The Fatih Mosque - Istanbul

The Fatih Mosque

The Fatih Mosque constructed at the Conqueror's orders was designed by a great architect named Sinan the Elder. Begun in 1463, it was finished in 1471. The mosque was composed of two large complete domes and a semi-dome on the mihrab side. It had two minarets, each with a balcony, and with lead-covered pinnacles. All round the mosque, cultural and social centres were installed.

The nature of these can be judged by the remains existing today. We should like to draw your attention to the fact that the was built in the 15th century. During this period ninety-nine percent of the world was plunged in ignorance and superstition. In European countries the level of civilisation was so primitive that those unfortunate enough to be afflicted with mental illness were burned alive in the belief that they were possessed by the devil. At a time when Europe was sunk in this state, here is what a European traveler wrote about the Fatih Mosque. Nicolas de Nicolay, geographer to the court of King Francis, I, who came to Istanbul in 1540, had this to say:

"The most beautiful and the richest of the mosques is that of the Conqueror, which has an annual revenue of 60 thousand ducats. All round the mosque are the dwellings of the imam and the ulemas, and in addition there are 200 houses with domes covered with lead, catering for visitors of all races and religions. Visitors passing through the city can stay here with their servants without making any payment. Outside the walls of the Fatih Mosque there are 150 houses reserved for the poor of the city. To the unfortunate persons seeking refuge here is given each day one akce (a sum of money) and enough bread. But since many of the poor do not care for this style of life, a lot of the houses remain empty, and the money thus saved is distributed among the city hospitals."

In another building free medicines were given to those who came and asked for them. And a special house was reserved for the mentally sick. Sultan Mehmet had guaranteed these institutions an income of 60,000 ducats, and this was doubled by the fact that the revenue from St. Sophia and its shops, as well as the main stores in the city, were devoted to these institutions.

One of the oldest statutes concerning the institutions founded by Fatih (Conqueror) is a document in Arabic. According to the information left by those learned in the Arabic language concerning this document, Fatih founded 6 houses of instruction under the name of "Medarisi-Semaniye" and behind these 8 smaller schools called "Tetimme". On the west side of the mosque, for the use of these cultural centres, he founded a library and a hospital in which every disease was treated. A "Tibiae" was built for savants traveling through or visiting Istanbul, as well as for tourists. According to Vakfiye in each of these eight schools there were eight teachers for the sciences and theology. The study of science included philosophy, history, the natural sciences, geography, grammar and algebra. The religious sciences consisted of the study and exegesis of the Koranic law and the commandments of the Prophet. These teachers were paid 50 dirhems a day, about 250 silver kurus. Beside each teacher was an assistant with a salary of 50 silver kurus a day.

Still according to the Vakfiye, two doctors, a surgeon, a pharmacist and a sufficient number of nurses and orderlies were employed in the hospital. Rules governing cooking and the type of foods to be distributed were written down to the smallest detail. The schools called "Tetimme" were for primary studies; ones these were over the student moved into the eight schools.

The great orientalist Deisman enumerates 587 non-moslem works in the library left by Fatih in the Topkapi Palace. The young monarch Mehmet II was one of those rulers, rare in the world, able to assimilate at the same time the Eastern and the Western cultures. The learned men whom Fatih appointed at the head of these schools were authorities on their subjects well above the other savants of the period. Among them, a Turk from Central Asia, Ali Kuscu, was one of the finest mathematicians and astronomers of his epoch. He wrote two scientific works in Persian, at present in the library of St. Sophia. which remain authoritative, even after the passing of so many centuries, another mathematician, Sinan Pasa, who had made a profound study of philosophical skepticism, arrested for some reason, was freed after colleagues of his had threatened to burn their books and leave Istanbul. An outstanding proof of the freedom enjoyed by schools in Turkey, a freedom unexampled elsewhere at that period. Two other great authorities were the doctor Altuncuzade and the astronomer Hoca-Zade. A work on their studies in physics and astronomy is in the Vienna Library under No. 1445.

It is thus that the torch of science flamed 500 years ago in the buildings which surround us. The fact that the Ottoman Empire could make its domination accepted for 400 years constitutes an irrefutable proof of its cultural, scientific and technical supremacy. Here on the spot you are afforded the tangible evidence of it.

To return to the Fatih Mosque at the centre of this complex, an earthquake in 1766 having caused very severe damage, the sultan of the day, Mustafa II, had what remained demolished and rebuilt the mosque in its present form. The inauguration of the reconstructed mosque took place on Friday the 15th of April 1772. The Blue Mosque was chosen for the new construction. The first courtyard was preserved in the form it had in the time of Fatih. The multicolored faiences above the windows are of the period of Fatih. In the courtyard 18 granite columns support 22 domes. In the interior of the mosque the oval dome rests on 4 arches and 4 elephant feet with rounded edges. Besides this, 4 semi-domes are installed on 4 arches.

The pulpit of the mosque is in colored marble, the ornaments on the wall and the cupola date from the last century. The minarets were furnished with three balconies and the cones were of wood covered with lead in accordance with the classical method. After the earthquake of 1894 these cones were refashioned in stone clocks and such is the form they have preserved up to today, Around the mosque, in the gardens, besides the library of Ahmet III, there are the tombs of the great men of the century after Mehmet II.

Fatih's tomb, with its immense cupola and its door whose dome resembles in shape a vast mushroom, as well as its original entrance is s construction whose beauty deserves attention. The Fatih Mosque, apart from its religious and mystical activity, was the scene of many social movements and revolts during the centuries.

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