Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Istanbul, Turkey

The deeply religious Ottoman sultan of Istanbul Ahmet I (reigned a.d. 1603–1617) was enthroned at the age of fourteen. Six years later he commissioned his architect Sedefkar Mehmet Agha to build a mosque that would compete for size and splendor with the sixth-century Byzantine church of Hagia Sofia. A site was chosen facing the church across what is now Sultanahmet Square, and Ayse Sultan, whose palace stood on it, was duly compensated for its demolition. Construction started in 1609 on the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, probably the greatest achievement of Ottoman architecture.

Its architect had been a pupil of Sinan, considered by many to be the best architect of the early Ottoman Empire. Mehmet Agha worked in the tradition of his former master, and one of the precedents for his design was Sinan’s Suleymaniye Mosque (1550—1557) on the west bank of the Golden Horn. The other was Hagia Sofia itself, on which the Suleymaniye Mosque was based anyway. All, Islamic or Christian, grew around the same major element: an almost square, vast central space crowned with a dome. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque occupies an area of 209 by 235 feet (64 by 72 meters). Its central dome, 77 feet (23.5 meters) in diameter and reaching a height of 140 feet (43 meters), is carried on pendentives above four pointed arches, themselves supported on round, fluted piers. The central structure is stiffened by a hemidome on each of its four sides and by cupola-covered piers at the corners; then, in the manner of much Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, the loads and thrusts are transmitted to the ground by a cascade of flanking ancillary structures.

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Sultan Ahmet (Blue) Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey; Sedefkar Mehmet Agha, architect, 1609–1616. Aerial view.