World Bulletin / News Desk
The Suleymaniye mosque in Istanbul stands atop of the third hill of the imperial city, and has been doing so as a monument to Ottoman culture and civilization for over 450 years, becoming an integral part of the landscape.
Named after the Ottoman ruler who commissioned it, Suleyman the Magnificent - otherwise known as Kanuni Sultan Suleyman - its construction was completed in the year 1558 after being impeccably designed by the one of the greatest architects of the millennium, Sinan.
Complete with schools, a library, a public bath, a hospital and many other facilities, its dome stands at 53 meters off the ground and is still one of the largest mosques in Turkey today.
Having survived a number of earthquakes and fires with only minimal damage, its awe-inspiring design, art and architecture has mesmerized both worshippers and visitors alike for centuries, and has become a subject of great interest and study for contemporary architects all over the world.
Sultan Suleyman hired Sinan, whose expertise had caught the attention of his superiors while serving in battle with the Ottoman janissaries in the field of military infrastructure, to construct a mosque that would symbolize his magnificence as a ruler – as was a custom tradition for Ottoman rulers at the time.
The Sultan had no doubt that such a grand project would take many years to complete, but trusted Sinan nonetheless the get the job done properly. However, after many years, not a single brick had been laid. Sinan, it seems, was in no rush to get started.
Consequently, rumors and accusations about Sinan began to spread among the people, with some claiming that Sinan had realized he had taken on an impossible mission and was planning to go on the run so he wouldn’t have to face the furious Sultan. Nonetheless, the rumors reached the palace, and Suleyman was understandably very upset with what he was hearing.
Sinan, in an autobiographical account, reported that he himself had no idea about the rumors that were being spread about him, and was shocked when he suddenly found the Sultan confronting him about the delay. When the Sultan asked Sinan when the construction of the mosque would be finished, Sinan simply replied saying ‘It will be complete within two months.’
While Suleyman had every right to suspect that Sinan was pulling his leg, which was indeed a grave and punishable act, the Sultan decided to give Sinan a chance to prove himself, and turned back to the palace. Meanwhile, Suleyman’s ministers and advisers were convinced that Sinan had lost his mind.
Upon the completion of the mosque, the Sultan once again suspected that Sinan was wasting time when he heard rumors that Sinan was sitting in the middle prayer hall smoking shisha (narghile/hookah). Arriving at the mosque to find that Sinan was indeed blowing on a waterpipe, the Sultan was once again infuriated.
However, on closer inspection, the Sultan found that Sinan was not actually smoking tobacco, but was simply blowing bubbles in the water. He was in fact listening to the sound of the bubbles to test the acoustics in the prayer hall, measuring the echo of sound bouncing off the mihrab.
Sinan was well-known not just for the aesthetic beauty of his masterpieces, but for also taking many factors into consideration when designing his buildings. Another factor he considered was the smoke that would come out from the 275 candles that would be used to light the prayer hall at night. He therefore designed the walls in such a way that the soot coming from the candles would be channeled into a special gallery inside the mosque, where it would be collected and later turned into a very fine ink.
Furthermore, his buildings also held some symbolic meanings. For example, the presence of a total of 10 balconies on the mosque’s four minarets is in tribute to Sultan Suleyman being the 10th ruler of the Ottoman Empire.
His adoption of using rails to support the structure of the Suleymaniye mosque, which would allow the building flexibility to shift up to 5 degrees to either side, is today used as a basis by contemporary architects when constructing tall skyscrapers.
In fact, Sinan was so thoughtful that he left hidden handwritten notes all over the mosque, giving advice to architects in the future who would come to carry out repair and maintenance work.
In the 50s, when the Suleymaniye mosque was undergoing repairs, maintenance workers found a message written in Ottoman Turkish. After the message was transliterated and translated into modern Turkish, architects realized they had stumbled upon a personal message signed and dated by none other than Sinan himself.
The message read, ‘As you have found this note, it means that one of the locking stones in the arch has slipped and you are unsure of how to replace it,’ before going on to describe the necessary process required to in doing so.
Sinan’s advice was taken, and today, almost 500 years on, the Suleymaniye mosque still stands as a tribute to the great mind and legacy of this proud son of Anatolia.
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