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The Golden Century: IV - Sinan's Last Works
You may wish to see an introductory page to this section first.
In 1566 Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent died in front of the walls of Szigetvar, a fortress in Hungary which blocked the Ottoman army advance towards Vienna. He was aged 72, he was unable to ride a horse and he had not conducted a campaign for the last eleven years; he was convinced to lead his army by Sokullu Mehmet Pacha, the Grand Vizier he had appointed a year earlier and who was the son-in-law of Prince Selim, the heir to the throne. Sokullu Mehmet Pacha kept Suleyman's death secret and executed all witnesses to it. The announcement was made 48 days later in order to ensure the smooth succession of Selim, who was despised by the army. In this way Sokullu Mehmet Pacha strengthened his own power and managed to remain Grand Vizier until his death in 1579.
Sultan Selim II was a weak ruler; historians see his reign as the beginning of the Ottoman decadence; he is portrayed as a drunkard who spent his time hunting or in the Harem. His Grand Vizier amassed a fortune by levying a sort of personal taxation on all appointments. In this way he was able to finance the construction of several kulliye (complex of buildings). The finest one is located in Kadirga and it was designed by Mimar Sinan.
The main harbour of Constantinople was on the Golden Horn, the inlet to the north of the city. There was however a harbour also on the southern part of the city; it was mainly used to land supplies and by fishermen: it was called Kadirga which means galley. Today the neighbourhood of Kadirga is known for its many fish restaurants.
When Mimar Sinan was working at this complex, he was also involved in the design and construction of Selimiye at Edirne. Both buildings are regarded as masterpieces. The complex at Kadirga gains from not having been modified; Mimar Sinan designed the access to the complex to occur through covered steps which gradually let the visitors discover the fountain, the courtyard and the dome of the mosque. The image used as background for this page shows the dome seen from the courtyard.
Sokullu Mehmet Pacha Camii is situated at short distance from Kukuc Aya Sophya Camii aka Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus.
Eyup is an Istanbul neighbourhood at the end of the Golden Horn, a mile or so outside the walls of the city; many westerners heard of it through the works of the French writer Pierre Loti (1850-1923) who loved to spend his evenings in a tea house on a hill above Eyup.
The neighbourhood had a quite different relevance for the Muslim inhabitants of Constantinople, because it was there that Eyup Ensari, the standard-bearer of the Prophet, was buried. He was one of the leaders of the first Arab armies and took part in the siege laid to Constantinople in 674-678, during which he was killed. According to tradition his burial place was found in 1453 during a search led by Sultan Mehmet II. The site was named after Eyup Ensari and it became a Muslim holy place.
Sokullu Mehmet Pacha had this in mind when he decided he wanted to be buried at Eyup.
Sinan designed two almost identical buildings: one is the turbe of Sokullu Mehmet, the other the dershane (lecture hall) of an adjoining small medrese; the two are linked by a short gallery: their identical doors face each other and are decorated with ancient marbles: green for the turbe and red for the dershane.
While Sinan was working at Sokullu Mehmet Pacha Turbesi, he was also involved in the construction of another building at Eyup. It was commissioned by Zal Mahmut Pacha, a man who owed his fortune to a rather gruesome event. He was the officer who in 1553 personally strangled Prince Mustafa; because the prince was of strong constitution, Mahmut Pacha was given the additional name of Zal, a Persian hero known for his Herculean strength. It was not his only reward because he later married a daughter of Sultan Suleyman. The size of the mosque named after him is in a way "Herculean" too.
According to the traditional account in 1570 Sultan Selim II decided to conquer Cyprus because of a particular wine which was produced there; the expedition reached its objective in a relatively easy way; the allied Christian fleet, which responded to a call by Pope Pius V, was unable to reach the island before the fall of the last Venetian stronghold, but it defeated the Ottomans at Lepanto (October 1571). The sultan died in 1574 as the result of a fall in a hammam. He was buried in a large turbe near Hagia Sophia.
After the defeat at Lepanto, the Ottoman fleet was rebuilt in a matter of months and its command was entrusted to Piyale Pacha. The Holy League, as the alliance of Christian nations was called, was unable to turn the victory into a lasting supremacy on the sea. Venice signed a peace treaty in 1573 and accepted the loss of Cyprus. Ottoman fleets raided the coasts of Italy and expelled the Spanish from northern Africa. Piyale Pacha was the husband of Gevher Sultan, daughter of Sultan Selim II, who built a medrese on the Seventh Hill.
Seamen in general regard with some distrust those who work on land; they prefer to keep to themselves. Piyale Pacha was probably one such man because he chose to build his small turbe, and a nearby very large mosque, in a very remote location on the northern side of the Golden Horn. These buildings were sited so far inland that Constantinople could not be seen from them (nor could the mosque be seen from the city).
The mosque was not designed by Sinan and it is based on a multi-domed pattern which had been in use in Bursa (Ulu Cami) and in many Seljuk towns.
Two gigantic granite columns helped in supporting the six domes so that the prayer hall is extremely wide and (apart from the columns) unobstructed. Granite columns of a smaller dimension were used throughout the building and in the small turbe.
Sokullu Mehmet Pacha continued to be the Grand Vizier after the death of Sultan Selim II; however his power was challenged by the new sultan, young Murat III and even more by his mother, Nurbanu Sultan, who, according to many, was a Venetian woman of noble birth.
The power of Sokullu Mehmet was such that Sultan Murat III did not dare to confront him directly; he preferred to deprive the Grand Vizier of his most loyal officers, either by promoting them to distant governorships or by removing them because of false accusations. Eventually in 1579 Sokullu Mehmet Pacha was assassinated by a mentally unstable dervish, to whom he had given an audience; some believe the killer was a janissary serving at the Sultan's court.
Mimar Sinan built a second mosque for the Grand Vizier at Galata; it is located outside the walls of the Genoese town near St. Anthony's gate, which the Ottomans renamed Azap Kapi.
At the battle of Lepanto only one Ottoman admiral was able to keep his ships together and return to Constantinople: this was Uluc Ali Reis, whom the Italians called Occhiali and regarded as a renegade; he was born in Calabria and was taken prisoner by the Ottomans when he was still a young lad; he then converted to Islam and became a corsair. At the battle of Lepanto he managed to seize the flag of the Maltese Grand Master which he laid at the Sultan's feet. For this he was given the appellation of Kilic (sword). He played a major role in rebuilding Ottoman sea power after Lepanto.
According to a traditional account, when Kilic Ali Pacha asked Sultan Murat III to assign him some land for the mosque he wanted to commission Mimar Sinan, he was told to build this mosque on the sea, because he ruled the sea. As a matter of fact the mosque was built on land reclaimed from the sea at the entrance to the Bosporus.
The location chosen by Kilic Ali Pacha for his mosque was next to the main foundry (Tophane = cannon house) of Constantinople. Today the building houses a museum dedicated to the works of Mimar Sinan.
Warfare during the XVIth and XVIIth centuries was characterized by siege warfare, rather than by pitched battles. In sieges the availability of artillery and gunpowder was a crucial element for success.
Kilic Ali Pacha developed a plan to directly attack Venice by-passing its fortress at Corfu. The Republic controlled the Adriatic Sea and it prevented the Ottomans from launching a full scale landing on the Italian shores; his plan however met with the opposition of the Sultan's mother who convinced her son that the attempt had major drawbacks.
After the assassination of Sokullu Mehmet Pacha, Sultan Murat III chose for the position of Grand Vizier, Semsi Ahmet Pacha, an old man who could not challenge the authority of his master. He held the job for just six months. He commissioned Mimar Sinan the construction of a mosque next to his palace at Uskudar; it is perhaps the smallest mosque built by a Grand Vizier, but it gains from being located on the waterfront.
We do not know the name of the architect of this mosque, but we know that he built upon ideas developed by Sinan. The great architect would no doubt have given his approval to the final result. Nisanci was the title given to the officer responsible for many administrative functions at the sultan's court.
Nurbanu (Princess of Light) Sultan commissioned Mimar Sinan the construction of a large kulliye on the hill above Uskudar: it was the last large building designed by the great architect who was then aged 95. The complex is called Atik Valide Sultan because in the early XVIIIth century another Valide Sultan built a complex at Uskudar (near the harbour).
The Valide Sultan (Mother of the Sovereign) played a major role in Ottoman history. The title was valid only during the reign of a son as sultan. The first woman who carried this title was Hafsa Sultan, the mother of Suleyman the Magnificent. However it was Nurbanu Sultan the first who acted as co-regent with her son.
We know a lot of the behind-the-scenes Ottoman history from the reports the bailo (the Venetian ambassador) sent home: Jacopo Soranzo wrote about her (at the time her husband became Sultan Selim II): It is said that the chief wife is loved and respected very much by His Majesty for she is beautiful and extraordinarily clever.
Paolo Contarini, bailo after the death of Sultan Selim II stated: All goods and evils are coming from the Queen Mother. When Nurbanu died in December 1583, the successor of Contarini reported: The death of this woman (because of the great authority she enjoyed with her son) upset some while contented others, according to their vested interests. Nevertheless, everybody admits that she was an extremely good, courageous and erudite woman.
According to a traditional account she was poisoned by a Genoese agent.
Her funeral was attended by Sultan Murat III who broke the tradition which ruled that the sultans should remain in the palace: he followed the procession from Topkapi Sarayi to Sultan Fatih Mehmet Camii.
Mimar Sinan chose to be buried in a simple open turbe in the garden of his home near Suleymaniye.
Introduction to this section
Byzantine Heritage (before 1204)
Hagia Irene and Little Hagia Sophia
Roman/Byzantine exhibits at the Archaeological Museum
Great Palace Mosaic Museum
St. Saviour in Chora
Byzantine Heritage (between 1204 and 1453)
First Ottoman Buildings
The Golden Century: I - from Sultan Selim to Sinan's Early Works
The Golden Century: II - The Age of Suleyman
The Golden Century: III - Suleymaniye Kulliye
The Heirs of Sinan
Towards the Tulip Era
The End of the Ottoman Empire
Museums near Topkapi Sarayi
The Princes' Islands
Map of Istanbul
Other sections dealing with Constantinople/Istanbul:
The Walls of Nova Roma
Clickable Map of Turkey showing all the locations covered in this website (opens in another window).