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In his 40-year career, Sinan (1489–1588) transformed the Istanbul skyline. Here we explore three of the chief imperial architect’s masterpieces from the golden age of Süleyman the Magnificent. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg
THE SÜLEYMANIYE 1544–55
The Süleymaniye towers over the Golden Horn, on a phenomenal man-made terrace, surrounded by a lush green outer courtyard crisscrossed with diagonal paths, and with shady plane trees in the corners. On the northern side, a magnificent esplanade looks down a cascade of medrese domes to the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Topkapı Palace. The complex has recently been restored, and the ashlar stone is a little too pristine – no doubt time will soften it.
Sinan only came to mosque-building in his fifties. He would build more than 100 complexes over the next four decades, as well as numerous bridges and aqueducts even more costly than the grandest mosques.
The Süleymaniye is the most imposing of Sinan’s three great imperial mosques, though he dismissed it as his ‘journeyman work’. It shares a hilltop with the Şehzade Mosque, his ‘apprenticeship” (page 96); the Selimiye in Edirne (1568–74), his ‘masterwork’, is an easy day’s outing by bus.
Work began on the mighty Süleymaniye in 1548, as soon as the Şehzade, built for Süleyman the Magnificent as a memorial to his late son, was completed. Süleyman had cause to celebrate: with the Holy Roman Emperor forced to sue for peace in Hungary, the tenth Ottoman sultan assumed the mantle of Roman Emperor. And after a victory over the Safavid Shah Tahmasp of Persia – who agreed to stop cursing Sunni caliphs at prayer time – he could justifiably claim the title of universal sultan and caliph. In Turkish Süleyman is Kanunî, ‘the Lawgiver’. It was time for a ‘Temple of Solomon’…
RÜSTEM PASHA MOSQUE 1561–63
To luxuriate in Iznik tilework from the height of its golden age, take the unpromising stone stairs up to the Rüstem Pasha Mosque in Tahtakale, in Eminönü’s bustling markets, ducking low to avoid the iron rivets. In 1563, Sinan’s contemporaries must have been amazed. Tiles had never been seen in a grand vizier’s mosque, and were never seen again on this scale. A fitting memorial to Süleyman the Magnificent’s grand vizier, son-in-law and financial genius, from Mihrimah, his wife. The location of the mosque at the commercial heart of the empire was no accident.
Seen from the sea, the dome floats in the shadow of his master’s mosque. In the street outside, you are unaware of its existence – two doorways are the only clues. This is another of Sinan’s visual tricks. Climb to the terrace to enjoy the blaze of colour indoors…
ŞEHZADE MEHMED MOSQUE 1544–55
In her book The Age of Sinan Gülru Necipoğlu describes the first of Sinan’s great trio of sultanic masterpieces as a mosque ‘to defeat grief’. The Şehzade is a memorial to Süleyman the Magnificent’s heir, ‘the most distinguished among princes, my son Mehmed”. This was a chronogram penned by Süleyman, whose characters deliberately added up to the year of his son’s death, 1543.
The şehzade (crown prince) had died at 22 when his father was on his way back from a victorious campaign in Hungary. For two-and-a-half hours the sultan wept by his grave beside the Divan Yolu, the street leading past the mosques of his forebears; for 40 days, clad in black, he attended prayers.
Sinan was given the task of commemorating the prince in 1544; though well past his 50th birthday, he had barely begun his 40-year career as chief royal architect. A proven engineer, he pulled down part of the aqueduct to ensure the mosque could be seen across the Golden Horn: a siphon kept the water flowing.
It is a joy to explore. New universities, a new museum, and a growing band of new aficionados who have invested modest means in old houses, have created a wonderful sense of optimism. But the ancient waterfront is in the eye of the storm, with many quarters due to be bulldozed and the threat of a hideous new marina. Enjoy it while you can
Give yourself over to the grit and bustle of Eminönü’s waterside markets, then ascend to Sinan’s sublime hilltop mosques – the awesome Süleymaniye and the haunting Şehzade. In their shadow is the exuberantly tiles Rüstem Pasha Mosque. Cornucopia devotes 24 pages to this vibrant area, with features on Eminönü and the Suleymaniye district with photographs by Jürgen Frank, and a guide to the mosques beautifully depicted by Fritz von der Schulenburg
Hidden away in one of Istanbul’s least prepossessing neighbourhoods is a walled garden surrounding a dream of a kiosk – a favourite of many sultans.
Within the deepest reaches of the palace lies the very seat of the sultans’ power
The Grand Bazaar: From Iznik to Armani, objets d’art to handloomed carpets: the choice is yours
When David Wheeler set out to satisfy his craving to explore Turkish gardens, he was guided by a diverse cast of committed Istanbul citizens. What he discovered were myriad horticultural havens, from Byzantine market gardens to Ottoman cemeteries – many of them under imminent threat.
SPECIAL OFFER: order five beautiful garden-themed issues, including this one, for only £80. List price £122
Justinian’s soaring edifice inspires the same awe today as it did in visitors a millennium ago who wondered if this were Heaven or Earth. Setting out on a tour of the city’s best-preserved Byzantine churches, Robert Ousterhout still senses an air of the miraculous in Ayasofya
The long-awaited Naval Museum has many wonders to reveal, but nothing to compare with the fabulously ornate imperial barges
From a trusty staple to the stuff of feasts, beans are at the very heart of Turkish cuisine. How did we ever live without them?
In a vivid, impressionistic portrait of the Byzantine city, Robert Ousterhout uncovers the history of Byzantium in ten objects, explores the soaring edifice of Ayasofya and picks four of the city’s most inspiring smaller churches.
Take in the Topkapı, where the sultans held sway in secluded grandeur. Saunter round Sultanahmet and the Hippodrome: make the most of the mosques, monuments and museums. Get the buzz of the bazaar: where to snap up covetable collectables and cheerful bargains
Deep in the industrial outskirts of Istanbul, Griselda Warr enters an Aladdin’s cave of Anatolian treasures. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg
AyşeDeniz Gökçin’s musical creations combine the rock-star appeal of Franz Liszt and the psychedelic/progressive brilliance of the band Pink Floyd. Tony Barrell found this prodigiously talented young pianist a force to be reckoned with. Photograph by Charles Hopkinson
John Carswell solves the mystery of the ‘lemon squeezer’ that wasn’t
In a decade of monitoring Turkey’s burgeoning wine industry, Kevin Gould has never been more impressed. He and the Cornucopia tasting team enthusiastically sampled this year’s top bottles and nominated their favourites
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