Famous Mosques in Istanbul, Religious Buildings, and Mysterious Places… The Holy Soul of Istanbul

Mosques in istanbul

Among the places you should not skip when visiting Istanbul are the beautiful religious buildings that shape the city’s skyline.

From mysterious sunken places to unexpected churches, the holy soul of Turkey’s capital is present everywhere… – but most of all, in the most impressive mosques in Istanbul.

Below, you will find essential details about these impressive monuments and all the tips you need to know to prepare for a visit.

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Famous Mosques in Istanbul
(And Some Other Mysterious Places to See)

Mosques in Istanbul


Istanbul has many beautiful historical, cultural, and architectural marvels. Among these many treasures, its mosques stand out as breathtaking examples of Islamic art and design.

Each mosque tells a story of the city’s rich heritage, from the iconic domes and minarets to the intricate tilework and grand courtyards. 

Mosques in istanbul

So, with no further ado, let’s go on a journey through some of the most beautiful mosques to visit in Istanbul and other religious temples, where you can immerse yourself in the tranquility and awe-inspiring beauty of these sacred places.

Hagia Sophia

  • Built between 532 and 537
Mosques in istanbul
Hagia Sophia was initially named the Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God.

Officially named the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, this is a mosque and a primary cultural and historical site in Istanbul, Turkey.

Hagia Sophia is a timeless masterpiece and the prime example of Istanbul’s rich and diverse history.

Mosques in istanbul

Originally built as a Byzantine cathedral in the 6th century, it was used as such until the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

The church was initially born as a patriarchal basilica and named Church of Sancta Sapientia, yet it was later transformed into an imperial mosque, Ayasofya, as the Turkish call it, and now serves as a secular museum. 

Mosques in istanbul

The grandeur of Hagia Sophia lies in its spectacular dome, intricate mosaics, and awe-inspiring architecture that blends Byzantine and Islamic elements. 

It features four minarets, different from each other, adding a touch of asymmetry to the complex.

Its enormous size, the sheer scale of the interior space, stained glass windows reflecting shimmering light, and the serene ambiance will surely captivate you.

Mosques in istanbul

During the visit, don’t overlook memorable landmarks, including the suggestive Şadırvan (fountain) for ritual ablutions and the Omphalion, where emperors were crowned, a place known as the center of the world.

Located in a central area of the building, you can spot eight wooden and leather medallions with golden Arabic inscriptions: Allah and Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman, and Ali.

Mosques in istanbul

Don’t forget to check out the northern corner of the former church where the crying column stands. This column bears a hole big enough to insert a finger and make a wish.

According to mysterious legend, this whole was formed due to water that used to come out of the column.

Mosques in istanbul

Byzantine Mosaics in Hagia Sophia

During the Latin rule, many of the gold mosaics underwent vandalism. Some earthquakes also affected them. Yet, it is possible to see some impressive mosaics in the upper gallery and on the ground floor.

Deësis (Entreaty): Experts agree this is the finest mosaic in Hagia Sophia due to the human facial expressions and tones.

It depicts the Virgin and John the Baptist imploring mercy for humanity on Judgement Day.

Mosques in istanbul
Mosaic: Deësis.

Comnenus (Ruling family of the Byzantine Empire): Here, the Virgin holds the Child on her lap in blue robes as in all Byzantine art traditions. On one side stands Emperor John II Comnenus; on the other, Empress Irene.

Mosques in istanbul

Apse Mosaic: High above in the apse is a mosaic of the Virgin and the Child. She sits on a throne with Jesus on her lap, and her feet rest on a pedestal adorned with gems.

Mosques in istanbul

Mosaic on the South West Entrance: An impressive image of Mary the Virgin sitting on the throne with the Child Christ on her lap, giving his blessings. On her left, Emperor Constantine, with a model of the city. On her right, Emperor Justinian offered her the model of Hagia Sophia

Mosques in istanbul
Mary and the two Emperors. Justinian and Constantine with the Virgin and the Child.

One of the most thrilling moments during any visit is the call of the prayer: when the Blue Mosque calls, and Hagia Sophia responds, resembling a never-ending conversation madel of battles, cultures, and crossroads of religions. A metaphor for the city in itself. A dedicated tour (with skip-the-line entry) focusing only on Hagia Sophia is the best way to discover the former temple.

Blue Mosque

  • Built between 1609 and 1616
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Sultan Ahmed Cammii, also known as the Blue Mosque due to the blue tiles that cover the walls, is an Ottoman-era imperial mosque in Istanbul built during the rule of Ahmed I.

It stands opposite Hagia Sophia next to the former Hippodrome of Istanbul.

The Blue Mosque is an iconic symbol of Istanbul’s architectural brilliance. It features six towering minarets, and it exudes an aura of serenity and grace.

Mosques in istanbul

The mosque’s interior is dominated by its 43-meter-high dome and a series of cascading semi-domes.

A two-floor gallery runs along three sides of the prayer hall, except for the southeastern side, which hosts the mihrab made of finely carved. The floors are covered with carpets, regularly replaced as they wear out.

Mosques in istanbul

Once inside, you can admire thousands of mesmerizing handmade blue tiles on the lower walls of the mosque, especially around the galleries.

There are more than 20,000 Iznik tiles, with decorations of over fifty different kinds of tulips; these blue tiles gave the mosque its famous nickname.

Mosques in istanbul

Above the level of the tilework, more than half of the mosque’s walls are decorated with painted motifs, mostly in blue, including floral arabesques and calligraphic inscriptions.

Additionally, the vast prayer hall creates an atmosphere that is both awe-inspiring and tranquil. 

More than 260 delicate stained glass windows let the light inside. Therefore, blue and golden shades illuminate the interior paintings.

Mosques in istanbul

Round low chandeliers are all over the prayer area, helping lighten the mosque; even more on cloudy days.

The mosque’s courtyard has three entrances, yet the central one is the most impressive one, featuring a tall portal topped by a small dome.

Mosques in istanbul

The mosque courtyard is a classic peristyle featuring arcades and domes. At the center of the courtyard is the shadirvan, an octagonal domed fountain carved with low relief.

The mosque’s külliye (religious complex) includes Ahmed’s tomb, a Coranic school or madrasa, and other buildings, such as a hospital, a hammam, and a small mosque. The Blue Mosque was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1985.

Mosques in istanbul

The imposing construction dominates the city’s skyline and remains one of the most visited places in the city.

Süleymaniye Camii, The Magnificent Mosque

  • Built between 1550 and 1557
Mosques in istanbul
Süleymaniye Camii.

Süleymaniye Mosque is a majestic masterpiece crafted by architect Sinan and commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent.

The mosque is an excellent testament to Istanbul’s architectural prowess. This is the second biggest mosque in this city and remains one of the best-known and most pictured sights of Istanbul.

Mosques in istanbul

Perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, the Third Hill of Istanbul, the grand mosque’s elegant domes and slender minarets command attention, while the expansive courtyard invites visitors to explore its serene surroundings. 

Inside, you can admire its vast prayer hall adorned with intricate calligraphy, delicate tiles, and beautiful stained glass windows.

The harmonious blend of geometric patterns and exquisite details will make you feel a sense of tranquility and spiritual reverence. 

Mosques in istanbul

Additionally, as you wander through the mosque’s complex, you’ll discover more structures, such as a library, tombs, and madrasa, which is a theological school, further showcasing the architectural brilliance of the Suleymaniye Mosque.

An inscription specifies the foundation date as 1550 and the inauguration date as 1557.

Rüstem Pasha Mosque

  • Built between 1561 and 1563
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Located within the bustling streets near Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque is an enchanting hidden gem commissioned by a minister and military man (or Grand Vizier) of Suleyman’s court who left a rich legacy of public buildings, mosques, and charitable foundations in the city of Istanbul.

Mosques in istanbul

Although smaller compared to other grand mosques, it holds an undeniable charm of its own. Featuring a mesmerizing display of Iznik tilework that adorns the walls, columns, and mihrab, it is no wonder it’s part of this list of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul. 

Mosques in istanbul

Iznik Tiles, typical of Ottoman decoration, played a vital role in the politics, propaganda, and development of the Ottoman Empire

The intricate patterns and vibrant colors of the tiles create a visual feast for the eyes, showcasing the exquisite craftsmanship of the Ottoman era.

Mosques in istanbul

The quiet courtyard is an excellent spot to immerse in the peaceful ambiance and escape from the bustling Istanbul.

Yeni Camii, The New Mosque

  • Built between 1597 and 1665
Mosques in istanbul

Nestled in the heart of Istanbul’s vibrant Eminönü district, the New Mosque, or Yeni Camii, is a striking example of Ottoman architecture. And despite its name, it has been part of Istanbul’s skyline since the 17th century. 

This Ottoman Imperial Mosque, also known as New Valide Sultan Mosque, is situated just steps from the Galata Bridge on the magnificent Golden Horn.

Mosques in istanbul

As you approach the mosque, you’ll be captivated by its cascading domes, elegant minarets, and spacious courtyard that beckons visitors to explore its grounds. 

Additionally, its interior features arches, intricate tilework, and a spacious prayer hall adorned with chandeliers and beautiful calligraphy, creating a tranquil space for contemplation and prayer. 

Mosques in istanbul

Furthermore, the New Mosque’s location near the bustling Spice Bazaar adds to its allure, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant atmosphere of Istanbul while still finding solace within its peaceful embrace. 

Eyup Sultan Mosque

  • Built in 1459 
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Perched on the hills overlooking the picturesque Golden Horn, the Eyup Sultan Mosque holds a special place in the hearts of Istanbul’s residents and visitors alike. 

Mosques in istanbul

The mosque is named after Eyup Sultan, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, so it is considered one of the holiest sites in the city. In fact, the mosque is a significant pilgrimage destination for Muslims. 

Furthermore, the mosque is steeped in history and legend.

Mosques in istanbul
Shrine of Hazrat Abu Ayub Ansari.

Specifically, the mosque’s peaceful cemetery features tombs of Ottoman sultans and prominent figures, creating an even more holy and sacred environment. 

Mosques in istanbul

Similarly, the mosque’s striking architecture of elegant domes and minarets, delicate tilework, calligraphy, and majestic courtyard adorned with intricately carved marble exude a sense of spiritual reverence. 

Fatih Mosque

  • Built between 1463 and 1470
Mosques in istanbul

Situated in the heart of Istanbul’s historic Fatih district, Fatih Mosque is a testament to the city’s rich heritage and architectural splendor. 

Commissioned by Sultan Mehmed, the Conqueror, this mosque holds immense historical significance as it was built to commemorate the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. 

Mosques in istanbul

The large Fatih Camii is an Ottoman mosque near Fevzi Paşa Caddesi in the Fatih district. The original mosque was built between 1463 and 1470 on the former site of the Church of the Holy Apostles.

However, it was seriously damaged in the 1766 earthquake and rebuilt in 1771 to a different design.

As you approach the mosque, you’ll notice its impressive courtyard and towering minaret. And once you step inside, you’ll be captivated by the grandeur of the prayer hall with its high ceilings, intricate tilework, and beautifully carved calligraphy. 

Mosques in istanbul

Also, the mosque complex includes a library, madrasa, which is a theological school, and tombs of important figures from Ottoman history, making it a perfect destination to discover the grandeur of Istanbul’s past.

Ortaköy Mosque

  • Built around 1854
Mosques in istanbul

Nestled along the picturesque shores of the Bosphorus, the Ortaköy Mosque is a captivating gem of Istanbul’s architectural marvels. Known as Büyük Mecidiye Camii, this mosque stands in a stunning location on the Ortakoy waterfront and has become an iconic city symbol. 

The mosque’s elegant structure features a single dome and two slender minarets that reach towards the sky.

Mosques in istanbul

It was designed by the same architects who also designed the nearby Dolmabahçe Palace and the Dolmabahçe Mosque.

The Ortaköy Mosque (or also Grand Imperial Mosque of Sultan Abdülmecid) is in Beşiktaş, one of the most visited locations on the Bosphorus and a perfect place to stay in Istanbul.

Its charming courtyard, adorned with vibrant flowers and surrounded by bustling cafés, makes the mosque a perfect stop after a relaxing stroll in the Ortaköy district

Mosques in istanbul

Within the mosque’s walls, you’ll be mesmerized by the interplay of light and shadow that dances through the intricately designed stained glass windows. 

Furthermore, the interior is adorned with delicate calligraphy and beautiful tilework, adding to the mosque’s allure.

Specifically, the Ortaköy Mosque’s unique blend of Ottoman and Baroque architectural elements creates a captivating visual experience, making it a favorite spot for photographers and visitors alike. 

Beyazit Mosque

  • Built between 1500 and 1505
Mosques in istanbul

Located in the bustling district of Beyazit, the Beyazit Mosque is another excellent example of Istanbul’s rich architectural heritage. 

Built during the reign of Sultan Beyazit II in the 15th century, this mosque showcases the elegance and grandeur of Ottoman design.

The building features an imposing structure with a large central dome, multiple smaller domes, and soaring minarets. 

Mosques in istanbul

On the exterior area, you can appreciate intricate stone carvings and decorative elements that reflect the artistic craftsmanship of the era.

The interior features a spacious prayer hall adorned with beautiful calligraphy, colorful tiles, and a sense of tranquility. 

Mosques in istanbul

So, the Beyazit Mosque’s historical significance, architectural beauty, and central location near Istanbul University and the Grand Bazaar make it a must-visit destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in the rich cultural tapestry of Istanbul.

Mihrimah Sultan Mosque

  • Built between 1544 and 1548
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Nestled in the charming neighborhood of UskUdar, the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque showcases both architectural brilliance and feminine power. 

Commissioned by Mihrimah Sultan, the beloved daughter of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, this mosque is a stunning representation of Ottoman design. 

Mosques in istanbul

The mosque’s elegant structure features a central dome, multiple semi-domes, and slender minarets that grace the Istanbul skyline.

As you enter the mosque, you’ll be immersed in a serene atmosphere of intricate calligraphy, delicate tilework, and the natural light streaming through its windows. 

Mosques in istanbul

Therefore, the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque’s delicate beauty and attention to detail make it a hidden gem, inviting visitors to revel in its peaceful atmosphere and appreciate the remarkable architectural legacy of Istanbul.

Other Spiritual Buildings to Visit in Istanbul

Even when impressive minarets adorn the city landscape, you will also find other impressive religious buildings that are not mosques. There is more to explore.

There are other shrines, temples, and even synagogues in the city.

These are some of the ones I recommend visiting in Istanbul…

Basilica Cistern

Mosques in istanbul
The mysterious reflections of the Basilica

Dating from the sixth century, Yerebatan Sarayı (the Sunken Palace) or Yerebatan Sarnıcı (the Sunken Cistern) is the biggest of the hundreds of ancient cisterns lying beneath the former Constantinople.

It owes its name to the former basilica that once stood over it, the Stoa Basilica.

Mosques in istanbul

To visit, you must go down the 52 steps that take you into a world of antique wonder.

Filled with a hex atmosphere, this parallel sunken world with dimmed lights is visited by walking over a wooden platform on the water, while it’s not hard to guess that you’ll also find fish swimming under your feet… You can hear them!

Mosques in istanbul

Soft music adds to the mysterious environment of the underground chamber of allure, home to impressive columns and particularly famous for the Medusa columns on the northwest corner of the building, at the end of the first part of the wooden passage.

Mosques in istanbul

These greenish-rusted color faces are a magnificent allegory of Medusa, the human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair, known because those who gazed into her eyes would turn to stone.

Mosques in istanbul

Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the columns to be placed upside down or on the side so that they can’t harm you because you cannot look at them straight. Their position negates the power of its gaze.

Their origin is unknown while -in fact- there is no evidence suggesting they had been column pedestals.

Saint Anthony of Padua

Mosques in istanbul
Saint Anthony of Padua is the most important Catholic church in Istanbul.

The church of Saint Anthony of Padua is located on İstiklal Avenue, and it’s known by the locals as Sent Antuan Kilisesi, or also Sant’Antonio di Padova. It is the largest Catholic church in Istanbul.

The former Levantine church is run by Italian priests, and it offers Mass services in Italian, Polish, Engish, and Turkish.

The largest Roman Catholic Church in the city has impressive interiors but what touched me most was the representation of the Holy Crib on the outside, made of the remaining personal objects of refugees drawn trying to reach safe shores.

Saint Mary Draperis

Mosques in istanbul
Saint Mary Draperis (Via Dosseman – Commons Wikimedia).

This is one of the most ancient Roman Catholic parishes in Istanbul.

Saint Mary Draperis (Meryem Ana Draperis Latin Katolik Kilisesi) is one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in Istanbul since it was established in 1584. The church is in the Beyoğlu district, on the famous Istiklal Caddesi at the bottom of a steep staircase.

Mosques in istanbul

The church was initially constructed in the Mumhane neighborhood in Galatas, in a former house with a chapel owned by a Levantine woman named Clara Maria Draperis.

The ancient church featured a wooden icon of the virgin that was rescued by the Draperis family when the chapel burned in 1660.

Mosques in istanbul
The altar in Saint Mary Draperis (Via Dosseman – Commons Wikimedia).

After the fire, the government imposed the restitution of the land to the State. For that reason, this church was rebuilt on several occasions (including after being demolished by the government or destroyed by other fires and a quake), and each of those times, the icon of the Virgin was always rescued and saved.

The church was finally rebuilt for the fifth time in 1769, and the icon of the Virgin is still visible on the main altar. Franciscan friars offer daily mass in Italian and Sunday mass in Spanish.

Mosques in istanbul

In Istanbul’s diverse and culturally rich environment, the mosques are architectural marvels that showcase the city’s historical and religious significance. 

Each mosque has its unique charm and story, from the iconic Hagia Sophia to the elegant Blue Mosque, the grand Suleymaniye Mosque to the hidden gem of Rustem Pasha Mosque. 

Mosques in istanbul

Furthermore, these places of worship offer a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Istanbul and provide a peaceful sanctuary for reflection and spiritual connection. 

Whether you are an art enthusiast, a history buff, or a traveler seeking a deeper understanding of Istanbul’s soul, visiting these beautiful mosques is an absolute must. 

So, embark on a journey through Istanbul’s mosques and discover a world of faith, art, and history.

A former version of this article was featured by The Huffington Post in 2016.

Essential Things You Need to Know about Istanbul

Bookmark this basic information about Istanbul and check it out again when you’re planning your trip to Turkey!

Where is Istanbul

Mosques in istanbul

Spreading between Asia and Europe, Istanbul is a magical place on the edge of two continents.

Facing the Bosphorus strait, Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey, but it is the most remarkable city in this Balkan country with strong Asiatic, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean influences.

How to Get to Istanbul

Mosques in istanbul
Istanbul International Airport

The most convenient way to get to Istanbul is by plane. The country’s national carrier, Turkish Airlines has flights connecting Istanbul to dozens of destinations in Europe and the rest of the world, and their fees are often quite convenient.

The city is easy to reach from any European capital, with flying times varying from 2 to 4 hours from cities such as London, Paris, or Milan.

If you’re traveling from the US, remember that a direct flight from the East Coast takes between 10 and 12 hours.

There are two international airports in Istanbul. The one located on the Asian side, Sabiha Gokcen Airport, is quite far from the city’s center and receives most low-cost flights to Istanbul.

On the European side of Istanbul, New Istanbul Airport is more convenient, about 30 minutes from the town center.

Mosques in istanbul

Ferry trips to cities such as Bodrum or Fethiye are available daily, especially in summer.

Trains arrive at the Asiatic and European parts of Istanbul from Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Romania, and the Middle East, but travel times can be pretty long.

It is also possible to get to Turkey by car from other European and Asiatic countries, but traffic can be really heavy and parking nearly impossible.

You can also travel to Istanbul by bus from Austria, Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iran, Russia, Switzerland, and more.

When is the Best Time to Visit Istanbul

Mosques in istanbul

I personally love the unique atmosphere of Istanbul in winter, with street food vendors selling delicious roasted chestnuts on every corner of the city.

I prefer winter also to indulge in comfort food such as manti or hearty regional casserole dishes.

Spring and fall are great for travel in any Mediterranean area since mild weather allows plenty of sunny days to get out and explore.

Mosques in istanbul
Don’t you think that these look super comforting for a cold winter?

Summer, instead, is great if you’re also planning to enjoy the magnificent Turkish coast. The city tends to be packed, and prices are also less convenient.

You can check out this article featuring the best summer destinations in Turkey to plan your trip.

Where to Stay in Istanbul

Mosques in istanbul

There are endless hotel options in town, making it overwhelming to decide where to stay. I always suggest staying close to Sultanahmet, especially if this is your first visit.

Prices for a good, basic hotel usually start at €50-70 per night. However, don’t forget to always read the hotel reviews before booking!

Mosques in istanbul

Other alternative places I suggest are these:

  • Didn’t find the right place to stay? Check this link to look for the best hotel deals and rental homes if you still don’t know where to stay in Istanbul.

Read more about Istanbul

Pin this Guide to the Most Beautiful Mosques in Istanbul for your Next Istanbul Travels!

Mosques in Istanbul

About me:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

I have lived in Chania, Crete, since 2016. As a local, I have an intimate knowledge of the Crete. I host culinary and concierge tours and experiences in Crete and write about the island for several travel media. During the last five years, I have helped many travelers plan the perfect holiday in Crete. I co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.

2 thoughts on “Famous Mosques in Istanbul, Religious Buildings, and Mysterious Places… The Holy Soul of Istanbul

  1. Subhadrika Sen says:

    I have heard a lot of things about Istanbul, but have not got a chance to see it. I loved the way you started your post. It reflects your state of mind when you were in the city.The call of the muezzins is something that I would like to hear upfront once.

    • Gabi - The Tiny Book Family Travel says:

      Thank you so much for the comments. Istanbul was a very short trip that filled my soul in so many different ways. I had the chance to experience the city as a solo female traveler and leaving the family at home for a few day made me connect with myself at a different level. I saw the city with eyes full of wonder and I am happy it shows. I’d really love to go back soon and take the rest of the family this time.

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