Do you want a taste of history, culture, and art for free? All are available at any mosque in Istanbul. Although it’s free, you don’t need to make any advance reservations; you may not be permitted during prayer times. It may be best to visit at least 30 minutes after the Ezan (call to prayer). You should avoid Friday mornings/early afternoons.
To plan your visit, you can learn the daily prayer times for Istanbul here.
As a place of religious worship, you will need to adhere to strict etiquette rules. It’s inappropriate to walk in front of a person while they’re praying. You can photograph anything, but you mustn’t use flash, and you must ask permission before you take photographs of people. Do not photograph people while they’re praying.
Dress modestly: for men, that means shorts beneath the knees, a t-shirt, and you should remove hats when in front of an altar. For women: you should cover your head, chest, legs, and shoulders. You can borrow a headscarf and a wrap to cover your hair and legs.
You will need to remove your shoes. You’ll carry it around with you in a plastic bag while you walk inside. Consequently, there may be a queue of people removing their shoes.
How many mosques are there in Istanbul?
There are a total of 3365 mosques in Istanbul.
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The list of most popular mosques in Istanbul:
1. Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii)
Sultanahmet is the Great Mosque of the classic period. Ahmed I built this lovely Mosque next to Hagia Sophia after losing a battle with the Persians to reassert his power. It is also near Topkapı Palace. One of the many mosques embedded in the city skyline, this is the pinnacle of two centuries of Ottoman architecture.
One of the most beautiful mosques in Turkey, Sultan Ahmet paid for an extra minaret in Mecca to avoid being accused of arrogance for building a mosque that rivals the first one. It’s made in such a manner that the sultan has to lower his head as he enters the Mosque.
This Mosque and its neighborhood are on the UNESCO World Heritage Site lists. This huge Mosque was built by a student of the chief architect of the Ottoman period, Mustafa Agha. The interior is decorated with 20,000 Iznik Tiles: white, green, and blue. The blue tiles are the reason why it is called The Blue Mosque.
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2. Hagia Sophia Mosque (Ayasofya Camii)
Originally built as a Greek Patriarchal Cathedral, it was the largest cathedral of the time. That was until the capital of the Byzantine Empire was captured by the Ottoman conquest. Istanbul then became the largest city in the Muslim Ottoman Empire. Consequently, the cathedral was converted into one of the prominent mosques in Istanbul with four minarets to reflect the religion of the empire. It was the first of the religious buildings to contain Byzantine elements.
In 1935, the Republic Period, this spot was transformed into a museum. Controversially, in 2020, it was converted again into a mosque in Istanbul. This means that it’s free to enter.
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3. Chora Mosque (Kariye Camii)
This building has a similar fate to the previous entry. It was built in the 4th century. It was turned into a mosque in the 1500s, a museum in 1945, and, again in 2020, it was a mosque again.
The Byzantium Empire’s influences are visible because the interior was uncovered and restored. Interior walls still have their mosaics which are covered during worship. The mosaics survived because they were covered with plasters instead of being removed.
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4. Süleymaniye Mosque
Süleymaniye Mosque contains classic Ottoman architecture as it was built by the chief architect of that era, Mimar Sinan. This spot was a significant influence on Sultanahmet. Interestingly, the Suleymaniye mosques’ red Dome may have started life as blue like Sultanahmet. It also has typical features of Muslim Architecture.
Süleymaniye Mosque was built in the 1550s and was the largest Mosque in Istanbul before Çamlıca Mosque was built in 2019. Süleymaniye Mosque has extensive views of the city around the Golden Horn. The tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent, Hurrem Sultan, and the architect Mimar Sinan lies near.
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5. New Mosque (Yeni Camii)
A great example of the Sultanate of Women Period, the construction of this cultural artifact started with one lady and ended with another. It was finished as an act of charity, so the Iznik tiles inside are inferior to other mosques.
Close to the Spice Bazaar, which was constructed to help pay for the costs of this mosque complex.
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6. Rüstem Pasha Mosque
Built in the Ottoman era by the chief architect Mimar Sinan. It was named for the son-in-law and Grand Vizier of Sultan Suleiman. It’s worth a visit as it deviates from traditional Islamic Architecture because it focuses on the inside rather than the exterior.
Instead of a minimalistic approach, there’s a great use of Iznik Tiling. If you do decide to visit, you may also want to pay a visit to the Ali Pasha mosque as well (see below).
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7. Fatih Mosque
Built during the 1460s, and named after Mehmed the Conquerer, we owe its architecture to the Greek Atik Sinan. It is emulative of Hagia Sophia, yet it’s closer to Iranian Architecture than Byzantinian.
This is the oldest and was one of the biggest until Süleymaniye Mosque. It retains its original design despite being reconstructed in 1776 after being ruined in an earthquake.
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8. Ortaköy Mosque (Büyük Mecidiye Camii)
The architects of this splendid mosque were the Armenian Baylan Family. You may recognize them as the architects that built Dolmabahçe Palace. It was commissioned by Sultan Abdulmecid in the 1850s, and it contains his calligraphy.
The neo-baroque style is spellbinding when lit up at night. The inside has light refracted from the water. It may not be the largest in the city, but it’s absolutely breathtaking.
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9. Eyüp Sultan Mosque
This is considered one of four sacred spots (after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem). Initially built in 1458, five years after Constantinople became Istanbul, it was rebuilt by Sultan Selim in the 1700s as it was in ruins by then. Supposedly this is the spot where Ayub Al-Ansaris is buried. Further, the traditional coronation ceremony was held when the new ruler of the Ottomans was given the sword of Osman.
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10. Arab Mosque
Originally a Roman Catholic Church in 1325, which was built near a chapel built in 1233. The Ottomans transformed this spot into a mosque in the 1470s. This spot was given to the Arab Muslims expelled from Andalucia in 1492. That’s where the name comes from.
Considering its history, it’s no wonder that it has an early Italian Gothic style with lancet windows and a bell tower – which was transformed into a minaret. This is the only Mosque in Istanbul that began life as from Roman Catholic Church. The others were all Byzantine Orthodox Churches. Several Genoise tombstones, found during reconstruction, are now on display at the Archeological Museum.
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11. Yıldız Hamidiye Mosque
This place is considered the last great Mosque commissioned by a member of the Royal Family. It is also one of the most beautiful mosques where an attempted assassination occurred. The commissioner, Abdulhamid II, was almost murdered in front of the neo-Gothic and Ottoman-style house of worship.
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12. Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque (Kılıç Ali Paşa Camii)
When Kılıç Ali Paşa commissioned Mimar Sinan to build a mosque, Rüstem Pasha said that the famous sailor should build his Mosque on the sea. Instead of being insulted, Ali Pasha’s House of Worship was built on an artificial island, and it was on the sea. Now it is set back from the water as future generations have developed the island.
Originally an Italian, Ali Pasha went from slave to admiral. He was represented as Oggiali in Cervantes ‘Don Quixote’. Unlike the other beautiful mosques in Istanbul, this one is not inspired by Hagia Sophia. Instead, it is a scaled replica. You may also want to spend some time in the lovely Turkish Bath that has been restored.
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13. Beyazıt Mosque
The second large imperial mosque complex was to be built after the conquest of Constantinople.
Beyazıt is an important cultural asset. Built near the ruins of the Forum of Theodosis, one of its many architects also constructed the previous Fatih mosque. There is now a Museum of Turkish Hammam Culture in the Turkish Bath section. The Istanbul Municipal Library is located in one of the former madrasah (schools).
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14. Nuruosmaniye Mosque
Named the Light of the Osman due to the large windows, which create incredibly lighting inside. The calligraphy reflects the “Verse of Light” from the Qu’ran, and its crescents are made from stone, not bronze. It is on the tentative list of World Heritage Sites.
Near the Grand Bazaar, this is one of the many mosques in Istanbul with an Ottoman Baroque design.
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15. Çamlıca Mosque
As part of the MegaProject plan by the Turkish Govt, this Mosque was designed by two female architects and was opened in 2019. It’s inspired by the most beloved architects, and it has classical Ottoman architecture.
It has an art gallery, library, childcare spaces, and conference halls. The women’s section is as lovely as men’s. It is now the biggest Mosque of Istanbul to date. One can see the Suleymaniye Mosque from here. It has six minarets to represent the six articles of Islamic Faith.
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16. Şakirin Mosque
Built by a private foundation (Şakir) in 2009 in the memorial of Ibrahim and Semiha Şakir. It is the most carbon-neutral Mosque in Turkey. It is also the first Mosque with a woman designer in modern Turkey.
The decoration has a touch of Seljuk art, and the large, waterdrop glass chandelier is breathtaking. The symbol denotes that “Allah’s light should fall on worshipers like rain.” The women’s section is just as lovely as the men’s section.
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17. Mihrimah Sultan Mosque
Another one of Sinan’s designs but this time for the daughter of Suleiman I. She has two. One for when the sun goes down (Edirne) and one for when the moon rises (Üsküdar). This symbolizes her name of “sun and moon.”
The Dome is 37 meters in height, and the hundreds of windows make this Mosque one of the brightest. There is lovely Mother of Pearl decorations on the main gate of the Edirne mosque. It also has a working Turkish bath.
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