Tag Archives: architect Sinan

Highlights of Istanbul


The original building of the Hippodrome was built by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus in 203 AD when he rebuilt Byzantium. Constantine the Great reconstructed, enlarged and adorned it with beautiful works which were brought from different places of the Roman Empire when he chose Byzantium as his new capital.
Although there is not much left from the original building except the Egyptian Obelisk, Serpentine and Constantine Columns, according to the excavations carried out, the hippodrome was 117 m / 384 ft wide and 480 m / 1575 ft long with a capacity of 100,000 spectators. It is said that one quarter of the population could fit into the hippodrome at one time.

During the Byzantine period, the Hagia Sophia was the religious center, a place which belonged to God; the palace belonged to the emperor; and the hippodrome was the civil center for the people.

Chariots drawn by either 2 or 4 horses raced here representing one of the four factions divided among the people. Each faction was represented by a color. Later on these four colors were united in two colors; the Blues and the Greens. The Blues were the upper and middle classes, orthodox in religion and conservative in politics. The Greens were the lower class and radical both in religion and politics. One of these political divisions ended with a revolt which caused the death of 30,000 people. This revolt was named after people’s cries of “nika” which meant “win” and this Nika Revolt took place in 531 AD.

The central axis of the hippodrome was called spina and the races took place around the spina. The races used to start by the order of the emperor and the contestants had to complete seven laps around the spina. The winner was awarded a wreath and some gold by the emperor.

The hippodrome was destroyed and plundered in 1204 by the Crusaders. After the Turks it lost its popularity and especially with the construction of the Blue Mosque, the ancient hippodrome changed its name and became At Meydani (Horse Square) a place where Ottomans trained their horses. The only three remaining monuments from the original building are the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column and the Constantine Column.

Dikilitas (The Egyptian Obelisk)

It was originally one of the two obelisks which were erected in the name of Thutmose III in front of Amon-Ra Temple in Karnak in the 15C BC. It is a monolith made of granite and the words on it are in Egyptian hieroglyphs which praise Thutmose III. The original piece was longer than today’s measurement of 19.60 m / 64.30 ft which is thought to be two thirds of the original. It was broken either during shipment or intentionally to make it lighter to transport.

The Roman governor of Alexandria, sent it to Theodosius I in 390 AD.

The obelisk is situated on a Byzantine marble base with bas-reliefs. These reliefs give some details about the emperor from the Kathisma and races of the time. The Emperor Theodosius I, on four sides of the obelisk, is watching the erection of it, or a chariot race, receiving homage from slaves or preparing a wreath for the winner of the race.

Burma Sutun (The Serpentine Column)

After defeating the Persians at the battles of Salamis (480 BC) and Plataea (479 BC), the 31 Greek cities, by melting all the spoils that they obtained, made a huge bronze incense burner with three entwined serpents to be erected in front of the Apollo Temple in Delphi. Originally it was 8 m / 26.3 ft high, but today it is only 5.30 m / 17.4 ft.

This column was brought here from Delphi by Constantine I in 4C AD. By looking at the records, it is possible to understand that it was standing at its place until the 16C. However it is not known what happened to the serpent heads after the 16C.

Orme Sutun (The Constantine Column)

Unlike the Egyptian Obelisk, this is not a monolith but a column built of stones. Who erected it and when it was built are not known. According to the inscriptions, it was renovated and restored to have a more beautiful appearance by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus and his son Romanus II in the 10C AD. The original column should have been from the 4C or 5C AD.

It is 32 m / 105 ft high and after three steps comes the marble base at the bottom. It is also thought that all the surfaces of the column were covered with bronze relief pieces which probably were plundered during the 4th Crusade in 1204, and today it is possible to find some of these pieces used in the decoration of St. Mark Square in Venice.


Built by Sultan Ahmet I as a part of a large complex, among the Turkish people it is called Sultan Ahmet Mosque. However, tourists fascinated with the beautiful blue tiles always remember it as the Blue Mosque. The complex consisted of a mosque, tombs, medreses, fountains, a health center, kitchens, shops, a bath, rooms, houses and storehouses.
A 19-year-old Sultan started digging ceremoniously in the presence of high officials until he was tired. Thus began the construction in 1609 which continued until it was finished in 1616. An interesting fact about Sultan Ahmet is that he ascended to the throne at the age of 14 as the 14th ruler and died only 14 years later. Being close to the Topkapi Palace, Sultan Ahmet Mosque was regarded as the Supreme Imperial Mosque in Istanbul. Even though the palace was left and the sultan moved to the Dolmabahce Palace, Sultan Ahmet Mosque shared this pride with the Suleymaniye Mosque.

The architect was one of the apprentices of Sinan, Sedefkar Mehmet Aga. He designed one of the last examples of the classical period’s architectural style.

The mosque is situated in a wide courtyard which has five gates. There is an inner courtyard next to the mosque with three entrances. The inner courtyard is surrounded by porticos consisting of 26 columns and 30 domes. The sadirvan in the middle is symbolic, because the actual ones are outside on the walls of the inner courtyard. There are three entrances to the main building, one from the inner courtyard and two from both sides of the building. There are four minarets at the corners of the mosque having three serefes each. The two minarets at the far corners of the courtyard have two serefes each. There are six minarets in all, each of which is fluted.

The interior of the mosque is a square with a width of 51.65 m / 170 ft and a length of 53.40 m / 175 ft covered by a dome. The main dome rests on four semi-arches and four pendentives. The diameter of the dome is 22.40 m / 73.5 ft and the height is 43 m / 141 ft. The four piers carrying the dome are called elephant legs as each has a diameter of 5 m / 16.4 ft.

There are 260 windows which do not have original stained glasses any longer. The walls all along the galleries are covered with 21 thousand 17C Iznik tiles having many flower motifs in a dominant blue color.

Sound-and-light show

On summer evenings, generally beginning at 8:00 p.m., a sound-and-light show, which is worth seeing, is presented between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. The languages of the show Turkish, English, French and German rotate daily with one each night.


The Hagia Sophia was probably the largest building on the world’s surface, barring the Egyptian Pyramids, or the Great Wall of China. For many centuries it was the largest church and today is the fourth largest in the world after St. Paul’s in London, St. Peter’s in Rome and the Duomo in Milan. The great Ottoman architect Sinan, in his autobiography, says that he devoted his lifetime in the attempt to surpass its technical achievements.
It was dedicated to the Hagia Sophia which means the Divine Wisdom, an attribute of Christ.

Today’s Hagia Sophia is the third building built at the same place. The first one was a basilica with a wooden roof and was built in 390 AD. This original church Megale Ecclesia (Great Church) was burned down in a rumpus in 404. Theodosius replaced it with a massive basilica which was burned down in the Nika Revolt against Justinian in 532. Justinian began rebuilding the Hagia Sophia in the same year. The architects were two Anatolian geniuses, Anthemius of Tralles, an engineer and a mathematician and Isidorus of Miletus, an architect. They started collecting materials from all over the empire. In the construction ten thousand workers worked under the supervision of one hundred master builders.

Justinian reopened it in 537 entering the Hagia Sophia with the words “Solomon, I have surpassed you!”.

Because the building is on a fault line in an earthquake zone and the city passed through many riots and fires, the Hagia Sophia was destroyed and underwent restorations several times.

Throughout Byzantine history, the Hagia Sophia played an important role as emperors were crowned and various victories were celebrated in this remarkable building. The Hagia Sophia even gave refuge to criminals.

Another major event during the Byzantine period was the removal of all religious images from the church in the iconoclastic period. During the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the church was pillaged and some disgusting events took place in the Hagia Sophia. After conquering Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet immediately went to the Hagia Sophia and ordered that it be converted into a mosque. This was done by adding the Islamic elements such as minarets, the mihrab and the minber all of which were appropriately positioned to face toward Mecca, 10 degrees south of the main axis of the building. The architect Sinan was also assigned to make some restorations and add Islamic elements to the building. Buttresses were added in the Ottoman period. Two huge marble jars were brought from Pergamum in the 16C and probably used to keep oil for candles. The eight round wooden plaques at gallery level are fine examples for Islamic calligraphy. The names painted on these plaques are Allah, Prophet Mohammed, the first four Caliphs Ebubekir, Omer, Osman and Ali, and the two grandsons of Mohammed, Hasan and Huseyin.

In time Ayasofya became a complex consisting of tombs, a fountain, libraries, etc. It has been thought that when Turks converted the church into a mosque, all the pictures were covered which is not correct. According to the narration of travelers, pictures were still standing but figures’ faces were covered.

Ayasofya was used as a church for 916 years and as a mosque for 481 years. In 1934, by the order of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it was made a museum and has since been open to visitors.


The Hagia Sophia has a classical basilica plan and the main ground plan of the building is a rectangle, 70 m / 230 ft in width and 75 m / 246 ft in length. The central space of the Hagia Sophia is divided on both sides from the side aisles by four big piers and 107 columns (40 downstairs, 67 upstairs) between them. The space is covered with a huge dome which is 55.60 m / 182 ft high. The dome, due to earthquakes and restorations, is slightly elliptical with a diameter of 31.20 m / 102 ft on one axis and 32.80 m / 107.60 ft on the other.


Most of the mosaics are from periods after the iconoclastic period. Whitewash or plasters either of the iconoclastic or the Islamic period helped to protect the mosaics. Mosaics of major importance are as follows:

In the inner narthex above the main entrance, also called the Imperial Gate, there is a 10C mosaic depicting Jesus as pantocrator seated upon a jeweled throne, dressed like an empire, and making a gesture of blessing with his right hand. In his left hand he is holding a book with an inscription of these words: “Peace with you, I am the light of the world.” On both sides of Jesus Christ are two medallions. The Virgin Mary on the left and an angel with a staff on the right. Emperor Leo VI is depicted kneeling in front of Jesus.

On the pendentives are depicted winged angels with covered faces. The ones in west pendentives are imitations in paint from Fossati’s restoration.

Above the main apse is the mosaic depicting the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus. She is sitting on a bench with her feet resting on a stool. Her right hand is on her son’s shoulder and her left upon his knee. Jesus is raising his right hand in blessing and holding a scroll in his left hand.

The galleries; the 13C mosaic of the Deesis scene, Jesus as the pantocrator flanked by the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist who are shown interceding with him on behalf of mankind.

At the far end of the last bay in the south gallery is a mosaic showing Christ enthroned with his right hand in the gesture of benediction and the book of Gospels in his left hand. On the left is the figure of the 11C Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus offering a money bag and Empress Zoë holding a scroll on the right. The emperor’s face in the mosaic was changed each time Zoë changed her husband. Constantine IX was Zoë’s third husband.

To the right of the mosaic of Zoë there is a 12C mosaic showing the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus flanked by Emperor John II Comnenus offering a bag of gold and red-haired Empress Eirene holding a scroll. At the extension of the mosaic on the side wall is the figure of Prince Alexius.

At the end of the inner narthex, before going out to the courtyard (today’s exit) stands the 10C beautiful mosaic: The Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus in her lap, on one side Emperor Constantine offering a small model of the city as he is accepted as the founder, on the other side Emperor Justinian offering the model of the Hagia Sophia as the emperor who had it built.

Iconoclasm (726-843 AD)

Iconoclasm, an ancient Greek word that means “image-breaking,” refers to the religious doctrine that forbade the veneration of images (icons) of Christ and the saints in Christian churches.

In 726 AD, Emperor Leo III ordered the image of Christ at the Chalke Palace in Constantinople to be destroyed. In the following years, other measures were taken to suppress the veneration of images.

Empress Theodora, however, presided over the restoration of icon veneration in 843 AD, an event still celebrated by the Orthodox Church as the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

The iconoclastic movement was motivated by a variety of factors that possibly included Moslem influences, as well as the concern that the cult of icons was a form of idolatry. The Council of Nicaea also specified that images should be venerated but not worshipped, since worship belongs to God alone and the worship of icons would mean idolatry. 


Istanbul was one of the most often besieged cities in the world and has always needed permanent water supplies. And as a result many underground cisterns were built during the Byzantine Empire. Water was brought to these big reservoirs from far away sources through aqueducts. It is still possible to see remains of a large aqueduct in Unkapani. This is called Bozdogan Kemeri (Aqueduct of Valens) and was built in 375 AD by the Emperor Valens. Because Turks have always preferred running water, after capturing the city from the Byzantines, they did not use cisterns properly. Most of them were usually converted into either small bazaars or storehouses. The largest and most ornate of these cisterns is Yerebatan Sarayi. In its construction, columns and capitals of earlier temples were used and this provides a very decorative appearance. This is why it is called saray which means “palace” in Turkish.
Yerebatan Sarayi was dug and built probably after 542 by Emperor Justinian I. There are 336 columns most of which are topped with Byzantine Corinthian capitals. The cistern is 70 m / 230 ft wide and 140 m / 460 ft long.

Between 1985-1988, the Municipality of Istanbul cleaned and restored it thoroughly and built a wooden walkway between the columns. In addition to that there are special effects presented by a light and sound show. By looking at the water level marks on the plaster walls which reach the height of the capitals, it is possible to understand that the cistern was very full in times gone by.

Two Medusa heads were used to form bases for two columns in a far corner of the cistern. The position in which they were placed suggests that the people who put them there were Christians and did not want to revere a god of a pagan period. The water inside the underground cistern is collected rain water. The carp in the water are decorative and an incidental protection against pollution. Some people even think that the Byzantines originally also raised fish in the cistern.


The Topkapi Sarayi was the second palace in Istanbul after the conquest. The first was in the Bayezit area and it was called the Old Palace after the construction of Topkapi. Called the New Palace initially it was named as the Topkapi Palace after a summer palace near the sea at Sarayburnu in the 19C.
The construction of the Topkapi Palace, including the walls, was completed between 1465 and 1478. However, different sultans having ascended to the throne added parts to the palace which now gives the appearance of a lack of unity and style. The changes were made for reasons of practicality, to commemorate victorious campaigns or to repair damage caused by earthquakes and fire.

The Topkapi Palace had never been static but was always in the process of organic development with the influences of the time. The first of these influences was the parallelism between the palace and the empire. As the empire became larger, the palace was likewise enlarged. The second is that as the sultans felt insecure and withdrew themselves behind the walls removed from nature, there was an attempt to bring nature inside the walls in the form of miniatures, tiles and suchlike.

If late Ottoman period palaces are excluded, only the Topkapi Palace survived from the glory days of the great Ottoman Empire, which implies that palaces for the Ottomans were something different than the ones we know today. There is a kind of humble simplicity and practicality in the Ottoman palaces.

The Topkapi Sarayi was a city-palace with a population of approximately 4,000 people. It covers an area of 70 hectares / 173 acres. It housed all the Ottoman sultans from Sultan Mehmet II to Abdulmecit, nearly 400 years and 25 sultans. In 1924 it was made into a museum.

The palace was mainly divided into two sections, Birun and Enderun. Birun was the outer palace and Enderun the inner. Out of four consecutive courtyards of the palace the first two are Birun. Enderun, the inner palace, consisted of the third and fourth courtyards with the harem.

The first courtyard which was open to the public started after the Bab-i Humayun (Imperial Gate). This was the service area of the palace consisting of a hospital (with a capacity of 120 beds), a bakery, an arsenal, the mint, storage places for various things and some dormitories. This courtyard acted something like a city center.

Topkapi Palace, as well as being the imperial residence of the sultan, his court and harem, was also the seat of government for the Ottoman Empire, Divan. The second courtyard, also called Alay Meydani (Procession Square), which started after the Babusselam (Gate of Peace), was the seat of the Divan and open to anyone who had business with the Divan. This was the administration center. The Divan met four times a week. In the earlier years the sultan would be present at these council meetings, but later on, he would sit behind a latticed grille placed in the wall and listen to the proceedings from there. The Council never knew whether or not the sultan was actually present and listening to them unless he decided to speak himself. The Divan consisted of two rooms: the Office of the Grand Vizier and the Public Records Office, the Tower of Justice.

In addition to the Divan there were also the privy stables and kitchens. The kitchens consist of a series of ten large rooms with domes and dome-like chimneys. In these kitchens in those times they cooked for about 4,000 people. The kitchens were used separately for different people, because different dishes for different classes had to be prepared.

In the kitchens today, a collection of Chinese Porcelain which are accepted as the third most valuable in the world, are on display together with authentic kitchen utensils as well as both Turkish and Japanese Porcelain.

Just before entering the third courtyard, in front of the third gate, the Babussaade (Gate of Felicity) or the Akagalar (White Eunuchs) Gate is the place where the throne was placed for all kinds of occasions, such as religious holidays, welcoming foreign ambassadors and funerals. Payment of the Yeniceri salaries took place there too as well as the handing over of the sancak, the standard or the flag of the Caliph by the sultan.

The Enderun, inner palace, started after the Babussaade and was surrounded by the quarters of the inner palace boys who were in service to the sultan and the palace. The first building after entering into the third courtyard is Arz Odasi, the Audience Hall. Many important ceremonies also took place there. Foreign ambassadors and results of Divan meetings were presented to the sultan in this chamber.

In the middle of the courtyard is the library of Sultan Ahmet III. On the right is a section in which sultans’ costumes are shown. Next to this is the treasury section where many precious objects are displayed. Among these the Kasikci Diamond (the Spoonmaker’s Diamond) and the Topkapi Hanceri (the Topkapi Dagger) are the most precious. The Kasikci Diamond is 86 carats, “drop-shaped”, faceted and surrounded by 49 large diamonds. The Topkapi Dagger, a beautiful dagger ornamented with valuable emerald pieces was planned to be sent to Nadir Shah of Iran as a present, but when it was on the way it was heard that Nadir had been assassinated and so it was taken back to the palace treasury. Relics including a hand, arm and skull bones belonging to John the Baptist are also on display in the treasury section.

From the right-hand corner to the left in this courtyard are the sections of miniatures, calligraphy, portraits of sultans, clocks and holy relics of Islam. The holy relics are personal belongings of the Prophet Mohammed (a mantle, sword, seal, tooth, beard and footprints) and Caliphs, Koran scripts, religious books and framed inscriptions.

In the fourth courtyard there are pavilions some facing the Marmara Sea and others facing the Golden Horn.

Life at the Court

The focal point of the court was the sultan, of course. The sultan’s daily life was very simple. In addition to daily regular activities, sultans, in order to broaden their perspectives, gathered scholars, poets, artists and historians at the palace. Most of the sultans in the Ottoman Empire united many skills in themselves. They commissioned new works, manuscripts and bindings, were ardent readers, competent calligraphers, poets, archers, riders, cirit (javelin) players, hunters, composers, etc.

In daily life at the palace, silence was dominant. Hundreds of people tried not to meet the sultan unless they needed to and in keeping voices down, it was even said that, people of the court sometimes developed a body language system among themselves.

The Harem

The concept of the harem has provoked much speculation. Curiosity about the unknown and inaccessible inspired highly imaginative literature among the people of the western world. People always basically thought that in a harem there were hundreds of beautiful girls and a sultan who had fun with all of them. This is generally not correct as the sultan could not, perhaps unfortunately for him, just leap into a roomful of beauties and have his way. There were certain rules with life in the Harem.

The word harem which in Arabic means “forbidden” refers to the private sector of a Moslem household in which women live and work; the term is also used for women dwelling there. In traditional Moslem society the privacy of the household was universally observed and respectable women did not socialize with men to whom they were not married or related. Because the establishment of a formal harem was an expense beyond the means of the poor, the practice was limited to elite groups, usually in urban settings. Since Islamic law allowed Moslems to have a maximum of four wives, in a harem there would be up to four wives and numerous concubines and servants. Having a harem, in general, was traditionally a mark of wealth and power. Though the women of the harems might never leave its confines, their influence was frequently of key importance to political and economic affairs of the household, with each woman seeking to promote the interests of her own children.

The most famous harems were those of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire. The harems of the Ottoman Turkish rulers were elaborate structures concealed behind palace walls, in which lived hundreds of women who were married, related to, or owned by the head of the household.

The Harem of the Sultan

The idea of the harem came to the Ottoman sultans from the Byzantines. Before coming to Anatolia, Turks did not have harems. After the conquest of Istanbul, sultans built the Topkapi Palace step by step. Parallel to it, a harem was also begun. Eventually it became a big complex consisting of a few hundred rooms. The harem was not just a prison full of women kept for the sultan’s pleasure. It was his family quarters. Security in the harem was provided by black eunuchs. Valide Sultan (Queen Mother) was the head of the harem. She had enormous influence on everything that took place there and frequently on her son too.

Young and beautiful girls of the harem were either purchased by the palace or presented to the sultan as gifts from dignitaries or sultan’s family. When these girls entered the harem, they were thoroughly assessed.

Among the girls there were mainly four different classes: Odalik (servant), Gedikli (sultan’s personal servants; there were only twelve of them), Ikbal or Gozde (those were Favorites who are said to have had affairs with the sultan), Kadin or Haseki Sultan (wives giving children to the sultan). When the Haseki Sultan’s son ascended to the throne, she was promoted to Valide Sultan. She was the most important woman. After her, in order of importance came the sultan’s daughters. Then came the first four wives of the sultan who gave birth to children. Their degree of importance was in the order in which their sons were born. They had conjugal rights and if the sultan did not sleep with them on two consecutive Friday nights, they could consider themselves divorced. They had their own apartments. The Favorites also had their own apartments. But others slept in dormitories.

Girls were trained according to their talents in playing a musical instrument, singing, dancing, writing, embroidery and sewing. Many parents longed for their daughters to be chosen for the Harem.

It should not be thought that women never went out. They could visit their families or just go for drives in covered carriages from which they could see out behind the veils and curtained windows. They could also organize parties up on the Bosphorus or along the Golden Horn.

Kizlar Agasi (Chief Black Eunuch) had the biggest responsibility and was the only one who knew all the secret desires of the sultan. Eunuchs, owing to different methods used for castration, were checked regularly by doctors to make sure they remained eunuchs.

When a sultan died, the new sultan would bring his new harem which meant that the former harem was dispersed. Some were sent to the old palace, some stayed as teachers or some older ones were pensioned off.

Yeniceriler (Janissaries)

Janissaries (Turkish yeni is new and ceri is a soldier), standing Ottoman Turkish army, were organized by Murat I. Ottoman armies had previously been composed of Turkoman tribal levies, who were loyal to their clan leaders, but as the Ottoman polity acquired the characteristics of a state, it became necessary to have paid troops loyal only to the sultan. Therefore, the system of impressing Christian youths (devsirme) was instituted and having been converted to Islam and given the finest training, they became the elite of the army. Special laws regulated their daily life cutting them off from civil society such as being forbidden to marry. Devotion to such discipline made the Janissaries the scourge of Europe. These standards, however, changed with time; recruitment became lax (Moslems were admitted, too) and because of the privileges Janissaries enjoyed, their numbers swelled from about 20,000 in 1574 to some 135,000 in 1826. To supplement their salaries, the Janissaries began to pursue various trades and established strong links with civil society, thus undermining their loyalty to the ruler. In time they became kingmakers and the allies of conservative forces, opposing all reform and refusing to allow the army to be modernized. When they revolted in 1826, Sultan Mahmut II dissolved the corps by proclamation, putting all opposition down by force. Thousands were killed and others banished, but most were simply absorbed into the general population.

Tugra (Monogram of a sultan)

Each sultan had a personal emblem called a tugra, a calligraphic arrangement of the letters of his name and titles. They were used at the top of imperial decrees or in the inscriptions of buildings (gates, mosques, palaces, fountains etc.).

Sultans and the Caliphate

The Caliphate is the office and realm of the caliph as supreme leader of the Moslem community as successor of the Prophet Mohammed. Under Mohammed the Moslem state was a theocracy, with the Seriat, the religious and moral principles of Islam, as the law of the land. The Caliphs, Mohammed’s successors, were both secular and religious leaders. They were not empowered, however, to promulgate dogma, because it was considered that the revelation of the faith had been completed by Mohammed.

In 1517, when Sultan Selim I captured Cairo, he also added the title of caliph to that of sultan. After that, all Ottoman sultans automatically became caliphs when they ascended to the throne.

The title held little significance for the Ottoman sultans until their empire began to decline. In the 19C, with the advent of Christian powers in the Near East, the sultan began to emphasize his role as caliph in an effort to gain the support of Moslems living outside his realm. The Ottoman Empire collapsed during World War I. After the war, Turkish nationalists deposed the sultan and the Caliphate was finally abolished in 1924 by the Turkish Grand National Assembly.


Suleymaniye, rather than a mosque, is an important historical symbol for the Turks. It unites Sinan with Suleyman, one representing the best of the arts and the other most powerful of political strength.
Like other works of the time, Suleymaniye is not only a mosque but a huge complex. It is a work which typifies the Ottoman Empire at its peak. Its name, Suleymaniye, derives from the builder’s name, Kanuni Sultan Suleyman (Lawgiver), Sultan Suleyman I the Magnificent. The architect was the greatest of Ottoman architects, the incomparable Sinan.

The Suleymaniye mosque was built between 1550-1557. A spacious courtyard surrounds the mosque. Similar to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, there is another inner courtyard surrounded by porticos with 28 domes supported by 24 columns. This courtyard is a little smaller than the main building. In the middle is located a sadirvan. In the four corners of the inner courtyard stand four minarets having a total of ten serefes.

The interior of the mosque is rectangular in plan, 61 m / 200 ft in width and 70 m / 230 ft in length. The main section is covered by a huge dome with a diameter of 27.5 m / 90 ft and a height of 47 m / 154 ft. The dome is held by four piers and supported by two semi-domes in the E and W. The transition to the main dome is provided by pendentives.

The acoustics were one of the distinctive features of the building which were achieved by placing 64 pots in different places in the walls and the floor. Except for those above the mihrab, the stained glass is not original. When the mosque was built there were 4,000 oil candles, the smoke from which could have endangered the paintings on the walls. The architect avoided this, however by creating a system for the circulation of air inside the building. Sultan Suleyman and Sinan are buried in their tombs in the Suleymaniye complex.

Sinan (c.1491-1588)

He was born in the village of Agirnas in Kayseri probably in a Christian family. At the age of about twenty, he was levied for the service of the sultan. After being educated in the palace school, he joined some of Sultan Suleyman’s campaigns. His promotion in the Ottoman army was parallel to his success in architecture and carpentry. At the age of 48, he was appointed Mimarbasi, Chief of the Imperial Architects, a post he held for half a century during the reign of three different sultans; Suleyman I, Selim II and Murat III.

His creativity was born of sensitivity to the cultural heritage and his power of identifying its dynamic points and taking them to their ultimate conclusion. He was not just an architect but an equally accomplished engineer, urban planner and administrator. In his time, Istanbul was one of the world’s largest cities with all the complex problems of a large urban population. When Sinan built, he took into consideration each structure’s relationship with its environment and also estimated conceivable future difficulties that might arise.

What were his visual sources? Seljuk architecture, churches carved in solid rock in Cappadocia, domed churches of Byzantium and being well-traveled, his accumulated observations. He was constantly driven by the desire to learn to renew himself, to establish links between the past, present and future and to formulate reliable principles. Sinan retained this characteristic to the end of his life.

The total number of his works was 477 consisting of mosques, mescits, medreses, tombs, public kitchens, hospitals, aqueducts, palaces, storehouses, hamams and bridges. As an architect who built so many works, Sinan never repeated himself, an important feature and for him a remarkable achievement. A major aspect of his talent was the ability to transfer any possible architectural problems into esthetic accomplishments.


During the Byzantine period the area of the Grand Bazaar was a trade center. After the Turks came to Istanbul, two bedestens which formed the essence of today’s Grand Bazaar were built between 1455-1461 by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in an attempt to enrich the economic life in the city. Later on as people needed more places for their trade, they also added parts outside these bedestens. In time the Grand Bazaar was formed.
Throughout the Ottoman period, the bazaar underwent earthquakes and fires and was restored several times.

Today, shops selling the same kind of merchandise tend to be congregated in their own streets or in hans as this was originally the Ottoman system. In addition to two bedestens there are also 13 hans in the Grand Bazaar.

With 18 entrances and more than four thousand shops it is one of the greatest bazaars in the World. The atmosphere of the Grand Bazaar is very interesting for tourists and has consequently become a very popular place for foreign visitors.

It is open during working hours on weekdays, closing earlier on Saturdays, while on Sundays and religious holidays it is closed.


It was built in 1664 as a part of the Yeni Cami complex which is located next to it. Misir in Turkish means Egypt and it is called the Egyptian Bazaar because the shopkeepers used to sell spices and herbs which were brought from or through Egypt. During the Ottoman period it was known as a place where shops sold only spices. Today there are only a few spice and herb specialists. The rest sell dried fruit, borek, basket work, jewelry, haberdashery, drapery and suchlike.
The bazaar has an “L” shape with six gates. Similar to the Grand Bazaar, it is open on weekdays and only half a day on Saturdays.


The symbol and mythology regarding the mother goddess is found in many diverse cultures of the ancient world. She represents the creative power of all nature and the processes of fertility, along with the periodic renewal of life. Representations of the mother goddess date from Paleolithic times.
The Neolithic settlement of Catalhoyuk (c.7000 BC) in Anatolia provides archaeological evidence that the cult of the mother goddess has been continuous. The chief deity was a goddess who simultaneously incorporated the roles of young woman, mother in childbirth and old woman.

The worship of a great goddess was particularly dominant in Middle Eastern religions, especially in the cult of Cybele. We only learned her various names after the introduction of writing to Anatolia in 1950 BC: Kubaba, Kumpapa, Kybele, Cybele, etc. She was a fertility goddess involved with a young male consort who died but was continually reborn. This element of the dying male deity, representing vegetation, is a later development in the cult of the mother goddess and is regarded as a transition from her primal state of being an unmarried mother to having a son, a lover, or both.

Artemis of Ephesus is the extension of the mother goddess and the source of the Virgin Mary cult which parallels virginity and motherhood.

Further cultural integration occurred with the adoption of the Egyptian Isis cult by the Greco-Roman world. Isis became a universal goddess, incorporating local goddesses and identified with the mystery of fertility. The cult of Isis persisted during the first four centuries of the Christian era, until persecution finally halted cult activities.

In Christianity the figure of the Virgin Mary as theotokos, or the “Mother of God,” has clear affinities with that of the ancient mother goddess. Her role, however, is diminished and that of the divine child is central.

There are 935 million Moslems in 172 countries of the world today. This is nearly 18% of the world’s population. 6% of Moslems live in Turkey. More than 33% of the world population are Christian.
Among the Islamic countries there are two different models: The first is fundamentalist, like Iran or other Arab countries and the second is modern like Turkey. Although 99% of the Turkish population are Moslem, Turkey is a secular state and people have freedom to choose their religion and beliefs. No one is forced to participate in any religious ceremonies or rites against his will and no one is viewed as being at fault because of his beliefs.

In secular Turkey all religious affairs are carried out by a central government organization affiliated to the Prime Ministry, namely the Department of Religious Affairs. The function of this organization is to carry out tasks related to the beliefs, divine services and moral principles of Islam and to enlighten citizens on religious matters.

Islam is the name of the religion that arose in the Arabian Peninsula where its founder, the Prophet Mohammed, was born in 571 AD in the city of Mecca.
A pious, charismatic man, Mohammed was a merchant by trade, who in his youth searched for a purer and more meaningful religion than the polytheistic beliefs that surrounded him.

In his fortieth year he received his first revelation. He was called to be the Prophet of God to his people. He began to preach oneness of God and to preach the message entrusted to him that there is but one God, to whom all humankind must commit themselves. The polytheistic Meccans resented Mohammed’s attacks on their gods and finally he emigrated with a few followers to Medina. This migration, which is called the Hegira (Hicret), took place in 622 AD; Moslems adopted the beginning of that year as the first year of their lunar calendar.

In Medina, Mohammed won acceptance as a leader. Within a few years he had established control of the surrounding region and in 630 he finally conquered Mecca. The Kaaba, a shrine that had for some time housed the idols of the pagan Meccans, was rededicated to the worship of Allah and it became the object of pilgrimage for all Moslems.

The believers of Islam are called Moslems (Muslims). The Arabic word Islam means the act of committing oneself unreservedly to God and a Moslem is a person who makes this commitment.

The religion of Islam is the youngest of the three great monotheistic religions. According to Moslems, all the universe is Islam, all the religions that have ever existed are Islam and the prophets with their followers are Moslems. God sent Mohammed as a messenger from among the Arabs, bringing a revelation in “clear Arabic”. Thus, as other peoples had received messengers, so the Arabs received theirs.

Islam is the last religion and Mohammed is the last prophet. Islam does not deny or ignore previous religions or their prophets. The Koran records that Mohammed was the Seal of the Prophets, the last of a line of God’s messengers that began with Adam and included Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus. The Koran is said to be the perfection of all previous revelations.

The Five Conditions of Islam
1) To say and to believe “I witness that there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet”. When somebody believes in this, it means he believes and acknowledges everything declared by Mohammed.
2) To practice namaz 5 times a day; early in the morning, at noon, in the afternoon, in the early evening and at night.


Each prayer is called namaz in the Arabic language. The leader of the prayer is the Imam and his assistant during the prayer is the muezzin. The time to pray is announced to people by the muezzin. In former times this took place from the top of a minaret, but now it is announced over loudspeakers.

All Moslems in the world pray in the Kaaba direction and call it “kible” which represents a spiritual unity. The word kible derives from Kaaba which is associated with Kybele (the mother goddess of Anatolia) as there was previously a cult of Kybele in Kaaba. For a Moslem the Kaaba is the sanctuary that Abraham and his son Ismail built for God. It is a symbol of God’s uniqueness.

It is accepted as being more correct if people practice namaz in the mosque, although they are not obliged to do so. Each set of prayers is about 10-20 minutes long.

The average number of people practicing namaz in the mosque, regularly 5 times a day, is not more than 4-8% of the total male Moslem population in Turkey.

For a Moslem, Friday is the holy day as is Sunday for a Christian or Saturday (Shabbat) for a Jew. The Imam gives a sermon to the people in Turkish at the noon time prayers on Fridays. According to the law, they are not allowed to speak about politics in their sermons. For men, these noon time prayers on Friday have to be practiced in the mosque and the average number of people attending rises to 30-40% of the total male population. In many places you may notice that shops close so that workers may attend the Friday noon time namaz.

Early morning prayers on the first days of the two religious holidays (Seker and Kurban Bayrami) are the two most important prayer times for men in a year. Attendance at these times can rise to 70-80% of the male population.

3) Oruc: To fast for 30 days during the holy month of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish). From sunrise to sunset eating, drinking, smoking and having sexual intercourse is forbidden for all except the sick, the weak, pregnant women, soldiers on duty, travelers on necessary journeys and young children.

The coming of Ramadan is a big social event throughout the country. To celebrate it minaret balconies are lit as hundreds of lights (mahya) are stretched between the minarets of mosques with some figures, words and expressions to welcome or praise Ramadan. The figures are of flowers, boats, bridges or mosques. Papers, magazines and TV channels have special features and programs during Ramadan.

The process of fasting starts at about 3 ‘clock in the morning with the street drummer’s music. Each vicinity has its own drummer who makes music to wake people up each morning during the whole month. All his efforts are to make a living from the tips he collects at the end of the holy month from his neighborhood.

After being awakened by the drummer people have the opportunity to eat before sunrise as it is then which marks the beginning of fasting for the day. While fasting eating is not the only thing prohibited. Bad behavior, such as cursing, lying, doing harm to others are also forbidden.

People who fast expect respect from others. This means, especially in smaller cities, that restaurants will be closed during the daytime and people will not eat, drink or smoke in public.

At sunset, the muezzin’s call for the early evening prayer marks the end of the day’s fasting. Olives, salt, dates and water are religiously accepted as being the best foods to break the day’s fasting.

About 20-25% of Turkish people fast in Ramadan in urban areas and 60-70% in rural areas.

4) Hac: Visiting Mecca on a pilgrimage is only achievable for those who can financially afford it. Generally people prefer going to Mecca when they come to a certain age usually between 50-60 although there is no age restriction. The returning pilgrim is entitled to use the honorific haci (pilgrim) before his name, a title that indicates his piety. He is then more careful to refrain from any sin for the rest of his life.

5) Zekat: To give alms to the poor as a part of one’s wealth that being 1/40 each year. In practice lots of people give alms to the poor, but sometimes not at the established rate.

A man in the act of ritual ablution before going to prayer

Attributes Of God

He is called Allah. He exists. There is no beginning or end to His being. He is unique. He does not look like any creature. The cause of His being has nothing to do with anything except Himself. He is omniscient and omnipotent. He hears, sees and speaks without using sounds or letters. God sent a messenger to each society and Mohammed was sent for all societies which means that he is actually the last prophet.
In Islam, the lives of individuals and of society are organized by the Holy Koran, which was revealed to Mohammed as vouchsafed through the angel Gabriel. According to the Koran, everybody is born as an innocent Moslem being regardless of his mother or father, but should practice the main beliefs of Islam as he grows up. No one can or should come between God and the worshipper.

Believing in the hereafter as well as God is also emphasized in the Koran. Man’s life is not limited by his death. On the contrary, the gates of a higher world open with death. The position of the human being in the hereafter will be determined by his behavior on earth. The punishment is hell and the reward is heaven.

According to Islam, murder, cruelty, adultery, gambling, usury and the consumption of carrion, pork, blood and alcohol are strictly forbidden. Women should dress “decently” so that other people cannot see their hair, legs or arms. Boys have to be circumcised before the transition to manhood.

The language of Islam is Arabic because the Koran is God’s words in Arabic. A translation into another language may give the meaning of the revelation, but its sacred character is lost. Turkish people do not speak Arabic, because in formal education Arabic is not taught except in Imam Vocational Schools. If families want their children to learn Arabic, they send them to Arabic courses given in the mosques by the imams or muezzins during the holidays. On these courses, due to the limited time, they can only learn how to read the Holy Koran.

Islamic countries are generally ruled by the Seriat, Canonical Law (Islamic Law). Despite the absence of a formal church structure, religious functionaries played an important role in the Ottoman state. Islamic law regulated all aspects of life. The sultan, the supreme head of the empire, ruled as the representative of God on earth.

However, the Republic of Turkey is a secular state which means religious affairs are not combined with those of the state.

The Alevis

Today’s Moslems are mainly divided into 2 types: Sunni and Shia. Sunnis acknowledge the first four Caliphs (Ebubekir, Omer, Osman, Ali) as rightful successors of Mohammed, whereas Shias believe in Ali and the Imams as the right successors of Mohammed. More than two thirds of the Turkish population are Sunnis. The Shias of Anatolia are not the same as Shias of Iran. In Anatolia they are called Alevis which comes from the word Ali. It is a mixture of Anatolian cultures together with a deep belief in the incarnation of God in Ali. Compared to the Sunnis of Anatolia, the Alevis are more flexible. For example, they stopped going to mosques on the rationale that Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and the founder of Alevism, was murdered in a mosque, thus violating the sanctity of the building; and they stopped formal prayers for safety’s sake. A system of traveling holy elders (dede) replaced the more traditional Moslem structure of authority. The ban on wine and alcohol was relaxed, with wine actually used for religious ceremonial functions. The month of fasting was converted into eight days during the month of Muharrem.


A mosque (from the Arabic mescit) is a place of public worship in Islam. The Turkish word for mosque is cami and it means “a place where people gather” in Arabic. Mosques must have an area for ritual ablutions and be positioned as such so that worshippers face Mecca during prayers. The leader (imam), when opening services at prayer times, stands in or before the mihrab, prayer niche in the mosque which indicates the direction of Mecca. The preacher, generally the imam himself, speaks from the minber. An additional liturgical requirement is the minare (minaret), a high, generally pointed tower from which Moslems are called to prayer.

In the Koran, the term mescit refers either specifically to the Holy Sanctuary (the Kaaba Mosque) in Mecca or to religious buildings in general. Early Islam did not require a specially built space for the performance of the principal liturgical obligation of common prayer. The obligation could be met anywhere, provided the direction in which worshippers must face during prayer (kible) was properly determined. Soon after the Prophet Mohammed’s death (632), his house in Medina, which had often been used for gatherings of the faithful, became a model of the proper kind of meeting place in which to pray at formally appointed times as well as to perform a variety of social, political and administrative functions related to the Moslem faith.

Generally, but with notable exceptions, mosques have assumed the form of large enclosed spaces serving the collective needs of the Moslem community and decorated with quotations from the Koran and with ornaments intended to heighten the unique quality of the monument. Statuary or other images of living beings are uniformly absent from the mosque; geometric or floral motifs predominate in its carved-wood, plaster, tile, or mosaic decoration. The floors of mosques are generally covered with rugs; hanging lamps, candlesticks, stands for holy books and platforms for readers are often placed within the interior.

The Anatolian-type mosque was created under the influence of the local Anatolian architecture of the 13-14C, reaching its perfection with the growth of the Ottoman Dynasty in Bursa, Edirne and eventually Istanbul. It is characterized by the domination of a single dome covering the main prayer hall. Inside, brilliantly patterned supports extend gracefully from the top of the cupola and in the exterior courtyard tall minarets frame the soaring dome. The Anatolian-type mosque appeared in all the lands that came under Ottoman rule, but its masterpieces are the 16C creations of the great Turkish architect Sinan in Edirne (the Selimiye Mosque) and in Istanbul (the Suleymaniye Mosque).