From Palaces to Mosques: How Mimar Sinan’s Work Defines The Ottoman Empire

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The Ottoman Empire, which was one of the most extensive empires of the world at the 16th and 17th century, has left a very impressive architectural heritage. Many different nationalities, languages, and cultures came under one reign. These cultures strongly influenced each other in many ways, one of the aspects being the architecture.

One of the architects who made use of this advantage was Sinan, better known as Koca Mimar Sinan Aga. It literally means “Sinan Aga, the Grand Architect”. He has left masterpieces we treasure today.

Early life

Born around the year 1490 in Kayseri, Anatolia, Sinan is assumed to have either an Armenian or Greek origin. He started his career in the military at a young age, which gave him the opportunity to travel around the empire. Baghdad, Damascus, and Egypt are only a few of the places he visited at that time. Sinan realized and appreciated the fact that every culture had its own techniques and perception of beauty while observing them. He once said:

“I saw the monuments, the great ancient remains. From every ruin I learned, from every building I absorbed something.”

He became a valued military engineer and was promoted to captain of the Royal Guard. After several years he was finally appointed as the head of the office of royal architects by sultan Sulayman the Magnificent. He maintained this position during the reign of Selim II and Murad III. This was the starting point of his impressive career as an architect. Koca Mimar Sinan Aga will be the architect of many mosques which millions of tourists visit every year.

Masterpiece after masterpiece

From then on, a new era of architectural heritage was created. Sinan’s first masterpiece was built by order of sultan Sulayman the Magnificent as a memorial for his favorite son, prince Mehmet. At that time, the Hagia Sophia was considered the most majestic mosque. But the plan was to make something even more majestic and remarkable. Sinan created the Sehzad mosque in Istanbul, which consists of a public kitchen and two Quran schools as well as the tomb of prince Mehmet.

After the construction was finished, Sinan’s reputation rose. Sultan Sulayman was impressed and ordered him to build a second royal mosque. This time the mosque should represent the sultan. Again, Sinan challenged himself to create something even more magnificent, something beyond everything that has been ever built. It took him seven years to finish the Sulaymaniye mosque. Sinan also designed the interior. Originally it consisted of four Quran schools, a public kitchen, a medical college, public baths, and even a hospital.

But Koca Mimar Sinan Aga’s monumental masterpiece is the Selimiye mosque in Edirne, which is considered “one of the highest achievements of Islamic architecture”. This mosque was built by order of sultan Selim II and has been part of the UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 2011. The exterior and interior are both breathtaking structures. The Ottoman Empire is represented in a way in which the power, wealth, and technical mastery is emphasized. The Selimiye mosque has survived many earthquakes. Part of the mosque are libraries, schools, baths, an open kitchen, hospitals, and much more.

Sinan’s works are not only impressive in design but also in number. It is believed that he constructed more than 360 pieces, including other modest projects, such as schools, public baths, small mosques, care facilities, and so on. He also helped designing the Taj Mahal in the Mughal empire. The iconic skyline of Istanbul is the work of the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire, Koca Mimar Sinan Aga. He died in 1588 and has left us with curiosity: How is it possible to master such knowledge, such technique, and create masterpieces that are even treasured hundreds of years later. We hope we can admire his work for a few more hundreds of years.