Suleymaniye Mosque (1550)
Perched on one of the seven hills of Istanbul and dominating the skyline, this complex is considered to be Sinan’s masterpiece as much as the grand monument to Süleyman’s reign. The complex covers an area of nearly 6 hectares (15 acres), and it is here where Sinan achieves his goal of outdoing the dome of the Ayasofya. Here, the dome reaches a height of 49m (159 ft.) spanning a diameter of 27m (89 ft.; compared to the Ayasofya’s 56m/184-ft.-high dome and 34m/112 ft. diameter). The mosque was completed in 7 years (1550-57); it is said that after the foundation was laid, Sinan stopped work completely for 3 years to ensure that the foundation had settled to his satisfaction.
Sinan returned to the Byzantine basilica model for the construction of the mosque with an eye to the Ayasofya. Critics have contended that this was an unsuccessful attempt to surpass the engineering feats of the church, but more than likely this was a conscious move on the part of the sultan to create continuity and a symbolic connection with the city’s past. As the Ayasofya was analogous to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, so was the Süleymaniye, as the name Süleyman is the Islamic version of Solomon. After the project was completed, Sinan recounts in his “biography of the Construction,” how the sultan humbly handed the keys over to him and asked him to be the one to unlock the doors, acknowledging that the masterpiece was as much the architect’s as his own.
The complex includes five schools, one imaret (kitchens and mess hall, now a restaurant for groups), a caravansary with stables, a hospital, hamams, and a cemetery. The construction of the mosque and complex mobilized the entire city, employing as many as 3,000 workers at any given time, and the 165 ledgers recording the expenses incurred in the building of the mosque are still around to prove it. The great sultan is buried in an elaborate tomb on the grounds, as is his wife Hürrem Sultan (Roxelana). In the courtyard outside the entry to the cemetery and tombs are a pair of slanted marble benches used as a stand for the sarcophagi before burial.
Süleyman carried the tradition of symbolism to his grave with a system of layered domes copied from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. In the garden house next to the complex is the tomb of Sinan; the garden house is where he spent the last years of his life. The tomb was designed by the master architect himself and is inspiring in its modesty and simplicity.
Tesvikiye Mosque (1794)
The neo-Baroque Teşvikiye Mosque was originally commissioned in 1794 by Sultan Selim III, but most of the current mosque is owed to Sultan Abdülmecid I who commissioned it in 1854. During this time, several other well-known structures, including the Ortaköy Mosque and the Dolmabahçe Palace, were being built or renovated in styles imported from Europe. The front of the mosque, with its huge white columns, constructed during a renovation later in the 19th century, gives it its unique appearance. In his book Istanbul, the novelist Orhan Pamuk talks about being taken to the mosque by his family’s maid, Esma Hanım. ‘At Teşvikiye Mosque we found a crowd of 20 or 30 people – mostly owners of the small shops in the back streets or maids, cooks and janitors who worked for the rich families of Nişantaşı; as they gathered on the carpets, they looked less like a congregation of worshippers than a group of friends who had gathered to exchange notes. As they waited for the prayer time, they gossiped with each other in whispers. As I wandered amongst them during prayers, running off to the far corners of the mosque to play my games, none of them stopped to scold me; instead they smiled at me in the same sweet way most adults smiled at me when I was a young child. Religion may have been the province of the poor, but now I saw that – contrary to the caricatures in newspapers and my republican household – religious people were harmless.’
Beylerbeyi Mosque (1778)
Beylerbeyi Mosque was founded on the Anatolian shore of the Bosphorus next to the Beylerbeyi quay. It was built by Sultan Abdülhamid I (1725-1789) in 1778 in memory of his mother, Rabia Sultan and designed by the architect Tahir Ağa. After the collapse of the Istavroz (Cross) Palace in the middle of the 18th century, which had previously been standing on the present site of the Beylerbeyi Mosque, the Beylerbeyi Mosque was built on the site of the Hırka-i Şerîf Chamber (private chamber of the cloak of the prophet Muhammad pbuh), which had been carried to Istavroz Palace by Sultan Ahmed I (1590 –1617). The last prayer section of the Beylerbeyi Mosque was converted into its present state, the single minaret was pulled down, and instead of the previous single minaret, two new minarets were erected on both sides of the mosque during the period of Sultan Mahmud II (1784-1839). Additionally, Sultan Mahmud II added a muvakkithane (time-keeping room) as well as a fountain located on seaside of the complex. The ceiling of the central prayer area of the mosque, which has a size of 14.60 x 14.60m, consists of one large dome and five half domes. The ceiling of the mosque containing the large dome was extraordinarily placed on two pulleys and the circumscribed circle of the upper pulley with its twenty windows illuminated the interior of the mosque. A sharp curve, round, curly S-shaped and C-shaped of four different arch samples were used in the mosque. After the fires of 1969 and of March 13th 1983, the mosque was extensively restored twice.