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  • Writer's pictureJoel Butler, MA

A Brief History of Şehzade Mosque in Istanbul

What is Şehzade Mosque?

Şehzade Mosque is a 16th-century mosque dedicated to the memory of Süleyman the Magnificent’s favourite son, Mehmed, and the first important imperial project entrusted to the renowned architect Sinan.


Şehzade Mosque

Şehzade Mosque History

Süleyman the Magnificent had eight sons. Two died in infancy. The eldest, Mahmud, then died aged 9, and the youngest, Cihangir, died shortly before turning 22. One was executed for being a perceived threat to his father and his younger brothers, whom Süleyman preferred as they were the children of his wife, the harem slave Hürrem Sultan, or ‘Roxelana’ as she was known. Another, Bayezid, was executed while in exile in Persia after prematurely competing for the throne with his brother Selim and incurring his father’s wrath. That left just two remaining: Selim, who would reign as Selim II, and Mehmed, whom Süleyman had hoped would reign as Mehmed III and to whom the Şehzade Mosque is dedicated. Alas, Süleyman outlived all but one of his sons and one of his daughters, and the Şehzade Mosque stands as a monument to the most beloved of Süleyman’s children.


Şehzade was the Ottoman title for a prince, from the Persian ‘shah-zadeh’: ‘son of the emperor’. Specifically, in this case, it means the son of an active sultan and therefore a crown prince, as all surviving male members of the dynasty held an equal claim to the throne. This did not mean that all were treated equally – favoured sons tended to get more lucrative appointments as regional governors, and especially governorates closer to Istanbul, useful in case of a mad dash home to claim the throne should their father die. Mehmed was undoubtedly Süleyman’s favoured son, though his half-brother Mustafa was six years his senior. They were circumcised together with Selim in the summer of 1530, when Mustafa was nearly 15, Mehmed was 9, and Selim 6. Mustafa, now being considered to have come of age, was appointed to the governorate of Manisa in 1532, the traditional mark of being favoured as the heir apparent. However, that was not to last. When the time came for Mehmed and Selim to be granted regional governorates, Mehmed replaced Mustafa in Manisa, young Selim was sent to Karaman, and Mustafa was booted out to Amasya in north-central Anatolia. It was Mehmed who had his father’s eye and was gifted prime position.


However, Manisa was to be a poisoned chalice for Şehzade Mehmed. He fell ill, probably with smallpox, and died in 1543, aged 21, just under a year after arriving to take up his post. In a further snub to Mustafa, who had been an active prince-governor and general for eleven years by this point, it was Selim, aged only 19, who was reshuffled to Manisa, while Mustafa remained in Amasya until 1549.


Süleyman went into prolonged mourning at the site of the temporary tomb of his son and chosen heir, around which he commissioned the architect Sinan to build a lavish mosque. It was Sinan’s first important imperial project, and the project which would ultimately enhance his reputation enough to be entrusted with the construction of the nearby Süleymaniye complex some years later. The Şehzade Mosque demonstrates many of Sinan’s calling cards, such as a large, spacious central dome and colonnaded galleries that conceal the buttresses that support his characteristic domes and earthquake-proofing. However, the courtyard with a surrounding portico, and the funerary garden, give the mosque an intimate, peaceful atmosphere in keeping with the nature of the commission.


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