Süleymaniye, Istanbul, Turkey
Hegira 957–64 / AD 1550–7
Architect: Koca Mimar Sinan Ağa (d. 996 / 1588); calligrapher: Karahisari Ahmed Effendi (AH 875–963 / AD 1470–1556).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Şakir Çakmak "Süleymaniye Complex" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2022. 2022. https://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;tr;Mon01;25;en
Prepared by: Şakir ÇakmakŞakir Çakmak
Dr Şakir Çakmak is an assistant professor in the Department of Archaeology and Art History of the Faculty of Letters, Ege University, Izmir. Born in Sarayköy, Turkey, in 1964, he graduated from that department in 1986. He started working as a research assistant in the same department in 1988. He completed his MA in 1991 with a thesis entitled “Turkish Monuments in Denizli Province (Mosques)” and his Ph.D. with the thesis “Portals in the Early Ottoman Period (1300–1500)” in 1999.
Translation by: Barry WoodBarry Wood
Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions., İnci Türkoğluİnci Türkoğlu
İnci Türkoğlu has been working as a tourist guide and freelance consultant in tourism and publishing since 1993. She was born in Alaşehir, Turkey, in 1967. She graduated from the English Department of Bornova Anatolian High School in 1985 and lived in the USA for a year as an exchange student. She graduated from the Department of Electronic Engineering of the Faculty of Architecture and Engineering, Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir, and the professional tourist guide courses of the Ministry of Tourism in 1991. She worked as an engineer for a while. She graduated from the Department of Art History, Faculty of Letters, Ege University, Izmir, in 1997 with an undergraduate thesis entitled “Byzantine House Architecture in Western Anatolia”. She completed her Master's at the Byzantine Art branch of the same department in 2001 with a thesis entitled “Synagogue Architecture in Turkey from Antiquity to the Present”. She has published on art history and tourism.
Translation copyedited by: Mandi GomezMandi Gomez
Amanda Gomez is a freelance copy-editor and proofreader working in London. She studied Art History and Literature at Essex University (1986–89) and received her MA (Area Studies Africa: Art, Literature, African Thought) from SOAS in 1990. She worked as an editorial assistant for the independent publisher Bellew Publishing (1991–94) and studied at Bookhouse and the London College of Printing on day release. She was publications officer at the Museum of London until 2000 and then took a role at Art Books International, where she worked on projects for independent publishers and arts institutions that included MWNF’s English-language editions of the books series Islamic Art in the Mediterranean. She was part of the editorial team for further MWNF iterations: Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean Virtual Museum and the illustrated volume Discover Islamic Art in the Mediterranean.
True to its ethos of connecting people through the arts, MWNF has provided Amanda with valuable opportunities for discovery and learning, increased her editorial experience, and connected her with publishers and institutions all over the world. More recently, the projects she has worked on include MWNF’s Sharing History Virtual Museum and Exhibition series, Vitra Design Museum’s Victor Papanek and Objects of Desire, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s online publication 2 or 3 Tigers and its volume Race, Nation, Class.
MWNF Working Number: TR 38
Islamic Dynasties / Period
On display in
Discover Islamic Art Exhibition(s)The Ottomans | Art in the Spaces of Prayer The Ottomans | The Visual Language of Power
DownloadAs PDF (including images) As Word (text only)