14 August 2013 by Luke McCormick
Istanbul is the exotic hub where East meets West and ancient collides with modern. Formerly called Constantinople, this vibrant, evolving city straddles the Bosphorus and is Turkey's modern face. Yet it is also home to architecturally wonderful mosques and sites such as Aya Sofia, a cathedral built by the Romans and converted into a mosque by the conquering Ottomans.
Base yourself in the city for several days as part of a tailor-made trip to explore Turkey or as a start point for travelling to Bodrum or touring Western Anatolia for instance. Whilst there, of course, take time to discover Istanbul's incredible mosques, but make sure to also see the Topkapi Palace and browse the intoxicating Grand Bazaar.
Located on the Third Hill of Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque is actually the largest mosque in the city and provides a magnificent focal point from throughout the city. Although not the largest mosque, it certainly is the most impressive. The gardens and grounds of the mosque are a delight to wander around, while inside the architecture is pleasing in its simplicity.
Although the Hagia Sophia is now a museum, no list of Istanbul's best mosques would be complete without it. This former Greek Orthodox basilica was originally constructed in 537 and was the world's largest Christian church for almost a thousand years. It briefly became a Roman Catholic Cathedral in the 1200s before later serving as an imperial mosque until it was closed in 1935, almost 14 centuries after its founding. It features an enormous dome and some stunning Byzantine mosaics.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Popularly known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that adorn the walls of its interior, this historical mosque is certainly a site to behold. Unlike the nearby Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque is an active centre of worship and so is closed to visitors during the five daily prayer services.
Located in the Eminönü district near the spice market and with wonderful views across the Bosporus to Galata, this popular mosque is a lovely diversion. Also known as Yeni, or the Mosque of the Valide Sultan, it is built in the Ottoman imperial style.
The Ortaköy Mosque, or Büyük Mecidiye Camii, is stunningly situated on the banks of the Bosporus Strait beneath the enormous Bosporus Bridge. The best time to visit is in the evening when it dazzles magnificently below the glittering bridge. The upmarket area surrounding the mosque is full of great restaurants, bars, hotels and shops.