Turkey is one of the most spiritually rich countries in the world. It is almost impossible to find yourself in Istanbul and not be gravitated towards its majestic, larger than life mosques that have hosted millions of tourists, spiritualists, and worshippers over the decades.
The country’s individuality comes from its amalgamation of Eastern and Western. This is something I wish for everyone to experience at least once in their lives. There is a distinct fusion of many different eras and empires. It is a city like no other, impossible not to fall in love with.
There are many metropolitan cities around the world but Istanbul has a unique way of making time stop for a while when you bask in its heritage. A big part of that heritage is the mosques that have gracefully adorned the city.
When people I know plan their trips to Istanbul, they are always really excited to visit the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet. I can’t help but gravitate towards these stunning mosques now that I live in Istanbul. I have taken an attraction towards exploring mosques that are not quite as well known. Some of them are not as stunning either, to be honest, but have an interesting uniqueness to them.
I have come up with a list of some of my favorite mosques to visit. Some of these are extremely well known. But there are a few that I have added as they deserve some recognition as well.
1. Buyuk Mecidiye Camii (Ortakoy Mosque)
I had not heard about this mosque when I first came to Istanbul, but I remember clearly how mesmerized I was when I first saw it aboard the ferry from Besiktas to Kadikoy.
It is located just by the Bosphorus seaside which makes it all the more stunning to look at. The white intricate structure is an absolute vision in the day when it’s surrounded by the crystal blue water. Somehow, it manages to look even prettier at night with all the city lights complimenting the structure.
The mosque is just as beautiful as it is on the outside. It was built in the 1850s by Garabet Amira Balyan and his son, Nigogayos Balyan. They have also designed the Dolmabahce Palace and Dolmabahce Mosque in Besiktas as well. It is not as big as the other mosques that were built before it, but it has a distinct beauty compared to them.
This mosque, in particular, is one of the places I recommend anyone who plans a trip here. It is the epitome of the beauty that the Bosphorus is. The mosque and the sea complement each other in a way that is both subtle but also accentuates the beauty of the other.
You can visit Ortakoy Mosque in Mecidiye. Besiktas/Istanbul.
2. Sisli Camii
Sisli Camii is probably one of the biggest mosques in a non-tourist area, which is why I think it deserves a little bit of recognition. It is not as old as most of the mosques in the list, but it does have this grit to it which is worth visiting. It takes from the classical Ottoman style architecture but was constructed in the 1940s, making it much more contemporary.
While it may not be as popular, Sisli Camii has an interesting significance. It was the first mosque to be built in Turkey after 1923, in Turkey’s Republican period. It is situated in the middle of the road, inside a walled-courtyard with a garden inside. There is also space to sit outside the mosque as well you will find birds to feed.
The mosque itself stands tall above a platform of stairs in its gray glory. Attached to the mosque is a Foundation as well that promotes not only religious education but provides scholarships to students as well.
You will find Sisli Camii in Abide-i-Hurriyet Cd. Sisli/Istanbul
3. Semsi Pasha Camii
Another stunning mosque that can not be excluded from any list is the Semsi Pasha Camii, located by the sea but it is its minimalist outlook that makes it stand out.
It is known to be one of the smallest mosques to be commissioned in what was then known as Constantinople. It was first completed in the 1580s and later reconstructed and restored more recently in the 1940s by the famous architect Sureyya Yucel.
It’s minimalistic and dainty design is utterly beautiful and should not go unnoticed when you visit Istanbul. The details of the mihrab and the dome, the arches surrounding the marbled structure are majestic.
Apart from the mosque itself, the compound has a garden as well. It surrounds the mosque facing the sea which adds to the experience of tranquility you will experience when you are there.
You will find it in Mimar Sinan Mah. Uskudar/Istanbul.
4. Sakirin Camii
I think the Sakirin Mosque is a spectacle of modern innovation in Islamic Architecture not just in Istanbul but globally. Even though it is one of the smallest mosques in the list, it is a tough contender.
It is designed by Zeynep Fadilloglu, she is probably the only woman to ever design a mosque and personally, I think that should be reason enough to go visit it.
It is a refreshing contrast from classical Mimar Sinan style architecture of the Ottoman Empire as it was built in 2009. The mosque is a modern take on divinity and spirituality. Every element has some symbolism behind the design of its placement. The droplet-shaped lights on the chandeliers are a symbolic representation of divinity from God upon his servants.
It’s intricate design and attention to detail can be seen as an ode to Ottoman style architecture but its modern dome and contemporary mihrab (pictured above) are what make it so individualistic.
It is in Barbaros, Nuhkuyusu Cd. Uskudar/Istanbul.
5. Cihangir Camii
Cihangir Camii has this sense of melancholy which can be explained when we look into its history. It is located in the area of Beyoglu, near the Galata tower. The mosque was commissioned by the emperor Suleyman and designed by Mimar Sinan in the memory of his late sons Mehmet and Cihangir who both died at a young age.
Another element that adds to this feeling of sadness when I visited the mosque for the first time was the fact that it had survived many different tragedies in its lifelike multiple fires and earthquakes.
What makes Cihangir Camii an interesting place to visit is its different style from the other mosques from the Mimar Sinan period. It’s distinct yet familiar style is mainly because it had to be changed multiple times after each tragedy. That is also why it is uncertain who the new design of the mosque belongs to.
Cihangir Mosque is located in Samanyolu Sk. Beyoglu/Istanbul.
6. Camlica Camii
This is the newest and so far the biggest mosque there is in Istanbul. It is a stunning juxtaposition of a modern yet authentic Turkish style. The mosque is every bit of extravagant as its predecessors but it is also a symbol of the new age of Turkish Islamic Architecture.
The dome of the mosque has been hand-painted, quite like the Blue Mosque’s tiles had been. But that is not the only similarity it carries. The mosque’s architecture has subtle inspirations and tributes to the older structures from the Ottoman era.
There are also subtle nods to not only the Empire but also Turkish history in general. The dome that is 72 meters from the ground is a symbolic reference to the 72 nationalities that reside in the city.
Camlica mosque is said to accommodate around 60,000-65,000 worshippers. Within the premise of the mosque are a library, an Islamic Institute, and an enormous car park.
The mosque is located in Ferah Yolu Sk. Uskudar/Istanbul
7. Yeni Camii (New Mosque)
Though not so new anymore, Yeni Camii has probably one of the most interesting histories. It has a distinct uniqueness than some of the above-mentioned structures. The construction took nearly 60 years and three architects to complete this project.
New Mosque stands beautifully by the ferry docks at the end of the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn.
The name is actually an abbreviation for New Queen Mother Mosque. The mosque was originally commissioned early in the 1590s by the mother of Sultan Mehmet III. The construction site was later only to be abandoned as a result of disputes at the time. It was picked up years later by the mother of Sultan Mehmet IV, who saw through with the completion of the construction.
Regardless of the halt of more than half a century between construction, the original architectural plans that were created in 1597-1598 were followed.
The Mosque is in Rustem Pasa, Yeni Cd. Fatih/Istanbul.
8. Eyup Sultan Camii
This is one of Turkey’s oldest and most holy places. The mosque can be traced back to the 13th century but it was rebuilt and restored to the structure that it is now in the 1800s. Every time it had to be renovated or rebuilt, the architectural style was adapted to that of the current Sultan.
It is an amalgamation of all these different Ottoman rulers’ aesthetic over the period of time. The mosque is huge! The magnitude of the structure and its enormity makes sense when you learn that it was used as the official Coronation site for the new Sultans over the course of the empire.
Another reason for the significance of this mosque is said to be its association with the last Prophet of Islam’s close friend Abu Ayyub Al Ansari. Not only is it said that the mosque is named after him but it is also believed that he is buried there as well.
You can find the mosque in Merkez Mah. Eyup/Istanbul.
9. Sulyemaniye Camii
I think if you end up in Fatih, you will run out of time but you can never run out of places to visit and things to see. Sulemaniye Mosque is one of those places.
This beautiful structure stands almost 200 feet in all its glory in classical Ottoman style architecture in Fatih. Designed by Mimar Sinan in the 1550s, it is to be acknowledged that the mosque has gone through a lot over the years. It has survived a fire and even partially collapsed after an earthquake in the 1700s. Yet it has been beautifully restored every single time. Its resilience is one of its most attractive features to many who come to see it, myself included.
The history of the mosque is reflected in its beautiful tile work inside with the tremendous dome decorated so tastefully. The massive windows allow the light to come in and illuminate the building, complemented by grand chandeliers that hang from the ceiling. There is also a gigantic courtyard surrounding by the rounded arches that are exceptionally picturesque.
The Mosque is in Sulemaniye Mah. Fatih/Istanbul
10. Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque)
To preface this, you just can not come to Istanbul and not Visit the Blue Mosque. Originally known as the Sultanahmet Camii, is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. The name comes from the blue tiles that had been used in its construction. Another interesting story associated with the name is that sailors who would come to the mosque would see the ocean-like blues reflected in the mosque.
The mosque was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I was designed by Sedefkar Mehmet Agha a pupil of the great Turkish architect, Mimar Sinan, in 1609. It is a spectacle of nearly 20,000 hand-painted tiles that adorn it but also, the mosque has restored pieces from Topkapi Palace after it burned down.
When you go to the Blue Mosque, the details and the character of the building somehow makes time stop and simply admire the stunning structure. While it is a tourist attraction and open 24 hours, it is still a functional mosque, pausing tourist activity during prayer time.
Blue Mosque is located in Sultanahmet Cd. Fatih/Istanbul.
What to Wear and What to Avoid in Istanbul Mosques?
If it is your first time in Istanbul and in a mosque, you will have to follow a dress code. It applies to both men and women. But you shouldn’t worry because it is readily available.
For women, it is mandatory to cover their heads and their legs. The mosque’s management will provide you with scarves and skirts to cover your head and legs.
Men who are wearing shorts are also advised to cover their legs. Even though most mosques do provide headscarves and skirts or kimonos, but it is better to take your own. Especially to the mosques that have a high influx of tourists on the daily.
You should also keep in mind that you will not be allowed to wear your shoes inside, so it’s best to keep a bag in handy. This way you can keep your shoes with you.