Of all Ottoman heritage in Istanbul, the monumental Ottoman imperial mosques are the most important and surely the most visible. 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 the Ottoman sultans or other members of the dynasty. They were usually bulit as külliye, a complex of buildings with a mosque as a central point and surrounded with madrasas, kitchens and other buildings for various charitable services for the poor. The chief imperial architect Mimar Sinan constructed most of currently existent complexes in Instanbul. 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 latest 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. In any case, 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)
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 earthquakes and rebuilt in the 18th century. Consequently, the Bayezid Mosque has significant historical and architectural importance as the oldest of the monumental Ottoman imperial mosques.
What’s also interesting about this mosque is that it is right next to the Grand Bazaar. I have seen this mosque many times in the past, basically every time when I went to the Grand Bazaar. But, I have never visited it. Unfortunately, they were renovating the mosque when I went there and did not allow any visitors inside. So, this is one place that I will visit when I go to Istanbul next time.
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 look at the Istanbul’s skyline, you see two mosques in the distance. Previously, I never knew what they were and this time 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.
The Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque is the second oldest Ottoman imperial mosque in Istanbul. There were older mosques in the past, but they were destroyed in earthquakes and 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 important places of worship and I have seen a lot of local people praying there. But, this is a subject for another post. There are a lot of them, they are historically important and some of them are very beautifully decorated.
This mosque is not far from the Fatih Mosque, in a historical area of Istanbul that I mentioned in my post “Why do I like Istanbul”.
This also means that as it is quite far from Istanbul’s most central area, it is very likely that not many tourists go there. Apart from worshippers, some local people were looking around and taking pictures, but overall the place was very peaceful.
The mosque has a beautifully decorated dome.
Also, as it is one of the oldest mosques in Istanbul, its interior decoration is noticeably different from mosques constructed in later times. This feature makes this mosque unique and very beautiful.
It is also interesting to observe how the art of the interior decoration developed in subsequent centuries.
For people interested in history, this nearly 500 years old mosque should be of great interest. Also, once there you can visit the nearby traditional area of Istanbul.
The Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque is in a perfect location, from there views are spectacular. If for no other reason, you should visits this mosque for the views only. It would give you the opportunity to see Istanbul from a different perspective.
I was very impressed, especially as I did not expect this additional benefit. In a photo below, you can see Istanbul’s bridges, Süleymaniye Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace far in the distance.
ŞEHZADE MOSQUE (1548)
The same as the Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque, I visited the Şehzade Mosque for the first time. It is really strange that I’ve been to Istanbul so many times in the past and I was never 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 and the Blue Mosque.
This mosque is on the way to the Fatih and the Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosques. Basically, great Ottoman imperial mosques are one after the other, at a short distance from each other. In fact, if you decide to visit these 3 mosques, they are all close enough and you can see them in one day. There are also some other important Ottoman historical sites in the vicinity which I did not visit, as I only found out about them after I had left Istanbul. That’s OK, I will visit them next time.
Additionally, 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 a 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 a 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.
Indeed, 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 some 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.
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.
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 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 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.
The Süleymaniye mosque, architecturally magnificent, asserts Suleiman’s historical significance as one of the greatest sultans of the Ottoman empire.
The Süleymaniye Mosque is actually a huge complex (külliye). The mosque and surrounding structures served religious and cultural needs. There was a hospital, primary school, public baths (hamam), caravanserai, four madrasas, a specialised school for the hadith learning, a medical college and a public kitchen that served food to the poor.
Many surrounding structures are still around the mosque. I wanted to see them too after visiting the mosque, but that was not possible. Some of them were closed, while the others house some institutions and it was not possible to enter. Regardless, seeing them from the outside was very impressive.
The Süleymaniye Mosque is a magnificent structure that does not leave anyone indifferent. Perhaps, that was Suleiman’s intention when he commissioned a mosque of such magnitude.
It is only after you visit 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.
They still use it as a place of worship, after so many years. This is a place that every visitor to Istanbul should see. In a garden behind the mosque, you will find the mausoleum of Suleiman the Magnificent. But I will leave that for another post, otherwise this article would be too long.
ATIK VALIDE MOSQUE (1586)
This is the second of the three mosques that I am mentioning in this post, but I will write about it in another article in the future. This mosque is also in Üsküdar.
SULTAN AHMED MOSQUE / BLUE MOSQUE (1616)
The magnificent Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque is certainly the most famous of all great Ottoman imperial mosques. Positioned directly opposite Hagia Sophia, it creates a spectacular image. It is 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 a restoration. It was covered in scaffolding, both on the outside and inside. There was a long queue of tourists when I went there, 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 nothing to see and I could not take a single meaningful photo.
In a photo above you can see that one minaret is missing, they probably took it down for repairs. The photo below if from many years ago, as an illustration of this splendid structure in its full glory.
I will visit this mosque next time when I am in Istanbul, especially as it will certainly look magnificent after all restoration work has been completed.
YENI MOSQUE / NEW MOSQUE (1665)
This is the third of the three mosques that I want to mention in this article. They were also renovating this mosque and it was not possible to visit it. 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 haven’t visited all of them. As I previously mentioned, the Ottoman heritage in Istanbul is very large and it takes a lot of time to see everything.
Anyway, I have a perfect excuse to go back to Istanbul!