Name of Monument:

Süleymaniye Complex


Süleymaniye, Istanbul, Turkey

Date of Monument:

Hegira 957–64 / AD 1550–7

Architect(s) / master-builder(s):

Architect: Koca Mimar Sinan Ağa (d. 996 / 1588); calligrapher: Karahisari Ahmed Effendi (AH 875–963 / AD 1470–1556).

Period / Dynasty:

Classical Ottoman


Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (r. AH 926–74 / AD 1520–66).


The Süleymaniye Mosque is considered a work of the architect, Sinan's, fellow-master or kalfa period, with the Selimiye Mosque representing the absolute pinnacle of his career in his master (usta) period. The mosque is part of a külliye-type complex, where the mosque occupies the central position, occupying about 60,000 sq m in a district of Istanbul also known as Süleymaniye. The mosque is independent of the other buildings, standing within a courtyard measuring 216 m x 144 m. There is a graveyard adjoining the mosque to the south. The tombs of both Sultan Süleyman and his wife Hürrem Sultan are found in the graveyard, as well as a tomb-keeper's room. The other buildings of the complex are arranged around the mosque and graveyard on the east, west and north in a 'U' shape. To the north of the mosque are the guest rooms (tabhane), the soup-kitchen (imaret) and hospital (darüşşifa); to the west are the primary school, medical school, the first and second madrasas and the Tiryaki Market with its 36 shops; to the east are the third and fourth madrasas; and to the southeast are the school of traditions of the Prophet (darülhadis) and the bathhouse (hammam). The modest baldachin tomb of the mosque's architect, Sinan is in the northeast corner of the complex.
The Süleymaniye Mosque consists of a rectangular, nearly square prayer hall measuring 69 m x 63 m and a courtyard with porticoes. There is a rectangular pool in the middle of the courtyard. All the bays of the porticoes are domed. The building has four minarets, two on the northeast and northwest corners of the prayer hall and two on the northeast and northwest corners of the courtyard. The minarets rising from the prayer hall are 76 m high and have three balconies each, while those rising from the courtyard are 56 m high and have two balconies each. The prayer hall is covered by a central dome, 27.40 m in diameter, which is carried on four monumental piers, each measuring 6.20 m x 5.10 m and joined by pointed arches. The dome rises to 49.50 m off the ground. The rectangular spaces to the north and south of the central space are each covered by a half-dome; those on the east and west are covered by domes of different sizes. The monumental piers in the central space are joined to pointed arches which connect to monumental buttresses placed in the main walls. To break up any monotony the buttresses might create the east and west walls of the building are enlivened with porticoes and galleries.
All the buildings of the complex are faced with fine cut stone. Elements such as the portal of the mosque, the mihrab, and the minbar are covered in marble.
The most richly ornamented buildings in the Süleymaniye Complex are the tombs of Süleyman and Hürrem Sultan, which are decorated with tiles and painted (kalemişi) designs. The decoration of the mosque is fairly simple. The principal elements of decoration are the kalemişi designs of the domes in the prayer hall and courtyard, the inlaid designs of mother-of-pearl and ivory in the wooden shutters of the lower row of windows, and the stained-glass windows of the south wall which are original. In the 13th / 19th century the Fossati brothers added ornament in the style of the day over the painted decoration of the prayer hall; this was removed during the restorations 1961–7, and the original decoration was revealed. The other buildings of the complex are not decorated.
The mosque continues to function as a place of worship to this day. The other buildings in the complex are used for a variety of purposes.

View Short Description

The complex has many structures with various functions such as mosque, madrasa, tabhane (guest-rooms), imaret (soup-kitchen), hospital, children's school, mausolea, darülhadis (school of traditions of the Prophet), bathhouse and market. The great Ottoman architect Sinan, who built the complex, is buried here. The central mosque is considered to be a work of Sinan's kalfa (fellow-master or intermediate) period. It is covered with a dome 27.4 m in diameter rising 49.5 m above the ground and resting on four large piers. This central dome is flanked with a semi-dome on the south and north and five lesser domes each on the east and west.

How Monument was dated:

An inscription in Arabic by the calligrapher Karahisari Ahmed Effendi on the north portal of the prayer hall states that the building's construction began in AH 957 / AD 1550 and was completed in 964 / 1557. The Tezkiretü'l-Bünyan (Memorial of Buildings), dictated by Sinan to his close friend Mustafa Sai çelebi, states more exactly that construction began on 27 Jumada I 957 / 13 June 1550 and finished on 21 Dhu'l-Hijja 964 / 15 October 1557. According to documents, the first and second madrasas were completed in 960 / 1553, and the third and fourth in 966 / 1559. The tomb of Hürrem Sultan was built in 965 / 1558, that of Süleyman in 974 / 1567.

Selected bibliography:

Aslanapa, O., Osmanlı Devri Mimarisi [Architecture of the Ottoman Period], Istanbul, 1986.
Kuran, A., Mimar Sinan, Istanbul, 1986.
Mülayim, S., Ters Lâle, Osmanlı Mimarisinde Sinan çağı ve Süleymaniye [Inverted Tulip: The Age of Sinan in Ottoman Architecture and Süleymaniye], Istanbul, 2001.
Sözen, M., Türk Mimarisinin Gelişimi ve Mimar Sinan [The Development of Turkish Architecture and Mimar Sinan], Istanbul, 1975.
Barkan, ö. L., Süleymaniye Camii ve İmareti İnşaatı: 1550–1557 [The Süleymaniye Mosque and its Construction: 1550–1557], Vols. I and II, Ankara, 1972; 1979.

Citation of this web page:

Şakir Çakmak "Süleymaniye Complex" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020.;ISL;tr;Mon01;25;en

Prepared by: Şakir Çakmak
Translation by: Barry Wood, İnci Türkoğlu
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez

MWNF Working Number: TR 38