The Blue Mosque in Istanbul, or the Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish, is a main attraction for most tourists visiting this city.
One of the most unforgettable experiences in any major Muslim nation for tourists is the call to prayer that is broadcast through the city via loudspeakers from the mosque's minarets. Always done in Arabic, the daily calls to prayer from the Blue Mosque are especially enchanting and memorable.
Unlike the historical Aya Sofia Museum just across the street, the Blue Mosque still functions as a working mosque. Because of this, there are a few things you should know before going, such as dress code, times to visit, etc.
Before I give you these tips, please know that the mosque is very welcoming of non-Muslim visitors and we were surrounded by many other non-Muslims when we went, even during Ramadan. Do not feel discouraged in anyway from visiting this mosque as it is a must-see when in Istanbul! We have been to countries in which mosques are closed to non-Muslims, and it is excellent that Turkey sees the benefit in sharing its beautiful architecture and religious culture with foreigners.
1. Times to Visit
The first thing you need to know about visiting the mosque is that it is closed to visitors (anyone visiting the mosque who isn't going to pray) during the five prayer times for about 90 minutes. These times can vary day to day because the Muslim call to prayer depends on astronomical calculations, which don't always follow with modern time-keeping. The times are roughly sunrise, midday, mid-afternoon, dusk, evening. When we went, the times were around 8am-9:30am, 12noon-1:30pm, 4pm-5:30pm, 8pm-9:30pm, and 10pm-11:30pm. They are also closed for two hours in the afternoon on Fridays, the religious day. We also happened to be visiting during Ramadan, or Ramazan as it's known in Turkey, but other than a large number of attendees during prayer times, there was no difference for non-Muslim visitors.
The best way to plan around closing times is to do a quick online search for local prayer times before planning your visit to the mosque. You'll know the mosque is closing because of course you'll hear the call to prayer on the loudspeaker, but check ahead of time so that your visit isn't cut short. We made the mistake of showing up twice just as the mosque was closing for prayer time, and eventually we made solid plans to visit around these closing times after looking them up.
2. Dress Code
If you need reassurance that non-Muslim visitors are welcome to the Blue Mosque, then you should be pleased to see the set-up they provided for those who didn't prepare for the strict dress-code!
There are numerous signs about dress code before actually entering the mosque. Remember, there are three main "parts" to the building, including an outer garden, an inner court, and the actual mosque.
Praying Muslims and visitors both enter through the court, but once in the court, there is a separate entrance for visitors. All of the entrances are clearly marked in English. Once a visitor enters the side-entrance, there is a little stall that provides scarves, skirts, and other coverings to those who need it.
The basic rules are as follows: women and men should not show their shoulders or their legs, and women should cover their heads.
If you didn't bring a scarf, they will provide one to you. If you wore shorts or capris, both men and women will be provided with a large skirt. The skirts are very stretchy at the waist so you don't need to worry about sizes. In some cases, dresses are also provided to some people to cover their entire outfit. The staff at the dress code stall will answer any questions for you and let you know what coverings you will need!
Before entering, you will be given a plastic bag and asked to remove your shoes, as shoes are not allowed in a place of worship. I planned ahead and brought socks, since I was wearing sandals. There are cubby holes to place your shoes while you walk around and take pictures. When exiting the mosque, you will drop off any borrowed coverings in a bin.
The etiquette inside the mosque is pretty simple, and standard in any place of worship.
You can take pictures of the beautiful surroundings, but it is expected that you avoid taking pictures of anyone in prayer or worship. It is also expected that you are non-disruptive, and do not run, or make loud noises. Children should be kept close and supervised.
4. Be Aware of Scammers!
Our first time entering the Blue Mosque gates, we were a little hesitant, and we must have stood out, as all first-time visitors do. Because of this, we were targeted by those pesky and obnoxious salesmen that loiter around the garden and courtyard.
They approach you right away, and come off seeming very helpful. They are usually wearing white collared shirts, and look as though they work at the mosque. They are quick to tell you if you're not in the right dress code or if you are visiting during prayer times. If you arrive during prayer times, they are ready to take you to their carpet or souvenir shop until the mosque opens to visitors again.
They can be harmless, but to be on the safe side, politely but firmly thank them and be on your way. Tell them you are aware of the dress code and the prayer times. Remember, you don't need to be in the mosque dress code unless actually inside the mosque. You are free to walk around the garden and courtyard dress as is.
They are more of a nuisance than a threat, but you never know who you might encounter and where they might take you, so it's best to just seem confident, smile, thank them, and be on your way. If you have any questions, find an attendant at one of the entrances or exits for help.
I hope these tips help prepare you for a smooth visit to this awesome and remarkable building! Do you have any other concerns or questions before visiting? If you've been to the Blue Mosque, what is something memorable from your visit? Comment below!