- What’s On
The Kiliç Ali Pasha complex, completed in 1580 and newly restored, was the collaboration of two grand old men past their peak. Kılıç Ali Pasha, hero of Lepanto, was an admiral in his eighties. The imperial architect Sinan was in his nineties, but the result is a bold and beautiful venture. Photographs by Fritz von der Schulenburg
Mimar Sinan’s important 16th-century Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque was commissioned by the Calabrian-born Giovanni Dionigi Galeni, who was captured by Barbary pirates on his way to Naples to study for the priesthood, became a galley slave and ended up in the service of the sultan, finally being made an Ottoman grand admiral and becoming Ali Pasha.
The mosque originally stood on the Bosphorus shoreline in full view of Topkapı Palace. The plan is a copy of Ayasofya’s, and it has the same calligraphic discs in the corners below the central dome. Kılıç Ali Pasha gained his epithet (kılıç means “sword”) by rescuing his squadron at the disastrous battle of Lepanto in 1571. He died a sprightly 90-year-old in the arms of a concubine (strictly against doctor’s orders). Like other Ottoman admirals, in winter he kept sailors employed building astonishing monuments. He oversaw the only surviving Sinan building in the Topkapı harem, Murad III’s domed bedchamber, which has tiles similar to those in the mosque.
Two unmagical restorations (one to repair damage done by the other) have hardly been helped by brash paintwork and baroque chairs, yet nothing can detract from the architectural wizardry. To see Sinan’s artistry stripped to bare essentials, step into the hamam next door.
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