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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of New Mosque (Yeni Cami) in Istanbul

What is New Mosque?

New Mosque is one of Istanbul’s most familiar landmarks that’s part of the same complex as the iconic Spice Bazaar.

New Mosque

New Mosque History

The New Mosque, or Yeni Cami as it’s known in Turkish, has a complicated history. It was commissioned by Sultan Mehmed III’s mother, Safiye, in 1597. Unfortunately, the original architect, Davud Ağa, a pupil of the Ottoman Empire’s master architect, Sinan, died after just two years. His replacement, Dalgıç Ahmed Çavuş, worked on the monumental project until 1603, when Mehmed’s death left Safiye unable to proceed with her dream. The mosque and ancillary buildings languished in an unfinished state until 1660 when a fire swept the area and added to the project’s woes.

It was left to another Valide Sultan (or Queen Mother), Turhan Hatice, mother of Mehmed IV, to complete the project and it was finally consecrated in the 1660s. Although architectural historians don’t rate the New Mosque as highly as the great works of Sinan, mostly completed under the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent, it’s nonetheless an attractive addition to the Istanbul skyline. Indeed, one famous 18th-century visitor, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wrote of the mosque: ‘[It is] the most prodigious, and, I think, the most beautiful structure I ever saw… Between friends, St Paul’s [cathedral] would make a pitiful figure near it.’

The mosque is entered from a large avlu (or courtyard), surrounded by a graceful portico roofed by a series of small domes. At the centre of the courtyard is an octagonal şadirvan (or ritual ablutions fountain), although it’s only there for traditional and decorative purposes as worshippers ritually cleanse themselves at a series of taps and basins running along the south side of the mosque. The mosque itself is constructed to a cruciform (or cross-shaped) plan, with a large central dome flanked by semi-domes on four sides, making it very similar in style to the Blue Mosque. Unfortunately, the tiles used to adorn the interior are neither as attractive nor as plentiful as those found in the Blue Mosque, though the mihrab (the prayer niche in the Mecca-facing wall) is attractively carved from marble and its muqarnas (the stalactite-like vaulting) is gilded. Left of and above the mihrab is the sultan’s loge, a prayer platform reserved for the ruler and his family. It’s reached from the outside by a sloping ramp up which the sultan could ride his horse, with a small suite of rooms including a changing chamber and toilet preceding the actual prayer platform.

Like the other great imperial mosques in Istanbul, the New Mosque was part of a larger philanthropic complex, with a public bath house, primary school, hospital, mausoleum, and twin fountains providing fresh water for the local population. Sadly, the first three of these buildings have been lost to time. Rents from the Spice Bazaar would have been used to help with the upkeep of the complex.

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