7/27/2019 The Greatest Architect of All Time
The Hagia Sophia was the inspiration for Ottoman mosques
The Greatest Architect of All Time
Islamic history is filled with genius architects. Some of the greatest monuments on earth are the product of
Muslims who wanted to build beautiful structures that would show the greatness of Islam throughout time. The
Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, and the BlueMosque in Istanbul, Turkey are all examples of this cherished and beautiful architectural tradition.
Arguably the greatest and most influential architect of all time, however, was the Ottoman architectural maste
Mimar Sinan, who lived from 1489 to 1588. He lived during the zenith of the Ottoman Empire, during the reign
of sultans Selim I, Suleyman, Selim II, and Murad III. During this time, the iconic skyline of Istanbul was
changed forever, with the beautiful additions of great sultans via Mimar Sinan.
Mimar was the son of a Greek or Armenian convert to Islam, Abd al-Mannan. He joined the elite corps of the
Ottoman army, the Janissaries as a young man, like his father did before him. In the Janissaries, Sinan
showed early talent as an engineer. He rose up through the ranks, becoming an officer in the army who
participated in numerous military campaigns under sultans Selim and Suleyman. As the Ottoman armies
marched to new extents in Europe, Africa, and Persia, Sinan went with them, organizing engineering corps fo
the military, as well as building mosques and other civil buildings in newly Ottoman cities. In 1538, his talents
could no longer be ignored and he was given a position as the head architect of the sultans government in
The timeless gem of Istanbuls architecture has alwaysbeen the Hagia Sophia. It was built as a Christian
church in 537 by the Byzantines and was converted to
a mosque to serve the new Muslim population after
Mehmed IIs conquest of the city in 1453. Since then,
Ottoman architects had used the Hagia Sophias giant
dome as a template for how to design Muslim
mosques. Ottoman mosques were thus based on a
premise of having one giant central dome over the
main prayer hall that was held up by numerous semi-
domes on its sides. This greatly increasing themosques size and capacity. Despite the numerous
attempts through the decades to top the Hagia Sophia
in size and beauty, no architect was able to accomplish
such a feat. Mimar Sinan made it his goal to build a
monument to Islam that was more magnificent than the epic Hagia Sophia.
Sinan certainly had a lot of practice in designing buildings. As he began his career, he built smaller mosques
across the empire. He built the Khusruwiyah Mosque in Aleppo, Syria in 1547, which remains today as a
landmark in that city. He also renovated the mosque of Imam Abu Hanifa in Baghdad, and the mosque of Jalahttp://lostislamichistory.com/the-reign-of-sultan-suleyman-kanun/http://lostislamichistory.com/mehmed-ii-and-the-prophets-promise/http://lostislamichistory.com/the-reign-of-sultan-suleyman-kanun/http://lostislamichistory.com/the-greatest-architect-of-all-time/http://lostislamichistory.com/
7/27/2019 The Greatest Architect of All Time
The interior of the Suleymaniy e Mosque in Istanbul
al-Din al-Rumi in Konya. These projects all gave Sinan a good background in architecture and engineering,
and they also provided him with the skills he would need once he started building larger monuments to the
glory of Islam.
ehzade and Suleymaniye Mosques
In 1543, one of Sultan Suleymans sons, Prince Mehmed, died of smallpox at the age of 21. Suleyman insiste
on building a large mosque in his honor that would serve the local community in Istanbul. This was the first
opportunity Sinan had to build a large, monumental mosque. Over the next four years, Sinan worked on whatwould be called the ehzade Jami (the Princes Mosque) in central Istanbul. When it was completed, it becam
a major landmark of the city as well as one of its main mosques. Besides just a mosque, it also included a
complex (kulliye) that had a school, soup kitchen for the poor, a place to sleep for travelers, and a tomb for
Prince Mehmed. Sultan Suleyman was very pleased with it, but Sinan did not consider the work a masterpiec
He insisted that he could do better.
The second major mosque that Sinan was in charge of was one for
Sultan Suleyman himself. Suleyman wanted another giant mosque in
Istanbul, this one named after him so he can accumulate the good
deeds of Muslims who pray in it long after he dies. He wanted it to bea central part of Istanbuls skyline, showing the supremacy and glory
of Islam. They chose a site on top of a hill near the Golden Horn. It
could be spotted from miles around at this location. The mosque
took seven years to construct. Legend has it that after the
foundation was laid and before the building began to r ise, Sinan
disappeared for five years. Furious, Suleyman demanded to know
what happened to his favorite architect. After five years, Sinan
returned to Istanbul and explained that the building would be so
massive that the foundation needed to settle into the soil for five
years before above ground building could commence.
When the mosque was completed in 1557, it was considered a true
masterpiece. No other mosque in Istanbul had the interior space, the
height, or the intricate detail of the Suleymaniye Mosque. With its
four thin and tall minarets and its dome of over 50 meters, it was
truly a new height in architecture and engineering. A kulliye
surrounded the mosque that included a hospital, public baths, a library (still in use today), a soup kitchen,
numerous schools teaching Quran, a school for hadith, and a primary school for children. Also part of the
complex is a cemetery where Sultan Suleyman is buried.
Inside, arches with alternating red and white colors were reminiscent of the architecture of Muslim Spain, whic
at this point wasjust a memory. A giant chandelier hung in the center of the mosque, just above the heads
of worshipers. In an example of environmentalism and conservation, Sinan installed special windows on the
mosque. They had a screen on them that would trap the soot escaping from the candles that lit the mosque.
The soot was thus prevented from fouling the air outside and would even be converted into ink to be used by
calligraphers. The interior is free from the intricate designs of some other Istanbul mosques, and is beautiful
for its simplicity while still being elegant. The courtyard of the mosque has Iznik tiles that wrap around it,
displaying Ayat al-Kursi, one of the verses of the Quran.
Incredibly, despite the beauty and magnificence of this mosque, Sinan still believed he could do better.http://lostislamichistory.com/spains-forgotten-muslims-the-expulsion-of-the-moriscos/
7/27/2019 The Greatest Architect of All Time
The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Mimar Sinans masterpiece
When Suleyman died in 1566, his son and successor, Selim II, also wanted a mosque built in his name. The
location would not be Istanbul, but instead the city of Edirne, about 200 kilometers away. Despite being in his
70s when construction began, Sinan was determined to finally top the Hagia Sophia. When the mosque was
completed in 1574, he finally achieved his goal.
According to his autobiography, Sinan considers the
Selimiye Mosque to be his masterpiece. It had the tallestminarets in the world at that point, each topping 80
meters. The dome was built on an octagonal base, thus
allowing it to reach new heights that finally topped the
Hagia Sophias dome. While some aspects of the
Selimiye are similar to the Suleymaniye, it is taller Sinans
earlier work with a taller dome that seems to rise on its
own without any support from lower pillars or semi-
domes. It remains today as the main landmark of Edirne,
Turkey, and a masterpiece of architectural achievement
that has never been matched.
Mimar Sinan died in 1588 at 98 years of age. He was
buried in the cemetery of the Suleymaniye Mosque, near
his greatest patron, Sultan Suleyman. During his life, he
built some of the greatest monuments the Ottoman
Empire has even seen. The impact he had on the Muslim
world was not just limited to the mammoth mosques he
built. He built over 90 large mosques throughout the
empire, 50 smaller mosques, 57 colleges, 8 bridges, and numerous other public buildings throughout the
Ottoman realm. His apprentices would go on to build other major landmarks throughout the world, includingthe Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) in Istanbul and the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. He is considered the
greatest Muslim architect of all time, and his works are some of the greatest symbols of Islam today, over 400
years after his death.
Hodgson, M. G. S. The Venture of Islam, Conscience and History in a World Civilization. 3. Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press, 1974.
Khan, Muhammad. The Muslim 100. Leicestershire, United Kingdom: Kube Publishing Ltd, 2008. Print.