The Suleymaniye Mosque - Istanbul

The Suleymaniye Mosque

The Suleymaniye Mosque is located in the historic quarter of Istanbul. Suleymaniye Mosque built in the 16th century and is considered to be the most beautiful of the imperial mosques in Istanbul.

The Suleymaniye Mosque includes 6 madrasas, a poor house-tabhane, an imaret-soup kitchens, a caravanserai, mental hospital, baths, a school and shops, as well as the mausoleums of Suleyman I and the Sultana Hurrem Sultan.

What is most noticable about this grand complex is that, although the mosque may be monumental the structure and its annexes are built so as to blend with the urban landscape, a remarkable acheivement on taht scale. It was completed in a comparatively short time between 1550 and 1557 which illusturates, beyond all else, the might and organisation of the Ottoman state at the time.

Sultan Suleyman the Magnificant commissioned the Suleymaniye Mosque, which was designed by Architect Sinan and built between the dates 1550-1557. This mosque is the central piece of a kulliya, which crowns one of the seven hills of the world's most beautiful city, Istanbul. This complex of buildings comprises a madrasa, a medical madrasa and hospital (dar'us sifa), a dining hall (dar'us ziyafe), a caravanserai, a bath,  hospices (tabhana)  and shops.

The mosque building at the centre dominates the entire complex with its scale and structure. The general layout of its plan was based on St. Sophia Church in Istanbul. Like St. Sophia, Suleymaniye Mosque contains two semidomes and four subsidiary semidomes, which flank a central dome. Four great pillars carry the thrust of this covering system. The galleries of St. Sophia are absent in Sinan's structure. These are diminished in scale and moved back to the east and west walls so as to function as women's platform. In this way, the levelled gallery arcades of St. Sophia are eliminated. Hence, the sun light piercing through the windows of the side walls reach to the central space without being hindered.

The core of the Suleymaniye's plan is closer to a basilica with its oblong central hall and tympana walls on the east and west. On the other hand, the domed central section and the aisles are placed within boundaries created by four equal sized walls. The impression of an elongated upper structure is created by the east and west arches and longitudinal arcades below them. Wide semidomes on the south and north also contribute to this oblong space. On the floor level, the building contains a cubic substructure and four pillars. On the interior, the red and white coloured arches that spring from the corbels incised in the qibla wall give a sense of continuity from the level of the walls to the dome. They also contribute to the illusion of an ambulatory space surrounding the central unit underneath the dome. Below the dome one can appraise this tripartite space: basilical, circular and quadrangular.

On the topmost level of the walls a basilica extends, below the covering system a rotunda circulates and behind the pillars a cube circumscribes. The tympana on the east and west are uplifted by three pointed arches leaning on two columns (see the third photograph from left above). Behind these triple row of arches are domes covering the aisles. The central one of these arches is higher and wider than the other two. The rationale for this treatment is certainly to take in the light coming from the windows of the side aisles. The inspiration source of Sinan, in my opinion, is the arcades placed in front of the student cells of a Seljukid madrasa (compare with Gok Madrasa in Sivas). In a Seljukid open madrasa, the cental bay of the arcade fronting the iwan is always higher and wider than the others. Can we then add a fourth dimension to Suleymaniye Mosque? If the complexity of Sinan's structures taken into consideration, the answer would only be affirmative. This building also integrates the general layout of a courtyard with four iwans. We can say that in Suleymaniye, Sinan synthesised late Roman and early Turkish traditions and derived an unequalled lucidity from such a multiplicity of sources.

The arches that support the tympana inside the Suleymaniye Mosque have their counterparts applied on the side facades of the building (first photograph from left above). Below this row of arches filled with windows, an arcade extends in between the buttresses that transmit the thrust of the pillars inside. On the outside, the mosque is like a glove reversed. We can read the inner articulation of the structure through arches, arcades, domes, tympana  and buttressing towers. Compare it with Hagia Sophia, where bulky buttressing system, visible contours of the basilica and large narthex (entrance) section create fragmented facades on the four sides. An arcaded courtyard exists on the north of Suleymaniye Mosque. The southern row of the arcades is higher than the others, where the main entrance to the mosque is located at the centre. With the gold-gilded inscription incised in a panel above the central bay, this section has the character of an entrance facade.

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