In front of the mosque stands a wide courtyard, enclosed by an openwork wall and entered on three sides through any of eight monumental gateways with bronze doors. The marble-paved inner court, with a central domed fountain for ritual ablutions, is surrounded by an arcade of slender columns of pink granite, marble, and porphyry, each bay-roofed with a cupola. Four marble minarets with pointed spires rise from the corners of the mosque; and two others, not as tall, at the outer corners of the court make the building, with six minarets, unique in Istanbul. They have a total of sixteen balconies, from which the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer, honoring the sixteen Ottoman sultans.

Around the mosque was the extensive kulliye, a collection of buildings and functions including the Imperial Lodge (hunkar) on its north side, a hospital, a caravansary, a primary school, public kitchen and service kiosk, a bazaar for the trades guilds, two-storied shops, and a college (medrese).

The architectural excellence of the Blue Mosque lies not in its structural ingenuity, because it was in fact highly derivative, nor in its challenge to the grandeur of Hagia Sofia, because it was much smaller than the ancient church. Rather, Sultan Ahmet’s building is remarkable for the splendor of its extraordinary decoration, especially the beautiful blue tiles that give the mosque its alternative name. Daylight is admitted through no fewer than 260 carefully placed windows, once glazed with stained glass, and when conditions are right the interior of the mosque is endowed with an ethereal blue haze. These tiles—there are more than 21,000 of them—were produced in nearby Iznik just when the industry was enjoying its highest level of achievement. There is an unsubstantiated tradition that the production of so many hand-decorated tiles completely exhausted the ceramicists, and the Iznik workshops began to decline. The tiles are painted with traditional floral and plant motifs, including roses, carnations, tulips, lilies, and cypresses, all in soft shades of green and blue on a white ground, and they cover the interior walls and piers to about a third of their height. The stunning effect of tiles and light is enhanced by other decorative details, including painted floral and geometrical arabesques on the domes and upper parts of the walls, although these are now for the most part modern replicas of traditional seventeenth-century designs. The graceful calligraphy everywhere is the work of Ameti Kasim Gubari. The wooden doors and window shutters, designed by Mehmet Agha, are inlaid with shell, mother-of-pearl, and ivory, and the pulpit (mimbar) as well as the niche indicating the direction of Mecca (mihrab) are both made of white Proconnesian marble, fine examples of Ottoman stone carving.

Sultan Ahmet I died of typhus only a year after his mosque was finished, and his nearby tomb and that of his wife Kosem Sultan was completed by his son Osman II.

See also

Dome of the Rock (Qubbat As-Sakhrah); Masjed-e-Shah (Royal Mosque)

Further reading

Goodwin, Godfrey. 1971. A History of Ottoman Architecture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Stierlin, Henri, and Anne Stierlin. 1998. Turkey: From the Selçuks to the Ottoman. New York: Taschen.

Vogt-Goknil, Ulya, and Eduard Widmer. 1966. Living Architecture: Ottoman. London: Oldbourne.

Sydney Harbour Bridge


The Sydney Harbour Bridge, irreverently known as “the coat hanger” to Sydneysiders, is the largest, although not the longest, one-bow bridge in the world. It crosses from Dawe’s Point on the downtown side to Milson’s Point on the North Shore, and its realization was a remarkable economic accomplishment in the years of the Great Depression—using laborintensive technology, the project employed 1,400 men—as well as being one of the twentieth century’s major engineering feats.

Before 1932, the only connections between the city center and the residential suburbs on the North Shore were ferries or a circuitous 12-mile (20-kilometer) road route that crossed five bridges over narrow inlets of the extensive harbor. The notion of a single bridge surfaced from time to time during the nineteenth century, but serious thought was not given to the project until the 1890s. In January 1900, on the eve of the Australian Federation, the New South Wales