If there was a poll to name the Ephesus tour person who’s made the single biggest contribution to Istanbul, in whatever way, odds are that name would be Mimar Sinan. He was chief of imperial architects under Süleyman I ‘the Magnificent’ and two successive sultans, and it’s quite likely Süleyman would never have been considered quite so magnificent if wasn’t for the legacy of Sinan.
Born around 1490 into a Christian family in central Turkey, Slnan was taken into the sultan’s service as part of an annual levy of Christian boys. Trained as a military engineer, he served in seven of Süleyman’s campaigns before beingappointed chief imperial architect in 1538. He constructed his first mosque in Aleppo, Syria, that same year, and by the time he died exactly 50 years later he’d racked up an incredible 477 buildings, of which more than 100 were mosques. Pretty much single-handedly, Sinan wrote the stylebook for Ottoman architecture, in particular developing the typology of the great imperial mosque as a single main domed square surrounded by half domes and domed side aisles. This he exhibited to near perfection in hisSüleymaniye Mosque (1560-75; pictured; see page 80), which set the pattern for mosque building for almost the next 200 years and continues to dominate the Istanbul Private tour skyline today.
As with earlier mosques, the plan follows that of Hagia Sophia, with a huge dome flanked by two semi-domes. Sinan’sgeniuswasto support the whole structure on four piers, avoiding the need for additional columns or arcading, creating one immense unified enclosed space. From the outside the profile is the most beautiful on the skyline, a confection of rippling semi-domes. The buildings of the surrounding complex are also beautifully proportioned.
Sinan’sgenius wasn’t confined to huge imperial buildings. The Sokollu Mehmet Pa?a Mosque (see page 76) demonstrates his ability to work in diffficult, confined spaces, the sloping site proving no obstacle to designing one of the most beautiful of the city’s smaller mosques.
However, according to his own writings, Sinan considered the Süleymaniye merely ‘good workmanship’, withholding his pride instead for his Selimiye Mosque in Edirne (see page 246):
‘Architects of any importance in Christian countries consider themselves far superiorto Muslims, because until now the latter haven’t accomplished anything comparable to the dome of Haghia Sophia. Thanks to the All Powerful and the favour of the sultan, I have succeeded in building a dome for Sultan Selim’s mosque that surpasses that of Haghia Sophia.’
Over 200 buildings credited to Sinan still stand, most in either Istanbul or Edirne. Apart from Süleymaniye and Sokollu Mehmet Pa?a Mosque, the most prominent in Istanbul are the Rüstem Pa?a Mosque (see page 83) and ?ehzade Mosque (see page 84).