Süleymaniye Mosque


Suleymaniye Mosque

At one's first glance there are two things that are particularly remarkable in the ancient monuments of the Ottomans: the choice of the site and the perfect unity of the whole. Whether or not it is in a raised place, the site always has a view of vast open spaces and however far one may look, one may see the sky. The structure as a whole is broad and imposing. All details of the monument, however charged with multiple ornaments it may be, simultaneously contribute to a general effect that is always simple and always unique.

İf, among all the masterpieces which are imbued with the genius of Master Sinan Master and of his pupils, there is one that fills more perfectly than the others these fundamental conditions of Ottoman architecture, it is undoubtedly the Süleymaniye. Situated at the top of a hill dominating the Kantarcılar district between the Ministry of Wlar and the Office of the Sheikhulislam, the Süleymaniye soars majestically towards the sky with nothing to hinder its ascent. From the vast platform of its enclosure, one captures at a single glance Europe and Asia, the two seas that bathe Istanbul, and the smiling Princes Isles. Further still, in the vaporous transparency of the horizon, the giant Bithynian Olympus takes shape against a pure sky, standing like an ever present witness to the memory of the cradle of ancient Ottoman power. Confronted by such a tableau, the spirit can conceive only noble ideas. Founded in year 964 of the Hegira (1556 of the Christian era) by Sultan Süleyman the Lawgiver, for whom history has also decreed the names of "the Great" and "the Magnificent'; the Süleymaniye is preceded by an interior court or square flanked by four minarets. By this number, according to tradition, the founder wanted to indicate that he was the  fourth  Ottoman  sovereign  since  the  conquest  of Constantinople.  In the same way, the total number of the balconies of its minarets indicates that he was the tenth sultan since Osman Ghazi, the glorious root of his line.

The two minarets located at the two sides of the facade have two balconies each, and the two other two, which are at the other end of the square on each side of the porch, have three balconies each. The total number, for the four minarets, yields ten balconies, all with corbelling in stalactites. Three beautiful doors whose openings are formed of flattened curues are each surmounted by an ogee arch and give access through the frontage and the two other sides of the courtyard. A cloister of twenty four arcades runs around and is supported by an equal number of columns. The pair closest to the door in the facade are of porphyry;  of the remainder, twelve columns of pink granite alternate with ten of white marble. All are of the crystallized order. Their capitals are of white marble, and the edges of their stalactites heavily gilded.

Domes, which number twenty four, surmount the gallery of tbe cloister.  Their cupolas are painted with ornaments and flowers on a ground, and the largest, located midway along the porch, in front of the entrance to the nave, is decorated with pendentives in white marble stalactites, with gilding on the edges of crystalliza- tions. The door of the nave is a niche decorated with stalactites, also fashioned from gilded white marble in a design of great purity and aspect of true monumentality. The proportions are large. Two other smaller niches are located along each side at half the distance between the entrance to the nave and the courtyard wall. The windows of the porch have quadrangular bays surmounted by ogee arches lavishly decorated with glazed tiles that have a royal blue ground on which beautiful Arabic letters are interlaced, tracing out in pure white sacred verses from the Quran.

A very simple fountain, in the form of a parallelogram with four vertical faces and covered by a zinc roof, occupies the center of the square. Its decoration, sober and gracious, consists of a metal grill painted in emerald green and an openwork lattice of geometrical rosettes, above which runs a frieze of white marble carued with broad leaves whose hearts are slightly tinted aqua- marine. The court is entirely paved with enormous flagstones of white marble, except for the passage which gives access, through the porch, inside the mosque. There, in front of the main door, is placed a round monolithic flagstone of the richest porphyry with a diameter of approximately two meters. If we should believe a popular legend associated with this flagstone, it marks a tragic event and played a bloody role during the construction of the Süleymaniye courtyard.  Sultan Süleyman had himself chosen and indicated a sample of the most precious porphyry with which to enrich, the place before the mihrab inside mosque which indicates the direction of Mecca towards which the faithful perform their prostrations. He spelled out the particulars of size and finish to a skilful workman who knew the destination of the stone. This craftsman, who was a Christian, thought he would do a pious deed by carving on the flagstone a cross, perhaps hoping that merely by the sight of this emblem, all the Muslims would convert spontaneously. He had undoubtedly not reflected, or perhaps he was unaware, that the Islamic religion absolutely proscribes places reserved for the worship of any image. The flagstone of porphyry became, by virtue of the fact that a cross had even been carved on it, unsuitable with the ornamentation of mosque.

Sultan Süleyman, indignant at seeing all his care thus rendered useless, was provoked, they say, into a violent rage. He condemned the workman to death, and ordered that it be carried out then and there, in front of his eyes.  They thus brought into the courtyard a throne, on which the sovereign sat down to preside over the execution. The sculptor was decapitated in his presence and to preserve at the same time the memory of this disobedience and its terrible punishment, they carved deeply into the block of the marble where the seat of the sultan had sat and where the head of the victim had fallen, two signs which vaguely represent the outline of a throne and that of a head;  they are still to be seen there today. As for the porphyry, flagstone, so that it would not be completely wasted, they turned it over so that the cross was on the bottom and then installed it in front of the principal entrance to the nave with the result that, unknown to themselves, all who pass over it are treading on the cross. It is thus fulfills a function quite contrary to the proselytical intentions of the executed sculptor. Nothing prevents us from believing in this legend, which bears all the attributes characteristic of the truth, for it is known that leniency did not number among the  favorite virtues of Sultan Süleyman the Lawgiver. Moreover, at that time, tolerance and mercy were practiced no better in the west than they were in the East. Francis I, the restorer of arts and the patron of literature, also had the philosopher and scholar Etienne Dolet publicly burned alive; Charles V formally took part in the "acts of faith" of the Spanish Inquisition.

The Islamic religion, at least, has never had an institution similar to the Holy Office. Be that as it may, afterpassing over the legendary porphyry flagstone, we enter the nave, where we first of all are overcome by our admiration of the lofty and vast cupola of the dome, painted in a wash of clear tones of blue, white, and gold. These three colors form the basis of the entire decorative harmony of the building: its paintings, sculptures, precious marbles, tiles, etc, both inside and out. Everywhere, the white and blue dominate the white especially. A few pink granite and porphyry columns or insets, a few lines the color of blood, freshen the light without interrupting this harmony; the gildings of the stalactites are everywhere applied with a solemnity that does not disturb the tranquility.  The colossal vault is supported by four gigantic upright piers. Around the sides are columns that support the lateral galleries and the first landing, which contains the loges for the ladies and extends in a square around the nave. Three circular galleries gird the central rotunda.  During the nights of Ramazan and on other holy days, splendid illuminations engulf the balustrades which circumscribe them, and highlight all the elegant details of the stars, flowers, foliage, and scrollwork in flame. The first of these galleries is reached by two staircases that are located conveniently close to the entrance. The two uppergalleries, the highest of which is at the same level as the great central cupola, is reached by wooden ladders placed on the roof outside the dome. In this last gallery, there is a curious acoustical effect: sounds made anywhere in the interior are concentrated here and even softly-spoken words uttered in the nave or the aisles may be distinctly heard here.

Another curiosity worthy of remark, and which could be pro- posed as an example to architects, is the following one:  tunnels dug in the ground and faced with solid masonry, lead from the interior of the mosque to external tanks that are used for the distribution of water to all the dependencies of the Süleymaniye. The famous architect of this mosque, Master Sinan, combined this supply so as to take advantage of it in order to maintain inside the nave a mild and uniform temperature. By means of wooden trap doors that are located all over the central part of the floor of the nave, the air contained in these underground tunnels is fed into the mosque, where, as a result, the temperature is always warm in winter and cool in summer. All the inscriptions that decorate the Süleymaniye were executed by the famous calligrapher Hasan Çelebi, who is buried beside his master in Sütlüce by the Sweet Taters of Europe. Among the outstanding calligraphic ornamentation one should particularly mention the large rosettes of glazed tiles adorned with white letters on a royal blue ground and framed by borders of foliage executed in turquoise blue which decorate the two sides of the mihrab. Like the pulpit placed to its left, the mihrab is made of white marble, cazved in stalactites that are gilded with gold. The marble plates composing the pulpit number only four. The gate and base are formed of single slabs and measure eight meters, one in its length and the other in its height. These are also the measurements of the niche in which the mihrab is set. The imperial loge, situated at the right, is also of white. It is supported by porphyry columns with capitals in the crystallized order that are fashioned of gilded white marble. There are two richly-deco- rated fountains that are intended for ablutions. The door of this loge is, like all the woodwork of the building, engulfed in carved geometric rosettes.  A kürsü (pulpit) abutting the pillar closer to the imperial loge is also worthy of mentioning for the remarkable execution of work of this last kind,  in which walnut has been finely cut with open-work and carved with boldness and delicacy. At the other end of the nave, on the pillar on the opposite side, the balcony of the muezzin is set. Simpler, but almost as beautiful as the imperial loge, it is also of the crystallized order. Behind the muezzin's balcony along the low sides, is located the library, separated from the nave by a superb screen of brass worked in rococo ornamentation. It was repaired during the reign of Sultan Mahmud I by his grand vizier, Mustafa Pasha. More recently, this screen was renovated by Ahmed Vefik Efendi.  .

Leaving the nave, one passes in front of external galleries with superimposed orders:  the lower is in the crystallized order and has ogival arcades in which broad and high arches alternate with low and narrow ones, The upper order is planar with a row of regular arcades that are narrow and high. On the side of the mosque which looks towards Mecca, there are cemeteries planted with rose bushes in the center of which have been erected several splendid tombs among which is that of the mosque's benefactor. Among all these illustrious dead,  the architect of Süleymaniye does not appear; instead, Master Sinan built for himself a modest and charming mausoleum, located not far from there, at the intersection of two streets, between the enclosure outside of the mosque and the Office of the Sheikhulislam, which in his day was the headquarters of the Janissaries.

It is known that this great artist was a member of that terrifying militia which, after having raised the military might of Turkey to its brightest apogee, then turned and because of its continued mutinies and the bloody tyranny that it exercised over the sover eigns themselves and all their subjects, its abolition became essential for the advancement of the empire. During the entire course of his long and glorious life Master Sinan never ceased to receive the pay and pension due to the haseki ~privy household~ corps of Janissaries. The violent suppression of this turbulent and undisciplined body, ordered by Sultan Mahmud II, continued until the very tomb leaving no trace nor any emblem that might remind posterity of its odious memory: even the stone turbans that distinguished the burial places of these eternally proscribed militiamen were broken. In one honorable exception the tomb of Master Sinan was respected, and thus, thanks to the very special indulgence of the sovereign, one may see still see standing over the slab of white marble, the grandmaster Ottoman architecture, the typical turban of the haseki corps. The principal dependencies of the Süleymaniye are: a special college for the study of the oral traditions of the Prophet;  four higher schools (medreses);  a preparatory college for the sciences;  a school of medicine;  a primary school;  a kitchen and hospice for students;  a great public bath; and a very famous asylum for lunatics.

The historian Peçevi (v 1, p 424) says that, according to what was appeared in the accounts of the director of construction, the expenditure for this building amounted to 896.883 florins, which was worth 53, 782,900 aspers then, of which so were equivalent to a gurush.  The gurush in the time of Sultan Süleyman is estimated by Mr Belin, in the Mecidiye currency to be worth so piastres and 27 paras.