Istanbul, with a long history expanding over years has been a major center for all three monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. There are approximately 444 mosques in Istanbul. Among the most visited by tourists are: Sultanahmet Mosque, Beyazit Mosque, Süleyman Mosque, Fatih Mosque, the New Mosque and Eyüp Sultan Mosque. Istvan EGRESI, Büşra BAYRAM, Fatih KARA, Ozan Arif KESIK  70

The Sultanahmet Mosque is also known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of the interior. It contains, besides the mosque, a madrasah (religious school), a hospice and the tombs of his founder, Sultan Ahmed I, who commissioned the building of the mosque between 1609 and 1616. The mosque is facing St. Sophia and is one of the most visited objectives in Istanbul and one of its symbols. The mosque was also visited in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Turkey (BBC, 2006).  Built near the ruins of Teodosius’ Forum, Beyazit Mosque was the second large imperial complex in Istanbul after the 1453 conquest. The small garden behind the mosque contains the tombs of the founder, Beyazit II. The mosque is in the heart of the historical Peninsula, near the Grand Bazaar and Istanbul University and is visited by many tourists. 

Süleyman Mosque is the second largest mosque in the city and one of the most visited. It was built by Sultan Süleyman  (Soliman) the Magnificent between 1550 and 1558. As is the case with many mosques, the complex also included a hospital, a primary school, a medical college, madrasah, hamams (public baths), a caravanserai and a public kitchen. Several tombs, including that of the founder, his family, of two other sultans and of architect Sinan could be found here. 

Fatih Mosque is one of the largest examples of Turkish Islamic architecture built in Istanbul between 1463 and 1470. The mosque was damaged several times and completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1766 after which it was rebuilt on a different plan in 1771. The complex includes schools, library, hospice, caravanserai and several Unlocking the Potential of Religious Tourism in Turkey 71tombs. Among these there is the tombs of Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, and his wife’s. The original plan included a market, hamams, hospital and a kitchen for the city’s poor but they no longer exist. 

The New Mosque (Yeni Camii in Turkish) is another Ottoman imperial mosque located in the Eminönü District. It was built between 1597 and 1665. The market was part of the social-religious complex that survived the times and is known today as the Spice Bazaar (or the Egyptian Bazaar), visited by millions of tourists every year. The religious tourists pray at the tombs of six sultans, some of their family members as well as at tombs of numerous members of the court buried in the courtyard of this mosque. The Eyüp Sultan Mosque was built in 1458 as the first Ottoman mosque after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. This is considered the holiest site in Istanbul being situated next to the site where Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (Eyüp Sultan in Turkish) is buried. 

He was the standard bearer of the Prophet Mohammed and fell there during the Arab assault on Constantinople in 670. It is said that some of the personal belongings of the Prophet Mohammed himself are preserved in the tomb. Many pilgrims from Turkey and the Muslim world visit the tomb annually.  Aya Sofya (or Hagia Sophia) is a museum today visited by millions of tourists every year.  As  the  Church  of  Holy  Wisdom  it  was  built  initially  by  Emperor  Constantine  the Great and destroyed and rebuilt several times. The final form dates from the time of Justinian I (the sixth century) and is considered to be one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture. As the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople for more than 900 years, Hagia Sophia hosted several ecumenical councils. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453 it was converted into a mosque until 1934 when it became a museum. Having served as a religious center for both Christianity and Islam the museum is a “must-visit” objective for all religious tourists visiting Istanbul. 

Many other old Byzantine churches in Istanbul have been either converted into mosques (Chora Church, Church of Christ Pantokrator, Church of Christ Pantepoptes, Monastery  of  Gastria,  Church  of  Saint  John  the Baptist at Lips, etc.) or function as museums (Hagia Irene). Some have been abandoned and are in ruins (Monastery of Stoudios, Church of the Virgin of the Pharos) and a few are still active (the Church of Sainte Mary of the Mongols is the only one from the Byzantine time that has never been converted into a mosque). There are also many newer churches belonging to the Greek, Bulgarian, Syriac and Armenian minorities in Istanbul as well as Catholic (especially Italian) and Protestant churches.  

The Jews of Istanbul have about twenty active synagogues in the city. The Italian Synagogue was built in the 19th century and rebuilt in 1931 by the Sephardic Jews who migrated to Istanbul from Southern Italy. The Ashkenazi Synagogue was founded by the Jews coming from Austria in 1900.  


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