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  • Writer's pictureJoel Butler, MA

A Brief History of Bayezid II Mosque in Istanbul

What is Bayezid II Mosque?

Bayezid II Mosque is a 16th-century mosque complex endowed by Sultan Bayezid II and constructed in 1500-1507.

Bayezid II Mosque

Bayezid II Mosque History

At ten past five in the morning, an hour after sunrise on the 22nd of May 1766, deep in the Çınarcık Basin off the Marmara coast of Istanbul, the seabed ruptured. An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 tore through the city and the wider Marmara region, followed by a tsunami that battered the coasts of İzmit and Tekirdağ. The significance of this earthquake for the Bayezid Mosque, more properly the Bayezid II Mosque, is that the religious site endowed by Bayezid’s father, Mehmed II the Conqueror, was completely destroyed and had to be rebuilt in a new style. As such, the Bayezid Mosque is the oldest remaining sultanic mosque standing in Istanbul in its original form, making it a site of great historical and architectural significance.

The mosque was first constructed between 1500 and 1505, with the wider complex completed soon after. The architect is not identified in the records, beyond being a nephew of the architect of the original Fatih Mosque, the one endowed by Mehmed II, before its 1766 collapse.

The Bayezid Mosque has not gone untouched by Istanbul’s twin plagues – earthquakes and fire – and restoration work has occurred throughout the centuries. It was most likely the original architectural team who were on hand to conduct repairs after an earthquake in 1509, and the most famous Classical Ottoman architect of them all, Mimar Sinan (architect of the Süleymaniye Mosque), undertook further repairs in the 1570s. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for the mosque’s continued survival, as Sinan was well-known for his earthquake-proofing, having also been responsible for buttressing the Hagia Sophia. The inscription above the gate suggests that minor repairs were undertaken in 1767 following the earthquake that destroyed the Fatih Mosque. In the 17th and 18th centuries, minarets were destroyed by fire and lightning. More recently, eight years of restoration work took place between 2012 and 2020, which included fixing the mistakes of earlier repairs throughout the mosque’s history where they had deviated from the original design pattern and materials.

Sinan’s work is also evident nearby in the mosques of Bayezid II’s descendants: his grandson Süleyman’s mosque sits in pride of place on the hill above Istanbul University, and the mosque built in honour of his great-grandson, Şehzade Mehmed, is just around the corner from Beyazıt Square. The area around the Bayezid Mosque therefore forms something of a family cluster, though the mosque of Bayezid II’s son, Selim I the Grim, lies some distance away atop the so-called Fifth Hill of Istanbul. This is perhaps fitting, as Selim was responsible for the premature end of his father’s reign, and probably for his unexplained death en route to exile. The construction of the mosque was in fact the beginning of the end for Bayezid II – he enjoyed it for two years before the 1509 earthquake struck, and then a pre-emptive succession war between his sons followed immediately after. It was almost as if no sooner had a mosque complex been built for Bayezid, than he was to be entombed within it.

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