Remembering Mimar Sinan-The Great Architect Of Ottoman Empire

Art Contributor
Edirne, Turkey - May 2018: Selimiye Mosque and statue of its architect Mimar Sinan, Edirne, Turkey
Edirne, Turkey - May 2018: Selimiye Mosque and statue of its architect Mimar Sinan, Edirne, Turkey. Photo 118135609 © -

I saw the monuments, the great ancient remains. From every ruin I learned, from every building I absorbed something.

-Mimar Sinan

In November 1543, when Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (1520-1566) lost his son, Sehzade Mehmud, (groomed to be his heir), he commissioned Mimar Sinan his chief architect to build a mosque complex in his son’s memory. The “Shehzade Mosque” also called “Prince Mosque” or Sehzade Cammi (Turkish) was one of the hundreds of marvellous mosques to grace Istanbul, by Koca Mi’mâr Sinân Âğâ – “Sinan Agha the Grand Architect” during the classical Ottoman period.”

The Life of Mastermind in a Nutshell

Mimar was born in 1490 (disputed to be 1491/1489 by some) to a stone mason in Agirnas near the town Kayseri (as stated in the order of Sultan Selim II). There is certain ambiguity surrounding his origin; it is contended he had Armenian, Albanina or Cappadocian Greek origin or he could have been a Christian Turk.

According to Devshirme practice (a system that trained non-Muslim citizens of the empire to be officers of the state), Sinan was conscripted and sent to Constantinople in 1512 to be trained as an officer of the Janissary (New troops). He was designated as the elite corps of the Ottoman Empire and embraced Islam around that time.

Skills Acquired

With a deep flair for carpentry and mathematics, he became a military engineer and honed his architectural and engineering skills. During his military service, he was trained in the construction of roads, bridges and aqueducts. His military years enriched his architectural prowess and he gained wealth of ideas as he widely travelled vast geographical regions of Mediterranean Basin from Anatolia to Italy, the Adriatic coast to Central Europe, from Azerbaijan to Baghdad in Asia.

He was appointed the chief royal architect of the empire in 1539 at the age of fifty. His passion for building mosques caused the shift from military career as he wanted his name to live for posterity.

For the next fifty years, till he died in 1588, he was at the helm of over 300 constructions; according to different sources, he was the mastermind behind 370 structures including 92 mosques, 52 small mosques, 55 theology schools, 20 mausoleums, 17 public kitchens, three hospitals, six aqueducts, ten bridges, 20 road side inns, 36 palaces, and 48 baths. He breathed his last in 1588 and was laid to rest in a tomb, he himself designed, in the cemetery near the Suleymaniye Mosque.

His Greatest Works

Sinan held the wand that created marvels which stirred up imagination of likes of Goethe who fittingly said “architecture is frozen music.” Sinan’s achievements stand tall in the history of architecture and his oeuvre includes Mimar Sinan Bridge in Buyukçekmece, Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in Edirnekapı, Selimiye Mosque in Edirne (his masterwork), Suleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mosque (Azapkapı), Church of the Assumption in Uzundzhovo… list of his architectural wonders is long.

Sinan indeed shaped the perfect template for the Turkish/Islamic architecture through his unmatched and unparalleled ingenuity. He reached the milestones of his career with three major works- Şehzade Mosque illustrates his apprenticeship period, Suleymaniye Mosque represents his qualification stage and Selimiye Mosque epitomizes his master stage.

His Legacy Lives

There are five books on Sinan’s life, military years and architectural works- Adsiz Risale, Risaletu I Mi Mariyya, Tuhfetu I Me marin, Tezkiretu I Bunyan and Tezkiretu Ebniye)- the last two were dictated by Sinan to his poet- painter friend, Mustafa Sai Celebi- he also did inscription on his buildings.


(Written by: Shazman Shariff, freelance writer based in Bangalore, available at [email protected].)

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