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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Laleli Mosque in Istanbul

What is Laleli Mosque?

Laleli Mosque is arguably the most attractive of all the Ottoman-Baroque-style mosques in Istanbul, set on a terrace above one of the old city’s busiest thoroughfares.


Laleli Mosque

Laleli Mosque History

Completed in 1763, this was the last of the great imperial mosques to be built in the old city of Istanbul. Patron of the Laleli (or Tulip) Mosque was Sultan Mustafa III. He was an educated and thoughtful man, having studied medicine, literature and astrology prior to his accession, but turned out to be an ineffectual ruler. His attempts to reform the Ottoman Empire failed and he took the ailing empire to war with Russia, with disastrous results.


However, his longest-lasting legacy, the Laleli Mosque complex, is a triumph. Under the direction of the period’s greatest architect, Mehmed Tahir Ağa, the complex took some four years to complete. The sloping hillside site made construction difficult, a problem the architect overcame by building an elevated platform suspended higher than the existing street level, on which he set the mosque and its ancillary buildings. The substructures of the platform were put to good use, with the central section forming a huge room suspended on eight enormous piers. A fountain played in the centre of the room, with shops and a café ranged around it. As at other mosque complexes, the rents from the shops and café helped with the upkeep.


Constructed with contrasting bands of pale stone and brick, the mosque’s exterior harks back to the form of Byzantine churches, which greatly influenced Ottoman architecture. Once inside the mosque, it becomes clear that the basic design is that of an octagon inscribed in a rectangle, with the towering dome resting on eight rounded arches supported by columns. Light floods into the interior from numerous arched, coloured glass windows, illuminating the marble cladding covering much of the walls. The mihrab (or Mecca facing prayer niche) is composed of an especially rich marble, as is the mimber (or pulpit), and both are finely carved.


The mosque was restored following a devastating fire in 1883. Another fire in 1911 led to the demolition of some of the ancillary buildings. What has survived, however, is the domed, octagonal tomb of Mustafa III and his son, Selim III, who himself had a chequered rein: following in the footsteps of his father, Selim tried to reform the empire, but a revolt of his troops led to his imprisonment and eventual strangling at the orders of his successor, Mustafa IV.


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