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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of Sokollu Mehmed Paşa Mosque in Istanbul

What is Sokollu Mehmed Paşa Mosque?

Sokollu Mehmed Paşa Mosque is a small but exquisite mosque commissioned by Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Paşa, and designed by master architect Sinan.

Sokollu Mehmed Paşa Mosque

Sokollu Mehmed Paşa Mosque History

The last grand vizier to serve during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent, Sokollu Mehmed Paşa was also one of the most able chief ministers in Ottoman history. Born a Christian in Bosnia, he was forcibly recruited into the Ottoman military. Trained at the Enderûn school in the Topkapi Palace, he then rose through the ranks to serve as grand vizier under three sultans. Despite the misgovernance of the second sultan under whom he served, Selim II, known by some as ‘Selim the Drunkard’, he managed to expand the borders of the Ottoman Empire, taking Cyprus from the Venetians in 1571 and even extending Ottoman influence as far as the Indian Ocean. The wealth he accrued during office aroused resentment, and in 1579 he was assassinated, probably on the orders of the mother of Sultan Murad III.

This mosque, which he ordered to be built in 1568, is a fitting memorial to his achievements. The site on which it sits is awkward, a steeply sloping hillside running down to the Sea of Marmara from the Hippodrome above. The building’s famed architect Sinan cleverly overcame this natural obstacle by constructing a two-storey courtyard fronting the mosque, with the lower storey comprising a series of rooms used as shops whose rents helped pay for the upkeep of the complex. The upper level is flanked on three sides by porticos behind which a series of domed rooms served as cells for the students of the madrasa (or theological school), each provided with a small fireplace, window, and wall niche for storing the Koran. The madrasa itself was situated in the west wall of the courtyard, positioned over a grand staircase leading from street level up to the mosque complex. The fourth side of the courtyard is formed by the wall of the mosque and last prayer area preceding it, with an attractive şadirvan (or ritual ablutions fountain), topped by a lead dome.

Although darker than Sinan’s other small mosques, the interior is quite beautiful. The simplicity of the design – a hexagon within a near square, capped by a dome – is enhanced by the soft, pale stone used in its construction, the subtly veined marble cladding and restrained use of the finest quality red, blue and green on luminescent white Iznik tiles. The mosque is especially revered by the faithful because it houses several pieces of black stone from the holy Kaaba in Mecca. One piece is set in a brass frame above the door, another two less prominently displayed in the prayer niche and pulpit. Although most of the original painted decoration has been redone over the centuries, a small section of the original Classical Period arabesque ornamentation has survived above the doorway.

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