The mosques of Istanbul are magnificent and numerous. More than 3000 mosques dot the city with their domes and minarets. Some are pretty, some are functional, and some are simply breathtaking. Here we have a list of the top 10 mosques to visit in Istanbul. While you visit each one, be sure to check out some of the features that are consistent from one to the other: the courtyards are often quite magnificent, and many offer a fountain for ablutions that is just as ornate as the mosque itself. Inside the mosque there is always a mihrab – a semicircular niche that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca – and it is usually very ornately decorated with tiles, mosaics, or gold. Oftentimes, the sultan or noble who ordered the mosque built is buried in the gardens of the mosque, and their tombs are also very ornate and quite beautiful.
10. Ortakoy Mosque
Ortakoy Mosque is a small mosque on the banks of the Bosphorus, near the Bosphorus bridge which connects Asia and Europe. Built in 1854 by Nikogos Balyan, it is Neo-Baroque in style with large windows in the ornate exterior. The interior is small, and fairly plain, although it has a pink-hued mosaic on the interior of the dome. Two minarets with ornate balconies flank the mosque. It is frequently seen in photographs to show the dichotomy of old versus new in Istanbul.
9. Beyazid II Mosque
The Beyazid II mosque was built in 1506, required repairs to the dome after an earthquake in 1509, and each of the minarets had to be replaced after separate fires in 1683 and 1764. Some of the stones used to build the mosque were acquired from the nearby Roman Forum of Theodosius, including the pavement in the large courtyard and the pillars of the ablution fountain. The interior design of the mosque borrows heavily from the style of the Hagia Sophia.
8. Sehzade Mosque
Sehzade Mosque, or the “Prince’s Mosque” was built in memory of the son of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, Prince Mehmed, who died unexpectedly at the age of 21. The first large mosque built by imperial architect Mimar Sinan, it was built between 1543 and 1548 in the classic Ottoman style. The minarets are particularly beautiful with bas relief carvings and inlaid terracotta tiles. The tombs of Prince Mehmed and his siblings are located in the grounds of the mosque.
7. Rustem Pasha
Rustem Pasha has an absolutely beautiful interior. Decorated with Iznik tiles, the floral and geometric patterns of blue, turquoise and white on the walls are quite striking. The tiles actually show the progression of colours in the ceramics coming out of the town of Iznik, with sage green and purple taking over from the original blue and turquoise, and then finally the addition of tiles with a tomato red and an emerald green. The mosque was built between 1561 and 1563, and is considered one of the finest examples of this type of decoration in all of Istanbul. This is another mosque designed by imperial architect Mimar Sinan.
6. Aziz Mahmud Hüdayi Mosque
The Aziz Mahmud Hudayi Mosque is in the Uskudar section of Istanbul. Built in 1594, these days it is famous not for its minaret, dome, or interior decorations, but for the Imam who opens the doors of the mosque to the local stray cats. Cats are a revered animal in Islam, and are admired for their cleanliness. There is a story of Mohammed foregoing the use of his coat as his cat was sleeping on it. Imam Mustafa Efe started letting the cats into the mosque in the winter of 2014 to save them from the cold, and they have been welcome at prayers ever since.