The biggest and the most impressive complexes are from the 16th and the 17th century, although the mosques built in the 18th and the 19th century are equally significant and beautiful.
OTTOMAN IMPERIAL MOSQUES
These magnificent historical structures were commissioned either by Ottoman sultans or other members of the dynasty. They were usually bulit as külliye, a complex of buildings with a mosque in the centre, surrounded with madrasas, kitchens and other buildings for various charitable services for the poor.
The chief imperial architect, Sinan, constructed most of the currently existent complexes in Istanbul. The master architect of the Ottoman empire for 50 years, he set a pattern for other külliye architects.
In this and the next post, I will present Ottoman imperial mosques that I visited during my last visit to Istanbul. This is by no means a complete list. Istanbul is full of imperial mosques, as almost every sultan wanted to leave his mark on the city. It takes a lot of time to visit them all. I visited those ones that are in the central historical area. Anyway, when I go back to Istanbul, I can see the rest of them.
Also, many Ottoman imperial mosques are in other cities in Turkey. Bursa was the first capital of the Ottoman empire and some historically very important mosques are there. Other Ottoman imperial mosques are in Edirne, Konya, Amasya, Manisa and even in Damascus.
BAYEZID MOSQUE (1506)
The Ottoman sultan Bayezid II commissioned the Bayezid Mosque as the second largest imperial mosque complex in Istanbul, after the conquest. The first one was the Fatih Mosque, but that complex was destroyed by various earthquakes and it was rebuilt in the 18th century.
Consequently, the Bayezid Mosque has a significant historical and architectural importance as the oldest of all monumental Ottoman imperial mosques in the city.
What’s also interesting about this mosque is that it’s right next to the Grand Bazaar. I’ve seen this mosque many times in the past, basically every time when I went to the Grand Bazaar during my previous visits to Istanbul. But, I’ve never seen it inside.
Unfortunately, they were restoring the mosque when I finally went to see it, so I couldn’t get inside. Anyway, I will certainly visit it next time. Hopefully, they will finish the restoration works by then.
YAVUZ SULTAN SELIM MOSQUE (1527/1528)
Despite the fact that I was in Istanbul many times in the past, I visited the Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque for the first time now. What’s interesting about this mosque is that, when you are on the Galata Bridge and you look at Istanbul’s skyline, you see two mosques in the distance. I didn’t know which mosques they were, so I decided to visit them both. One of them is this mosque and the other one is the Fatih Mosque.
The mosque is in a splendid location, it overlooks the Golden Horn. It is on top of the 5th hill of Istanbul.
This mosque is the second oldest Ottoman imperial mosque in the city. As I mentioned, there were older mosques in the past, but they were destroyed in earthquakes and were subsequently rebuilt in later centuries.
The Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned this mosque in memory of his father Sultan Selim I, who died in 1520.
The architect Alaüddin completed this mosque in 1527-1528.
In the garden behind the mosque, there is a türbe of Sultan Selim I, but also of his wife Hafsa Sultan and of Sultan Abdülmecid I.
Türbe is a small mausoleum of the Ottoman royalty and other important dignitaries and officials of the Ottoman empire.
Every mosque that I visited has these small mausoleums. They are also important places of worship and I saw a lot of people praying there. But, this is a subject for another post. The Ottoman dynasty lasted for approximately 600 years, so there are a lot of mausoleums. They are historically important and some of them are beautifully decorated.
This mosque is not far from the Fatih Mosque. It’s in a historical area of Istanbul that I mentioned in my post “Why do I like Istanbul”.
This also means that, as it’s far away from Istanbul’s most central area, it’s very likely that not many tourists go there. Apart from a handful of worshippers and some local people who were looking around and taking pictures, I didn’t see any tourists there. In fact, the mosque was very peaceful.
In the photo below, you can see a beautiful dome of this mosque.
Also, as it is one of the oldest mosques in Istanbul, its interior decoration is noticeably different from what you can see in mosques constructed in later times. In my opinion, this feature makes this mosque unique and very beautiful.
It is also interesting to observe the art of interior decoration and its evolution in subsequent centuries.
For people interested in history, this nearly 500 years old mosque should be of great interest. Once there, you can also visit the nearby traditional area of Istanbul.
The Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque is in a perfect location, views are spectacular from there. If for no other reason, you should visits this mosque for the views only. You will see Istanbul from a different perspective.
I was very impressed, especially because I didn’t expect this additional benefit. In the photo below, you can see Istanbul’s bridges, the Süleymaniye Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace far in the distance.
ŞEHZADE MOSQUE (1548)
The same as the Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque, I also visited the Şehzade Mosque for the first time. It’s really strange that I went to Istanbul so many times in the past and that I wasn’t even aware of its existence. I found out about it when I was planning what to see during my latest stay in the city.
In a way, it’s a shame that most visitors only visit the most famous sites in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. In other words, most people only see Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace.
This mosque is on the way to the Fatih and the Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosques. Basically, the great Ottoman imperial mosques are lined literally one after the other. In fact, if you decide to visit these three mosques, you can see all three of them in one day.
But, there are also some other important Ottoman historical sites in the vicinity, which I didn’t visit, as I found out about them only after I had already left Istanbul. But that’s OK, I will visit them next time.
So, the Şehzade Mosque is on the 3rd hill of Istanbul. The Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned this complex (külliye) as a memorial to his son Şehzade Mehmed, who died in 1543.
He was Suleiman’s favourite son. Interestingly, he was born in 1521, the year in which Suleiman the Magnificent conquered Belgrade. Şehzade Mehmed died in 1543 while he was on the way back to Istanbul, after the victorious military campaign in Hungary.
Although Şehzade Mehmed was the oldest son of Suleiman’s only legal wife Hürrem Sultan, he was not his oldest son. His oldest son was Şehzade Mustafa, whom he had with Mahidevran Sultan. At the time of his untimely death, they were preparing Şehzade Mehmed to take over the sultanate after Suleiman’s reign.
Suleiman the Magnificent personally mourned his death for forty days in a temporary tomb in Istanbul. At that site, the imperial architect, Sinan, constructed a lavish mausoleum for Şehzade Mehmed, in the garden behind the mosque.
This mosque complex was Sinan’s first important imperial commission. It was also one of his most ambitious architectural works, despite the fact that he did it early in his very successful career.
Without any doubt, the Şehzade Mosque and the surrounding complex are magnificent structures. But, there was no one visiting this mosque when I was there, although there were several worshippers.
It’s a pity that this splendid historical structure is overlooked, especially as it is not far from the central historical area. It is an excellent example of the Islamic art and architecture.
MIHRIMAH SULTAN MOSQUE (1548)
I am including this and two more mosques in this post in order to present a complete list of Ottoman imperial mosques that I visited when I was in Istanbul.
But, I will write about them in the future, because they will be more relevant and better presented in another article that will talk about the fascinating period of time in the Ottoman history, when women ruled the empire.
This mosque is in Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul.
SÜLEYMANIYE MOSQUE (1557)
Of all Ottoman imperial mosques in Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque is easily the most well known historic landmark. With its size and in its location, it dominates the city’s skyline. Also, together with the Blue Mosque, it is the most visited Ottoman era historic structure in Istanbul.
Masses of tourists invade the Blue Mosque, but not the Süleymaniye Mosque. However, I visited this mosque almost every time when I was in Istanbul in the past. I suspect that most other people do the same, in addition to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned this mosque, to be built on the 3rd hill of Istanbul. The imperial architect, Sinan, designed it and constructed it in 1557. It is the second largest Ottoman era mosque in the city.
Importantly, the architecturally magnificent Süleymaniye mosque asserts Suleiman’s historical significance as one of the greatest sultans of the Ottoman empire.
The Süleymaniye Mosque is a huge complex (külliye). The mosque and the surrounding structures served religious and cultural needs.
The complex contained a hospital, a primary school, public baths (hamam), caravanserai, four madrasas, a specialised school for the hadith learning, a medical college and also a public kitchen that served food to the poor.
Many structures of the former complex are still around the mosque. I wanted to see them after visiting the mosque, but I couldn’t. Some of them were closed, while the other ones are offices and I couldn’t enter.
Regardless, seeing them on the outside was equally very impressive. But I will try next time, when I visit this mosque again.
It’s a magnificent structure that doesn’t leave anyone indifferent. Perhaps, that was Suleiman’s intention when he commissioned such a monumental mosque.
Also, it’s only after you’ve visited this mosque that you comprehend Suleiman’s historical significance.
The mosque is an architectural marvel, beautifully decorated inside.
It’s a functioning temple of worship, even after so many years. It’s a place that every visitor to Istanbul should see. In the garden behind the mosque, you will find the mausoleum of Suleiman the Magnificent.
But I’ll leave that for another time, otherwise this post would be too long.
ATIK VALIDE MOSQUE (1586)
This is the second mosques that I want to mention in this post. This mosque is also in Üsküdar.
SULTAN AHMED MOSQUE / BLUE MOSQUE (1616)
Without any doubt, the magnificent Sultan Ahmed Mosque or Blue Mosque is the most famous of all Ottoman imperial mosques. Positioned directly opposite Hagia Sophia, it’s a spectacular image and a breath taking historic structure, in the most central part of old Istanbul.
Sultan Ahmed I commissioned its construction to reassert Ottoman power after the Peace of Zsitvatorok and the crushing loss in the 1603-1618 Ottoman – Safavid war.
I visited this mosque every time when I was in Istanbul in the past. However, this time they were restoring it and it had scaffolding both on the outside and inside.
Also, there was a long queue of tourists waiting to enter, unlike in any other mosque that I’ve mentioned in this post. My visit was completely pointless as only one small internal section of the mosque was open, the rest was all covered. There was really nothing to see and I couldn’t take a single meaningful photo to put in this post.
In the photo above you can see that one minaret is missing, they probably took it down for repairs. The photo below is from many years ago, as an illustration of this splendid structure in its full glory.
I will go back to this mosque when I’m in Istanbul next time. I am sure that it will look magnificent after all restoration works have been finished.
YENI MOSQUE / NEW MOSQUE (1665)
This is the third mosque that I’m just mentioning in this post. I will write about it in the future. They were also renovating this mosque and I couldn’t see it inside.
Otherwise, the Yeni Mosque or the New Mosque has a very interesting history.
The 16th and the 17th century Ottoman imperial mosques in this post are those ones that I visited when I was in Istanbul. However, the list is not comprehensive simply because I didn’t visit all of them.
The Ottoman heritage in Istanbul is vast and it takes a lot of time to see everything.
So, I have a perfect excuse to go back there, hopefully very soon.