The Greatest Architect of All Time

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  • 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.

    Early Life

    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


    Early Works

    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 Jala
  • 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.
  • 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.