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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in Istanbul

What is Mihrimah Sultan Mosque?

Mihrimah Sultan Mosque is a graceful mosque built by the great architect Sinan for one of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent’s daughters.


Mihrimah Sultan Mosque

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Mihrimah Sultan Mosque History

Arguably the single most beautiful work of the very best and most prolific Ottoman architect, Sinan, the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque stands magnificently atop a 77-metre-high hill, the old walled city of Istanbul’s highest, right next to the equally magnificent 5th-century Walls of Constantinople. It can be seen from many points in the modern metropolis, though relatively few travellers take the time to visit the mosque, as it lies some five kilometres away from the tourist heartlands of Sultanahmet.


Built in the 1560s, the mosque was part of the usual complex of buildings including a madrasa (or religious school), soup kitchen, primary school, shops and hammam (or Turkish baths). An earthquake in 1766 brought down the main dome and minaret of the mosque, and another in the following century caused the minaret to once again collapse. Despite the damage and subsequent rebuilding, the complex appears much as it did when first completed, especially as the mosque and ancillary buildings were expertly and expensively restored in the 21st century.


Despite being considerably smaller than great imperial mosques such as the Blue, Süleymaniye and Bayezid II mosques, the genius of the Mihrimah is the amount of light illuminating the dome and square interior. Sinan achieved this by filling each of the four arched walls supporting the central dome with large windows; in fact, the walls are as much glass as stone. The effect of light and space is enhanced by the soaring height of the 20-metre diameter dome, the apex of which is suspended some 37 metres above the floor.


The architect, although already married, was allegedly besotted with the beautiful Mihrimah, whose name means ‘sun and moon’ in Persian. According to a folk tale arising from Sinan’s infatuation, he positioned and aligned the mosque so that on the spring equinox, whilst the sun was setting in the west in line with the mosque’s minaret, the moon was rising behind the minaret of another Sinan-designed mosque, also named after Mihrimah, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.


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