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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Fatih Mosque in Istanbul

What is Fatih Mosque?

Fatih Mosque is the largest single collection of religious buildings in Istanbul, built on the orders of the Ottoman ruler who conquered Constantinople.

Fatih Mosque

Fatih Mosque History

Following the capture of Constantinople after a six-week siege in 1453, the sultan, Mehmed II, who later became known as Fatih Mehmed (or Mehmed the Conqueror), had the great cathedral of the Byzantine Empire, the Hagia Sophia, converted into a mosque. For ten years, converted churches sufficed for the victorious Muslim Turks, until in 1463 Mehmed ordered the construction of a purpose-built mosque, the Fatih Mosque (or ‘Mosque of the Conqueror’), and its ancillary buildings.

The mosque complex was built over a period of seven years on the site of the Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles, once the burial place of Byzantine emperors. The church was torn down and many of its materials used in the construction of the new complex. This included, in addition to the mosque at its heart, a series of madrasas (or religious schools), a library, primary school, soup kitchen, hospital and monumental tombs for both Mehmed II and his favourite wife, Gülbahar. Unfortunately, a major earthquake in 1766 reduced much of the complex to ruins and it was rebuilt in a style much favoured by the elite of the time, an Ottoman variant of Baroque, in 1771.

Prominently situated on top of the Fourth Hill (of seven) of the old city, the complex is symmetrically arranged, with two lines of religious schools flanking a large central courtyard at the centre of which are the mosque and tombs. Originally, a library and primary school were at one end of the courtyard and a hospital at the other, all of which have been demolished.

The mosque is approached from an inner courtyard, lined with ancient columns of porphyry (a hard igneous rock used in many of Istanbul’s buildings) and verd antique (a green rock which has the appearance of marble) supporting a graceful domed portico. A şadirvan (or ritual ablutions fountain), complete with a striking conical domed roof, stands in the centre of the courtyard, whilst the wall of the last prayer area, a raised platform fronting the main entrance to the mosque, is decorated with beautiful Iznik tile panels.

The overall impression of the inside of the mosque is one of immense space, with a large central dome supported on arched piers flanked by semi-domes. Light floods into the interior from numerous windows piercing the dome, semi-domes and walls, illuminating the pale white and grey marble-clad walls. The whole complex was painstakingly and expertly restored in recent years.

The Fatih Mosque complex sits at the heart of Istanbul’s most conservative and observant district, so it’s important to dress modestly and in line with Islamic custom when visiting. Despite Islamic injunctions proscribing the practice, it’s common to see visitors praying at the tomb of Mehmed the Conqueror, a polygonal, domed mausoleum of marble adorned with a sinuously curved porch. The narrow streets around the complex are always fascinating but come to life each Wednesday for the Çarşamba (or Wednesday) Bazaar, Istanbul’s largest and most authentic street market.

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