Mimar Sinan, the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire, was also one of the most important architects of the Renaissance Period. During the half-century that he served as the chief architect of the state, he left his mark on all Ottoman lands, from the capital to the furthest provincial province.
Mimar Sinan was born to a Christian mother and father in a village called Agrianos (Ağırnas) at the end of the 15th century and made a living from stone carving. The fraternal fights that broke out in the first years of Sultan Selim‘s reign, followed by the expeditions to Iran and Egypt, forced the sultan to recruit Christian children from Anatolia for the Janissary Corps (Elite Infantry Unit).
Sinan was drafted into the army in 1513, when he was only 15 years old. In 1521, during the Siege of Baghdad, he became a Janissary. Later, he took part in most of the expeditions that the sultan participated in and over time joined the sultan’s entourage.
It is difficult to know which architectural works belonged to him in this early period. However, we can understand from his appointment as a palace architect in 1538 that he had already proven his talents to Sultan Suleiman (Selim’s successor).
Works of Mimar Sinan in Istanbul
If we make a complete list of Mimar Sinan’s works in Istanbul, it will be detailed enough to fill a book. In this article, we will be examining the 10 most beautiful structures that Architect Sinan built in the Ottoman capital, Istanbul.
Architect Sinan lived a long life and during his time as chief architect, 107 mosques, 74 madrasahs, 56 baths, 52 mosques, 45 tombs, 38 palaces, 31 caravanserais, 22 soup kitchens and 9 bridges were built in the Ottoman Empire.
Of course, it was not possible for him to direct the construction of each of these works. However, his perspective and architectural techniques formed a tradition in Ottoman architecture and were followed by all his students.
The best example of this is the Blue Mosque, built by Sedefkar Mehmed Agha in the heart of Old Istanbul. Mehmed Agha was a craftsman from Sinan’s school. He rose to the rank of chief architect during the reign of Sultan Ahmed I.
Although the Blue Mosque is the most visited mosque in Istanbul due to its perfect location, the largest and most beautiful mosque in Istanbul is still the Suleymaniye Mosque, a work of Mimar Sinan.
Selimiye Mosque, the masterpiece of Mimar Sinan, is perhaps even more beautiful than Suleymaniye in some aspects. However, although the Selimiye Mosque is a magnificent structure, I did not add it to this list because it is in Edirne, not Istanbul.
It should also be noted that I did not arrange the structures in the article in a chronological order. You can find the buildings designed by Mimar Sinan first for the sultans, then for their wives, daughters and grooms, and finally for statesmen.
1. Sehzade Mosque
Sehzade Mosque was one of Mimar Sinan’s signature works in Istanbul. This mosque not only served as a model for Mimar Sinan’s own mosques, but also inspired all Ottoman mosques in the future.
Sehzade Mosque was built in the 16th century for Prince Mehmed, son of Sultan Suleiman. Suleiman had this mosque built for his favorite son, who died of smallpox at an early age.
According to some historians, Suleiman had designed this mosque for himself. However, when his son died suddenly, he buried him here and changed the mosque to Sehzade (meaning prince) Mosque in his memory.
Mimar Sinan had already done his best for the Sehzade Mosque. When it came to building another mosque for Suleiman, he would have to surpass his success in this mosque. Thus, he created his masterful Suleymaniye Mosque.
Another important feature of Sehzade Mosque is that it inspired the plans of mosques after the period of Mimar Sinan, such as the Blue Mosque. Its influence can be seen even in the recently built Camlica Mosque.
2. Suleymaniye Mosque
Suleymaniye Mosque represents the peak of the Ottoman Empire. Rising on one of the most prominent hills of the Historical Peninsula, the courtyard of the mosque has magnificent views of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus.
Mimar Sinan became the chief architect during the reign of Sultan Suleiman and contributed greatly to the development of Classical Ottoman architecture. In this period when the empire was at its peak, Ottoman Istanbul was equipped with magnificent buildings.
After Mimar Sinan became chief architect, he rebuilt the kitchens in Topkapi Palace on a grand scale. When a great result came out in Sehzade Mosque, the sultan was sure of Sinan’s genius.
Thereupon, Mimar Sinan was given a very difficult task. He had to build a magnificent mosque for Sultan Suleiman, who was known as “The Magnificent” in Europe. Now it was time to build a structure comparable to Hagia Sophia.
Thus, the construction of the Suleymaniye Mosque began in 1550. The complex, which was built in 7 years, was a giant living center far beyond a mosque. In addition to the mosque, there was a Turkish bath, school, hospital and soup kitchen.
The Suleymaniye Mosque is the largest and most magnificent historical mosque in Istanbul today. This mosque, which is a 10-minute walk from the Grand Bazaar, is missed by many tourists because it is not in Sultanahmet.
3. Tomb of Sultan Selim II
The Tomb of Sultan Selim II is located in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia. Although visitors to Hagia Sophia may not realize it at first glance, there are eye-catching tombs of Ottoman sultans in the courtyard.
Mimar Sinan lived a long life and served three sultans as chief architect. The first of these was Sultan Suleiman, while the others were Selim II and Murad III. As a chief architect, Sinan was not only designing buildings for the sultan, but also for his wife and daughters.
Mimar Sinan had reached the peak of his art during the reign of Selim II and built his most famous work, the Selimiye Mosque. This mosque is located outside of Istanbul in the city of Edirne in the northwest of Turkey.
Although it is not well known, the attempts of Sultan Selim II and Mimar Sinan saved Hagia Sophia from destruction in the 16th century. Due to the pressure created by the giant dome, Hagia Sophia was leaning towards the east. Architect Sinan built flying buttresses to stabilize the structure.
Selim II obviously admired Hagia Sophia. The sultan also built protective walls around Hagia Sophia, and when he died, he was buried in the tomb he had built in the courtyard of the building.
The reason why I added the tomb to this list is that its interior decoration is really impressive. You can visit this mausoleum near the most popular historical monuments in Istanbul and enjoy Sinan’s mastery in its quiet environment.
4. Privy Room of Murad III
The Privy Room of Murad III is one of the most beautiful parts of the Topkapi Palace Museum today. This room was designed by Mimar Sinan for Sultan Murad III and is located in the Harem section of the palace.
Murad III was the third and last sultan served by Mimar Sinan. The famous architect had reached a mature age and was spreading his mastery to every corner of the works he designed.
The most impressive feature of this room is that it has all the decoration elements of Classical Ottoman architecture. In the room you can see magnificent Iznik tiles, calligraphy and woodwork with mother-of-pearl.
5. Haseki Hurrem Sultan Hamam
Haseki Hurrem Sultan Hamam is located in Sultanahmet, the most touristic district of Istanbul. You can see the bath in Sultanahmet Park, which lies between Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque.
Hurrem Sultan was the wife of the famous Ottoman ruler Sultan Suleiman. Hurrem Sultan originally came from Ruthenia in present-day Ukraine and was also known as Roxelana.
Hurrem Sultan was a strong character and the woman who started the period called Sultanate of Women in Ottoman history. During this period, Valide Sultan (mother of the sultan) also had a say in politics.
6. Mihrimah Sultan Mosque
Mihrimah Sultan Mosque was built by Mimar Sinan in Edirnekapi district, very close to Theodosian Walls from the Byzantine period.
Mihrimah Sultan was the daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent and his wife Hurrem Sultan. Mihrimah was also married to “the Grand Vizier” Rustem Pasha, who was the most powerful person after the Ottoman sultan.
Mihrimah Sultan had two mosques built by Mimar Sinan, one in the Historical Peninsula and the other in Uskudar on the Asian side. However, what I emphasize in this title is the magnificent mosque in Old Istanbul.
Although this beautiful mosque in Edirnekapi is a little off the tourist route, it is definitely worth seeing. Those who go to visit Mihrimah Sultan Mosque can also see the nearby Kariye Mosque (former Chora Church).
7. Rustem Pasha Mosque
Rustem Pasha Mosque is a hidden gem located in Eminonu, the busiest place of the Old City. It is not easy for tourists to find the entrance of the mosque, which is located in the middle of a crowded bazaar.
Rustem Pasha quickly climbed the steps of the Ottoman bureaucracy in the 16th century and reached the highest office, the Grand Vizier. He married Mihrimah Sultan, the daughter of Sultan Suleiman, and became a groom to the royal family.
Rustem Pasha was one of the richest men of the time. In this way, he had Mimar Sinan built a mosque on the seaside of Old Istanbul. Although the mosque is not very impressive with its dimensions, its interior decoration is magnificent.
The art of Ottoman pottery reached its peak in the 16th century and Iznik Tiles adorned all palaces and mosques. The most beautiful examples of these special tiles can be seen in Rustem Pasha Mosque today.
8. Sokullu Mehmed Pasha Mosque
Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mosque is located in Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s most popular tourist destination, but unfortunately it is not well known by both local and foreign tourists.
The most important feature of Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mosque is that it has the most important tile collection in Istanbul, together with the Rustem Pasha Mosque and the Blue Mosque.
Sokollu Mehmed Pasha was a Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) at the height of the Ottoman Empire. Mehmed Pasha was also married to Ismihan Sultan, the daughter of Sultan Selim II.
Sokollu Mehmed Pasha stood out as one of the most powerful statesmen in the history of the Ottoman Empire. As a reflection of this power, he built four mosques. Three of these mosques are in today’s Istanbul, while one is in Luleburgaz.
In this title, I wanted to highlight the magnificent mosque in Kadirga (near Sultanahmet), among the three mosques built by Sokollu Mehmed Pasha in Istanbul. This mosque, one of the outstanding works of Mimar Sinan, is definitely worth seeing.
9. Kilic Ali Pasha Mosque
Kilic Ali Pasha was an Italian-born admiral who commanded the Ottoman navy in the 16th century. Because of his courage, he was given the title “Kilic”, which means sword.
Kilic Ali Pasha asked Mimar Sinan to build a mosque for himself, but gave some specific instructions about its architecture. Ali Pasha, who admired Hagia Sophia, wanted a mosque just like it.
Among the mosques built by Mimar Sinan in Istanbul, the building most similar to Byzantine churches is Kilic Ali Pasha Mosque. Especially when you enter the interior of the mosque, you can feel the effect of Hagia Sophia from the proportions.
Kilic Ali Pasha Mosque was also designed as a complex with a Turkish bath and school (madrasah). Kilic Ali Pasha Hamam is among the most popular Turkish baths in Istanbul today.
As an Istanbulite, this mosque has a special place for me. For some reason, this is the place where I feel most comfortable among the mosques in Istanbul. Although I am not a very religious person, when I want to pray, I go to this mosque.
As someone who is very interested in the history of Istanbul, I do not distinguish between Byzantine and Ottoman history and I explore both with the same curiosity. The fact that this building carries traces of both cultures also appeals to me.
Kilic Ali Pasha Mosque is also the first stop of the Beyoglu walking tour, which I am offering as a private tour guide in Istanbul. This tour is an activity that starts from Karakoy, continues in Galata and ends in Taksim Square.
10. Sinan Pasha Mosque
Sinan Pasha Mosque is located in Besiktas, one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist destinations. Besiktas, one of the transportation hubs of Istanbul, is also home to the Dolmabahce Palace.
Sinan Pasha was one of the leading characters of the 16th century as an Ottoman admiral. Sinan Pasha was also the brother of “the Grand Vizier” Rustem Pasha, mentioned above.
The most distinctive feature of this mosque is that it has a design that refers to the Uc Serefeli Mosque, one of the early mosques of Ottoman history. The mosque was modeled after another building in Edirne, which was built about 100 years ago.
The reason I added Sinan Pasha Mosque to the list was to encourage those who want to see a different interpretation of Mimar Sinan. After visiting this mosque, you can explore Besiktas, one of the liveliest districts of Istanbul.
History lovers can also find the tomb of the greatest Ottoman admiral, Hayreddin Barbarossa, on the opposite side of the road. Barbaros Hayreddin was dominating the Mediterranean during the peak period of the Ottoman Empire with his navy.
If you want to take your experience in the neighborhood one step further, you can also visit the Istanbul Naval Museum. Of course, it should be added that Besiktas has some of the best breakfast places and doner kebab shops in Istanbul.
In this article, I tried to introduce you to Mimar Sinan, the most famous architect of the Ottoman Empire. Sinan worked non-stop throughout his nearly 100-year life and left a magnificent legacy behind him.
Previously, I wrote another article called the 25 best mosques in Istanbul. While I was writing that article, I realized once again what an important place Mimar Sinan had in the history of Istanbul.
If you come to visit Istanbul, I recommend you to get out of the tourist triangle of Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar and discover this magnificent heritage. Because these structures, each with their own stories, are hidden treasures.
Written by Serhat Engul