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  • Writer's pictureJoel Butler, MA

A Brief History of Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul

What is Süleymaniye Mosque?

Süleymaniye Mosque is a 16th-century mosque complex endowed by Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and designed by renowned architect Sinan.


Süleymaniye Mosque

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Süleymaniye Mosque History

Süleyman I of the Ottoman Empire is a figure of great renown, though also somewhat of an enigma. Great-grandson of Mehmed II the Conqueror, son of Selim I the Grim (known for killing his father in order to claim the throne), Süleyman is remembered for his ‘Magnificence’ by European historical traditions, and as ‘the Lawgiver’ in an Ottoman context. He presided over the Ottoman Empire during what has often been regarded as a golden age in terms of its power, territory, wealth, and culture. He also found himself ordering the execution of two of his sons, as well as his slave, closest friend and confidante from his youth, Grand Vizier İbrahim Paşa, after they each became a threat to Süleyman’s authority.


So, the small matter of leading one of the foremost world powers of the 16th century was not always plain sailing for Süleyman. He was already well into his reign when the Süleymaniye was founded in 1550, and he still reigned for a further nine years after its completion in 1557. The Süleymaniye was a mosque befitting the greatness of his reign, and his conquests in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Built upon the so-called Third Hill of Constantinople, the Süleymaniye has been one of Istanbul’s most prominent landmarks ever since its construction, visible from the Bosporus and Golden Horn, and remained Istanbul’s largest mosque until the completion of the enormous Çamlıca mega-mosque in 2019, which was designed specifically in order to rival the Süleymaniye.


Süleyman also had his eyes on surpassing a legendary king of old in the design for the Süleymaniye; in his case, it was the biblical Solomon, fashioning himself as the ‘second Solomon’. Architect Sinan was commissioned for the project, the largest and most important of his career, after prior royal commissions for the İskele Mosque in Üsküdar and the Şehzade Mosque in honour of Süleyman’s deceased favourite son, Mehmed. The Süleymaniye would only burnish Sinan’s reputation as the most important figure in Classical Ottoman architecture. The mosque was also to be surrounded by a beautiful complex of supporting buildings, such as a hammam (a Turkish bath), a madrasa (a college for Islamic instruction), a public kitchen which is now a restaurant, and eventually, the tomb of Süleyman himself.


The tomb of Sinan also lies just outside the walls of the complex, a just reward for the great architect. Conscripted into royal service as a young teen, Sinan rose to become the greatest of Ottoman architects long before the time he died, aged almost 100. Further beyond the Süleymaniye’s walls lie a few neighbourhoods that look rather run-down and dilapidated, with narrow streets that twist up the hill to the mosque complex. However, it’s safe for tourists to pass through, although you may be something of an attraction in your own right to the local children out playing!


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