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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Nuruosmaniye Mosque in Istanbul

What is Nuruosmaniye Mosque?

Nuruosmaniye Mosque is the first of Istanbul’s mosques to be built in the new, European-influenced Ottoman Baroque style.

Nuruosmaniye Mosque

Nuruosmaniye Mosque History

Begun by Sultan Mahmud I in 1748, but not completed until 1755 by Mahmud’s successor Osman III, the complex of which this mosque is a part stands right next to the Çarşı Kapısı, one of the main entrances to the sprawling Grand Bazaar. Built on a low terrace, the mosque’s most unusual feature is that instead of the typical square or oblong courtyard, that of the Nuruosmaniye is almost horseshoe-shaped. There’s no ritual ablutions fountain, suggesting the courtyard was intended to be decorative rather than functional.

Often full of the faithful because of its proximity to the ever-busy Grand Bazaar, the interior of the mosque is surmounted by one of the largest and most impressive domes in the city, with a diameter of 25 metres. At its apex, the dome rises some 43 metres above floor level. As in the much earlier Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, the generous use of glass is a major feature of the Nuruosmaniye, with light streaming into the interior from 174 arched windows, many of them filled with stained glass. Small wonder that the mosque’s name in Turkish means the ‘Light of Osman’.

The basic design of the mosque is that of four huge arches combined to form a square. The arches spring from four great piers, with the triangular gaps between the arches filled with curving sections of masonry known as pendentives. This forms an octagon, on top of which sits the drum and mighty dome above. There is nothing original about this basic structure, conceived by two architects, Simeon Kalfa (who was of Greek origin) and Mustafa Ağa. The Byzantines had used the same principles hundreds of years earlier, notably in the iconic Hagia Sophia, but it’s nonetheless used to great effect here at the Nuruosmaniye.

The mihrab (or prayer niche) is set in a semi-circular apse, with an elaborate marble mimber (or pulpit) to one side of it. Gilt, very much a Baroque feature, is freely used in the decoration of the mosque, with much of the Arabic calligraphy relating passages from the Koran picked out in gold leaf. The long Koranic verse in the dome starts: ‘Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth’.

Despite its prominent location next to the Grand Bazaar, relatively few tourists come to the Nuruosmaniye, even though in 2016 it was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

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