The biggest and the most impressive complexes are from the 16th and the 17th century, although mosques and surrounding complexes, built in the 17th and the 18th 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 as its central point, surrounded with madrasas, kitchens and other buildings for various charitable services for the poor.
The chief imperial architect, Mimar Sinan, constructed most of the currently existent complexes in Istanbul. The master architect of the Ottoman empire for 50 years, he set the pattern for other külliye architects.
In this and the next post, I will present the 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.
THE 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 visited the Grand Bazaar during my previous visits to Istanbul. But, I have never visited it.
Unfortunately, they were renovating the mosque when I finally went there to see it, so I couldn’t get inside. But, this is a site that I will certainly visit next time. Hopefully, they will finish the restoration works by then.
THE 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 the 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 or a tomb, 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’ve seen a lot of people praying there. But, this is a subject for another post. The Ottoman dynasty lasted for approximately 600 years, consequently 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, in the historical area of Istanbul that I mentioned in my post “Why do I like Istanbul”.
This also means that, as it’s quite far from the Istanbul’s most central area, it’s very likely that not many tourists go there. Apart from a handful of worshippers and several local people who were looking around and taking pictures, I didn’t see any foreigners there. In fact, the mosque was very peaceful.
In the photo below, you can see the 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. But, in my opinion, this feature makes this mosque unique and very beautiful.
It is also interesting to observe how the art of the interior decoration evolved 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, the views are spectacular from there. If for no other reason, you should visits this mosque for the views only. It will give you an opportunity to 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 the Istanbul’s bridges, the Süleymaniye Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace far in the distance.
THE 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’ve been 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 stay in Istanbul.
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 literally one after the other, at a short distance from each other. In fact, if you decide to visit these three mosques, you can visit 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. Never mind, 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, Mimar 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 certainly an excellent example of the Islamic art and architecture.
THE MIHRIMAH SULTAN MOSQUE (1548)
I am including this and two more Ottoman imperial mosques in this post in order to present a complete list of 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 talks about a fascinating period of time in the Ottoman history, when women ruled the empire.
This mosque is in Üsküdar, on the Asian side of Istanbul.
THE SÜLEYMANIYE MOSQUE (1557)
Of all Ottoman imperial mosques in Istanbul, the Süleymaniye Mosque is easily the most well known historical landmark. With its size and in its location, it magnificently dominates the city’s skyline. Also, together with the Blue Mosque, it is the most visited historical site in Istanbul, from the Ottoman era.
But, while the Blue Mosque is totally invaded by tourists, the Süleymaniye Mosque is less busy and you can enjoy in a relatively peaceful visit. I visited this mosque almost every time when I was in Istanbul in the past. I suspect that’s what most tourists do, 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, Mimar 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 too, after visiting the mosque, but that wasn’t possible. Some of them were closed, while the other structures house some institutions and it wasn’t possible to enter.
Regardless, seeing them from the outside was equally very impressive. I will try again next time, when I visit this mosque.
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 the historical significance of Suleiman the Magnificent.
The mosque is an architectural marvel and it is also beautifully decorated inside.
It’s a functioning place 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.
THE ATIK VALIDE MOSQUE (1586)
This is the second of the three mosques that I am mentioning in this post, but I will write about in the future. This mosque is also in Üsküdar.
THE SULTAN AHMED MOSQUE / THE BLUE MOSQUE (1616)
The magnificent Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque is, without any doubt, the most famous of all great Ottoman imperial mosques. Positioned directly opposite Hagia Sophia, it creates a spectacular image. It’s a breathtaking historical site, 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 war with Persia.
I visited this mosque every time when I was in Istanbul in the past. However, this time the mosque was under restoration. It was covered in 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 describe in this post. The 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 for 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 visit this mosque when I am in Istanbul next time, especially because I am sure that it will look magnificent after all restoration works have been completed.
THE YENI MOSQUE / THE NEW MOSQUE (1665)
This is the third of the three mosques that I’m mentioning in this article. I will also write about this mosque in the future. They were renovating this mosque too and I couldn’t visit it.
Otherwise, the Yeni Mosque or the New Mosque has a very interesting history.
The Ottoman imperial mosques in this post are from the 16th and the 17th century. They are the mosques that I visited. The list is not comprehensive, simply because I didn’t visit all of them.
As I previously mentioned, the Ottoman heritage in Istanbul is vast and it takes a lot of time to see everything.
But, I have a perfect excuse to go back to Istanbul, I hope very soon.