgrimage destination for worshippers from all over the country, it also remains open to tourists.
Today it is one of the largest mosques in Istanbul. It was built between 1463 and 1471 on the site of the Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles, erected by Constantine I. Its two minarets reach 85 metres in height. In 1766, the mosque was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake and was rebuilt five years later, albeit with a different design and at a grander scale than its predecessor. Within the complex are the tombs of the conqueror of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II, and his wife.
This unusual mosque, picturesquely located on the waters of the Bosphorus and adorned with two approximately 60-metre-high minarets, is a relatively young temple built in the mid-18th century. It is Istanbul’s pearl of eclecticism – stylised Ottoman Baroque blends here with Neoclassicism and Neo-Renaissance. The building itself, although small compared to its older counterparts, entices with one of the most beautiful marble interiors in the entire city.