Mimar Sinan - A Genius Architect for the Ottoman Empire
Mimar Sinan created at least 374 structures in his lifetime. Most of his projects were produced during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, but he also worked for Selim II and Murad III.
Sinan was born on May 29, 1489 in Ağırnas, Karaman Eyalet, now Kayseri Province (Caesarea in Cappadocia) in Turkey. Although it has been debated by some, he was Turkish - not Armenian or Greek, as some researchers suggest. This information was confirmed by research in 1935, when Sinan was exhumed and his bones were examined.
A drawing representing Mimar Sinan. (Public Domain)
When Mimar was a little boy he often helped his father, who worked as a builder. According to legend, when Mimar was young, he heard about Leonardo da Vinci visiting the capital city between 1502 and 1505. With time, he became fascinated by the Italian master.
In 1512, Mimar was taken to Constantinople (future Istanbul), and he started to study and train to become a Janissary. Born as a Christian, Sinan was converted to Islam (via the devsirme system - a forceful conversion) and started to serve as a soldier of the Janissary Corps. He supported sultan Selim I during the campaign to Rhodes, and later to Belgrade.
Mimar Sinan bust in Ankara, Turkey. (Public Domain)
It is believed that after 1520, Mimar became one of the Janissaries of Grand Vizier Pargali Ibrahim Pasha, a close friend of sultan Suleiman. Later, he became a master of archery, a Janissary commander titled ''aga'', and he fought in many battles in Europe, the Middle East, and Persia.
At the same time, he was studying architecture, with hopes that one day he would have an opportunity to create wonderful buildings. Eventually, Mimar became a captain of the infantry, a commander of the war machines, and the chief architect in the army. Due to his great achievements in these fields, he became a colonel in the sultan's personal guard.
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A Humble Architect for the Sultan
Sinan was almost 50 when he finally became the court architect. It is unknown who discovered his talent, but it could have been Ibrahim Pasha, who was interested in his soldiers’ skills, and liked to talk with them about their passions not connected to war. It is possible that one evening Pasha asked Mimar about the plans of buildings which he drew during breaks in the fighting.
The first mosque created for Suleiman by Sinan was the Haseki Hurrem Cami, the mosque of Hurrem Sultan. The complex of Haseki Hurrem included a medrese (college), an imaret (public kitchen), a hospital, and a primary school. Sinan started to work on it in 1538 and finished it 20 years later. However, more mosques and other buildings were commissioned by Hurrem and Suleiman.
Roxelana (Hurrem Sultan) and Suleiman the Magnificent by the German baroque painter Anton Hickel, (1780). (Public Domain)
Sinan’s most impressive project is the mosque of Suleiman, known as Suleimaniye
(or Süleymaniye). It was also the largest job by Mimar Sinan. Construction for this structure began in 1550. According to Andre Colt:
“With the Suleimaniye, the large and impressive mosque in Istanbul to which Suleiman gave his name, Sinan took another step towards perfection. He chose, oddly enough, a plan very similar to that of Saint-Sophia in order, it is said, to beat the Greek architects on their own ground. He varied plain and spherical surfaces, combining semi-cupolas with tympanums and thus giving the impressions of a ''cut diamond'', as if the edifice were cut out of a tube.”
The mosque was a symbol of the Ottoman Empire’s power. It was finished in 1557, and opened in 1558. In the future, the complex became the burial place of the sultan, his wife, some of their relatives, and some successors as well. In his work, Sinan often tried to connect the Byzantine tradition with the style of the Ottoman Empire.
Mimar Sinan also created mosques dedicated to the children of the royal couple - their daughter Mihrimah and sons Selim, Cihangir, and Mehmet. One example comes in the form of the complex of Şehzade Camii, which was built due to Suleiman and Hurrem’s broken hearts. In 1543, their eldest son, the crown prince Mehmet, died of smallpox. He was only 21 years old, but he had been a source of hope for the dynasty and the best candidate to become sultan in the future. Suleiman had one older son – Mustafa, whose mother was Mahidevran Sultan. However, he wanted to see Mehmet as his successor.
When his beloved son died, Suleiman sat beside his body for three days before he allowed the remains to be buried. After the first days of grief, he asked Mimar Sinan to create a mosque complex, which would be more impressive than all of his previous projects. The complex, which included a primary school, hostel, imaret, medrese, and the tomb of Prince Mehmet, was built between 1544 and 1548. Sinan was very satisfied with the results and he called Sehzade Camii an ''apprentice work''.
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Interior view of the Sehzade Camii. (CC BY SA 3.0)
More than Mosques
Sinan also created many schools, hospitals, palaces, and mausoleums. In the part of Istanbul called Besiktas, on the European shore of the lower Bosphorus, he built a mausoleum for the famous pirate and the chief admiral of the Ottoman navy under Suleiman the Magnificent – Hayrettin Barbarossa Pasha.
Sultan Suleiman died in 1566, eight years after his beloved wife Hurrem. His death brought an end to an important period in the history of the Ottoman Empire, but it didn't close the chapter connected to architecture. Sinan still worked for the son of the deceased sultan, Selim II, and his grandson Murad III.
A painting that may depict Mimar Sinan (left) preparing the grave of Sultan Süleyman I (the Magnificient) 1566. (Public Domain)
Mimar Sinan created a few mosques, bridges, and other buildings in southern Europe, including the famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, a bridge on the Drina River in Visegrad. The construction is dedicated to Sokollu Mehmet Pasha, one of the most influential people of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. In 2007, the bridge was included in the World Heritage List by UNESCO.
Sinan was an author of a unique style of architecture, which was copied by many architects during the Ottoman Empire, which fell at the beginning of the 20th century. The reign of Suleiman is known as the Golden Age of his country. Sinan started his career as an architect in his middle age, but he was able to create a large number of constructions.
Sinan was the architect of 92 large mosques and 52 small mosques called mescit. Apart from this, he created 7 seminaries, 22 mausoleums, 3 asylums, 35 palaces and mansions, 17 care facilities, 57 colleges, 46 inns, 48 baths, 17 public kitchens, 8 bridges, and many other structures. His sense of beauty was so sophisticated that Sinan was sometimes compared with Michelangelo.
The Maglova Aqueduct by Mimar Sinan, watercolor by Jules Laurens (1847). (Public Domain)
Mimar Sinan died on July 17, 1588. When he closed his eyes for the last time he was 98 years old and the ruler of the Ottoman Empire was Murad III, son of Selim II. Sinan was buried in a tomb which he had designed himself. With special permission, he was buried near the tombs of Suleiman and Hurrem, just outside the walls of the impressive Suleimaniye Mosque.
Andre Colt, Suleiman the Magnificent, 2012.
John Freely, Ottoman Architecture, 2011.
Mimar Sinan, available at: http://greatsinan.com/
The great architect Sinan (Koca Mimar Sinan), available at: http://www.turkishculture.org/architecture-403.htm