The Grace Behind Secrets: Süleymaniye

The Grace Behind Secrets: Süleymaniye

For the first time visitors to İstanbul, the Galata Bridge entrance is the most memorable encounter with the city. Passing from here is like walking through the red carpet laid on a palace road because this state of İstanbul, surrounded by historical buildings, resembles a palace with all its majesty.

The Süleymaniye Mosque, one of the largest jewels of the city, rises among the modest daily tasks of the fishermen lined up on the side of the bridge facing the Golden Horn.

The golden age of the Ottoman architecture

The buildings are full of stories and secrets. They came with heavy burdens from the depths of history. A master comes to mind when it comes to secrets: Mimar (Architect) Sinan… During the tourism season in İstanbul, buses full of tourists go to visit the Blue Mosque; however, the Süleymaniye Mosque is a place those, who know the mastery of Mimar Sinan and those who want to discover İstanbul by literally feeling the city, will not skip seeing. The Süleymaniye Mosque, one of the most esthetic works of the architect, is located in a splendid complex, which includes the tombs of Süleyman the Magnificent and his wife Hürrem Sultan, one of the mighty sultans of the Ottoman Dynasty.

“My journeyman work”

Built between 1550-1557, the mosque is characterized by the contrast between sound and silence, light and shadow, Sinan’s simplicity, the attention he gives to details, and the excellence of his architectural genius and aesthetics. Sinan, who was taken to the Guild of Janissary as a devshirme, went on four expeditions with Kanuni (The Magnificent). He came to İstanbul and started to perform as an architect, when he was close to his 50s. He started building the Süleymaniye when he was 60 and it took him 7 years to complete. Sinan calls it as “my journeyman work”. His long life gave him time to create over 300 works during the reign of several sultans. Although he raised many generations, it is difficult to say that the golden age of Ottoman architecture continued at the same pace after Mimar Sinan.

The master of intricacies

Swiss city planner, painter and sculptor Le Corbusier said, “There are two architects in the world who can fully comprehend the space. One of them is Mimar Sinan and the other one is me.” expressing his admiration for Mimar Sinan. Within the same manner, an American architect among the 20th century’s great architects, Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Two architects came to this world. One is the Ottoman architect Sinan and the other is me.” While Mimar Sinan attracted the attention of the worldwide known architects who came after him with his talent, he became the focus of the mind-blowing questions for centuries with the complex details of the buildings he built. The intricacies that Mimar Sinan applied to its buildings become to prominence as secrets, to which hats go off, especially in the Süleymaniye Mosque. We should keep in mind that the period when the mosque was built corresponded to the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the splendor of this age was reflected in this mosque with all its features. According to a story, Süleyman the Magnificent saw our Prophet in a dream. They stood together on a hill overlooking the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. When the Prophet told him to build a mosque there, he described the position of the (shrine) mihrab and the (pulpit) minbar. The next day the sultan summons the master and takes him to the hill he saw in his dream. While explaining his dream, Kanuni is surprised when Sinan says, “My Sultan, let the shrine be here and the pulpit there…” Sinan adds calmly: “I was two steps behind you during your blessed visit last night.”

Acoustic with pickle jars

For Mimar Sinan, the acoustic of the mosque was of great importance and proved this claim in the Süleymaniye Mosque. The building is a true acoustic masterpiece. He came up with a genius idea to have the sermon given at a point to reach and spread to the most extreme points of the mosque very easily. He used the earthenware jars that are used to make pickles in Anatolia. In the large dome in the middle placed 64 cubes of 5 meters wide and 50 meters deep, with their mouths facing the interior of the mosque and sealed egg-whites between the jars. He also made all the domes in the shape of a double dome to facilitate the propagation of the sound, leaving space in the floor bricks. According to a rumor, as the construction of the mosque continues, among the public, Sinan is rumored  to be seen while smoking hookah in the shrine of the mosque. Süleyman the Magnificent, although he does not consider the possibility of such an action, he pays an unexpected visit to the mosque. Indeed, Mimar Sinan is smoking the hookah in the altar. He says, “Head architect, is smoking hookah something to be seen in a mosque? You would not do such a thing; what is the wisdom in this?” Sinan says, “My Sultan, if you pay attention to my hookah, you will see no tobacco. I just check how the sound of the bubbling water is propagating inside the mosque. If the sound of water is propagating evenly in every corner of the mosque, when the mosque is complete, the hodja’s voice who will read the Quran will be heard comfortably by the congregation 60-70 meters away from him.”


Secret of ink

Another striking feature of the Süleymaniye Mosque is that the master made a ‘soot chamber’ here for the first time. When it was built, 275 oil lamps and two giant candles on both sides of the shrine illuminated the mosque; Mimar Sinan designed a chamber above the main entrance to prevent the damage to the mosque walls and ornaments when the candles were lit. He plans the air flow coming from the four small windows that open outside, the soot coming out of the lamps is moved in the opposite direction of the shrine and pulled into the soot chamber above the main entrance. He accomplishes this by making the mosque centered around this chamber. In addition, the soot accumulated in this room is used to derive ink, which is used to write all the administrative, political, religious edicts of the period. Important documents such as manuscripts written at that time are written in this ink because even if any fluids are spilled over these articles written in this ink, they would not be damaged. Sinan’s fine calculations do not end here. When one looks at the two vents of the soot chamber that opens into the mosque, a sign in the mosque with the inscription “Allah” is seen from one of them and the sign inscribed “Muhammad” is seen from the other. This is also fine-tuned. Although the soot chamber used to be open for visitors once, it no longer is.

Ostrich eggs in the mosque

In the Süleymaniye, there is another indication of the wisdom of the architect. Many visitors wonder about the white oval objects that are hanged among the oil lamps, burned in the chandeliers of the mosque. These are the ostrich eggs that were cleaned and reinserted after the restoration of the mosque. Ostrich eggs emit an odor to repel spiders and scorpions; the human nose is not able to perceive this odor. The number of eggs in the mosque was 300; however, after being stolen and broken, their number dropped to 30.

Jeweled minaret

Mimar Sinan keeps notes on the nationality, religion, and wages of labors and the number of eggs he used for the mortar. After digging the foundation, he drives in stakes and waits for more than a year for the ground to tighten and settle. There were even rumors in response to this, that the architect neglected his work. The Shah of Iran, Tahmasb Han, believes that Kanuni is in financial distress and sends a loaded caravan and a box full of jewels to him to show his strength and contribute to the continuation of the construction. There is also an explanatory letter to Kanuni besides the jewels. Irritated by this action, Kanuni distributes all the goods that came with the caravan in front of the messenger, and when he hands over the jewelry box to Mimar Sinan, he orders him to place the jewels among the stones of the building. The master places the jewels between the stones of one of the minarets of the