Istanbul’s Blue Mosque and Creating Unique Travel Moments

Blue Mosque Istanbul Turkey

We were in Istanbul for a brief two-day visit, one of many stops on a cruise of the Mediterranean. We frankly didn’t have high expectations for the city before arriving in the Bosporus, but we quickly learned that Istanbul is one of the most amazing cities in the world.

One of the moments that transformed our visit into a favorite travel experience was our time spent at the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul’s skyline is dominated by two important buildings, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. While the Hagia Sophia is no longer used for religious purposes, the Blue Mosque is very much an active place of worship.

Approaching the Mosque with the throngs of tourists, I had no intention of staying for the impending afternoon prayer. Rather, I was just curious to tour the building and take note of the rich and vibrant interior design. Our traveling companions though insisted we stay and curious about the experience, we acquiesced.

It was my first time attending a Muslim prayer service and I was nervous. I don’t know why I was anxious, maybe it was my preconceived notions, the fact that I’m American, or what, but I was extremely hesitant. I also had no idea what to do. The front prayer area was roped off leaving a middle section in which visitors had congregated for the service. I noticed several other tourists taking a seat on the floor waiting for the service to begin and I followed suit.

The muezzin’s chants bellowed from atop the Mosque and you could hear the amplified voice reverberate throughout the nearby neighborhood. I’ve heard the call to prayer many times, but it was my first time experiencing it from within a Mosque. The muted chant acted as a siren’s cry, with dozens of men responding by dashing through the doors of the Mosque, removing their shoes and proceeding to the prayer area.

The imam led the service, but I have no idea what was said. I was more interested in watching the people and their responses. After just a few minutes the imam had finished, led the penitent throngs through a series of prayers and that was it. All in all it had lasted barely twenty minutes, a remarkably short time from someone who comes from a Christian background.

Blue Mosque Istanbul Turkey

We shuffled out of the Blue Mosque along with the hundreds of worshipers, looking back at the intricate beauty of the edifice itself. At first I wasn’t entirely sure what I had accomplished or learned by sitting through the service. I was uncomfortable, I couldn’t understand anything and no one volunteered to help clarify anything we witnessed. But in the days and weeks that followed, I found myself thinking back to that day more and more often.

Whether I realized it or not, that brief service helped me grow intellectually and emotionally. I was nervous about it because I had stereotypes in mind and was frankly worried about the unknown. Living in Washington, DC especially, the daily news is filled with the dangers of Muslim extremism found in mosques and madrasses around the world, and that was the image I allowed to color my traveling experience. By seeing how normal and even boring the service was, it humanized an entire city for me, making it more personal and instantly more relatable.

People ask me why I travel abroad so often and why I don’t just spend my time touring around the U.S. instead. It’s a valid question really, I haven’t spent as much time traveling around my own country as perhaps I should. But the foundation of my wanderlust isn’t just to go see cool new sights and eat delicious foods, it’s an intellectual exercise. Traveling, for me at least, opens a vast classroom giving me opportunities to learn about people around the world that no other resource can offer. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but visiting the Blue Mosque was a quintessential travel experience for me and defines the importance of creating unique travel moments.

What have been some of your keystone or important travel moments/revelations?

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

12 Responses

  1. Andi

    What an awesome travel experience!

    Reply
  2. Emily

    I went to Istanbul last year and was also blown away by the mosques. They are just so architecturally magnificent. I didn’t attend a service at the Blue Mosque–I didn’t know that if I was allowed to–but I went in once one of the prayer sessions was done (though there were still a few men praying). It was pretty incredible. So was Hagia Sophia! Very cool that you got to sit in and observe.

    Reply
  3. Natalie

    A wonderful post and one that should be published in main stream media. I have noticed that a lot of western people who have negative things to say about mosques etc, have never even been in one.

    The Blue Mosque in my experience is one of the greatest I have ever seen. Watching the prayer time is humbling, even if you do not understand it. Perhaps it was uncomfortable because you were so far out of your comfort zone, however you reflected back on it and I think judging from your words, you may not be comfortable with it now but you are accepting of the experience.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      absolutely and I would attend again in a heartbeat. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  4. Yasemin

    I read this and impressed, I am from Istanbul, I’m not a muslim, actually an atheist but still, it’s wonderful to read that one less person realized not all the muslims are extremist. I hope that your review will help spread the word.

    Reply
  5. Gorilla Safaris in Uganda

    Turkey is definitely on my list of places i must visit at some point. This is beautiful.

    Reply
  6. Robin

    I came out of the Blue Mosque with a feeling I’d been in a holy place. I wasn’t there during a service but I lingered to soak up the feeling and I felt moved and changed after the experience.

    Reply
  7. soloadventurer

    Thanks for the great post! I’m heading to Turkey in May and the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are definitely top of the lists for must-sees. I didn’t know the Blue Mosque was still an active site and I’m excited to observe one of the services. I hope we are there at the right time
    I’ve often had people ask me why I travel too and this quote by an unknown author is a perfect example of my thoughts, “Travelers are important to the world. Its hard to hate someone you know.” Traveling breaks down stereotypes and introduces people to new ideas and that can only bring us together as human beings.

    Reply
  8. Joe Sylvester

    Great article Matt, Just returned from 3 weeks in Turkey. The people, the food, and the sites were all fantastic. Did you know that each Mosque has their own Muezzin and they space the start of the prayer by about 20 seconds. That’s why when you are in the old city the call to prayer is revolving.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      very cool! Every city is different. In Amman, Jordan, they have a unified call so that there’s only one call to prayer.

      Reply
  9. Andrew Darwitan

    Hi Matt, did you go inside the Hagia Sophia too? I personally find the sheer hugeness of Hagia Sophia nothing short of amazing, and the intricate decorations that are being put into it. The Blue Mosque is great too. I didn’t get to experience any Muslim prayers during my stay in Turkey but I do find these two mosques a highlight of my Istanbul experience.

    Reply
  10. Noraliza

    Hi Matt…
    I’ve been visited Istanbul last month… I’m a Muslim and do my prayers in many places inside or outside my country (MALAYSIA) but Istanbul is the most beautiful and amazing!

    Reply

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