Istanbul & Edirne, Turkey
Mimar Sinan is renowned as the greatest architect of the Ottoman dynasty and, quite possibly, the greatest Islamic architect of all time. His career spanned five decades, during which time he oversaw the reconstruction of Istanbul as the new grand capital of the Islamic caliphate. Literally hundreds of buildings in and around Istanbul are credited to him, many of which are still in esxistence today. So renowned was he in is day that he is counted among the master artists of the European Rennaisance. It is believed that he corresponded with either Michelangelo, DaVinci or both. Of all of his architectural masterpieces, two in particular stand out: the Masjid Suleymaniye in Istanbul, and the Masjid Selimeye in Edirne. The Masjid Suleymaniye is part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mimar Sinan had one of the longest, and most unlikely, careers of any architect in history. He did not, in fact, embark on a serious career as an architect until well into his forties. Born into a Greek Christian family in 1489 AD, it is uncertain if Mimar Sinan even converted to Islam before he reached his early twenties. He did, however, serve as a soldier in the Janissary, an elite guard that served the sultans in Istanbul. Most of his twenties, thirties and forties were spent serving in the military, during which time he learned much about architecture, engineering and city planning. Most of Sinan’s training was on the job, and his earliest projects largely involved the construction of fortifications and bridges for military uses.
Sinan spent much of his military career campaigning in southeastern Europe, during which time he had the opportunity to study western architecture. When he began to work on designing his own first buildings in the 1530s, he incorporated many European ideas. His body of work became famous for its blending of eastern and western styles. His earliest known building was a mosque in Aleppo, followed by other minor buildings commissioned by the Ottoman sultan. By the middle of the 16th century Sinan was the foremost architect in the empire, with a huge staff and several dozen mosques and other buildings to his credit.
In 1550 Mimar Sinan was commissioned to build the Masjid Suleymaniye, which was to be the largest mosque in Istabul. Incorporating design concepts borrowed from the Hagia Sofia and the Dome of the Rock, as well as other Middle Eastern and European forms, Sinan built what was considered at the time to be the most magnificent mosque ever constructed. Completed in only seven years, it became the prototype of Ottoman mosque architecture for the next three centuries. It was surpassed six decades later by the even larger and more beautiful Blue Mosque, which was actually designed and built by one of Sinan’s apprentices.
For the next two decades, virtually every major mosque, and many other buildings in the Ottoman Empire, were overseen by Mimar Sinan. However, he did not begin work on his magnum opus, the Masjid Selimeye in Edirne, until he was nearly eighty years old. For all of the popularity of the Masjid Suleymaniye in Istanbul, the Masjid Selimeye is considered Sinan’s crowning achievement. It was not completed until 1574 AD, when Sinan was eighty-five years of age. By the time of his death in 1588, he had completed one hundred and forty-six mosques; sixty-four colleges and schools; thirty-five palaces; and over a hundred other buildings.
The Masjid Suleymaniye in Istanbul is the second largest and second-most popular mosque in that city after the Blue Mosque. Crowning a low hill overlooking the harbor, its great dome and cluster of more than a dozen smaller domes are unmistakable as Sinan’s work. Four skyscraping minarets, each with multiple platforms for muezzin, demark the mosque’s immense courtyard. The interior gallery and prayer hall features almost impossibly high vaulted ceilings supported by immense buttressed columns that were almost certainly inspired by European designs. The tombs of three sultans, Suleiman I, Suleiman II and Ahmet II are buried in magnificent mausoleums on the grounds of the mosque. Aslo here is the smaller tomb of Mimar Sinan.
The Masjid Selimeye in Edirne is, by most opinions, even more spectacular than its predeccesor in Istanbul. The most noticeable difference between the two is that the Masjid Selimeye uses a more eye-catching contrast of light stonework for the main building and much darker materials on the pinnacles and domes. The immense main dome is the largest in Turkey, though only a fraction larger than the dome of the Hagia Sofia, and by some measures the tallest. The four minarets marker the corners of the main mosque structure rather than the courtyard. The mosque complex also incorporates schools, a hospital, a bath house and a kitchen for the poor.
The Masjid Suleymaniye is located in a large walled compound close to the center of the old walled city of Istanbul. It is the only major mosque in this part of the city that is not in the immediate vicinity of the Topkapi Palace. It is open to both Muslim and non-Muslim visitors, though not at prayer times for the latter. The cost of admission is by donation. The Masjid Selimeye is located in the small city of Edirne on the border with Greece, approximately 125 miles west of Istanbul. As of this writing no visitor information was available for this site. Web: https://goturkey.com (official tourism website of Turkey)
As home to the seat of the Islamic Caliphate for well over four centuries, it is not suprising that Istanbul boasts more major Islamic sites than any other sites except perhaps Cairo in Egypt. In addition to the Masjid Suleymaniye, Istanbul is also home to the following major mosques: the Hagia Sophia, which was once the world’s largest church; the jaw-dropping Masjid Sultan Ahmet, generally considered to be the definitive Blue Mosque; the Masjid Eyup Sultan, where one of the Companions of the Prophet is buried; the Masjid Fatih; the Masjid Yeni; the Masjid Beyazit; and the Masjid Ortakoy. Istanbul is also home to one of the world’s largest royal residences: the Topkapi Palace, one of the largest and most lavish in Muslim history (and home to the sacred trusts, the world’s greatest collection of important Muslim artifacts). There is also the more modern Dolmabahce Palace, where the sultans resided during their last few years in power.