Early Ottoman Architecture

Constantinople Becomes Istanbul: The Ottomans captured the Constantinople with the purpose of creating an Islamic Roman Empire under the leadership of Mehmet II, known as the Conqueror Fatih in 1453. A new name, Istanbul, took hold in the vernacular which come from the Greek phrase “to the city”.

  • In the city, in order to stimulate merchant activity, Fatih built the markets of Kapali Çarşi which had square bays capped with rounded, lead-covered domes. The bedestan, a fortified compound for luxury goods, was built taller in the middle of 3000 shops.
  • Fatih absorbed the cultural and technical innovations of Italy. His fortifications both before and after the siege of the capital showed the influence of Italian engineering.
  • He considered the majestic Hagia Sophia as his great prize and quickly converted the venerable Palatine church into a royal mosque, by adding a minaret. He, also, inserted a mihrab into its eastern apse.
  • He inspired by the great Byzantine church and he built a new mosque, the Fatih Cami, and an extensive imaret. It had three smaller rounded domes. Its two slender minarets stood at the front corners of the mosque and its small cupolas topped each bay of the court’s arcades, and ancient granite columns supported pointed arches. It occupied the center of a vast, perfectly square plaza. The barrel vaults of earlier Byzantine cisterns serves as the foundation for the terraced complex. Sets of eight madrasas, in perfect bilateral symmetry, served for the study of canonical law, or sharia.
  • In 1459, Fatih decided to move from his palace in the center of the city to a new one at the extreme tip of the peninsula, where the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium once stood. The Topkapi Saray complex offered a more secluded residence, with fortified walls surrounding a hilly, wooded park. The sultan’s private realm appeared the antithesis of European palaces: willfully asymmetrical and more like a garden than a building. It was closer to a Chinese scholars’ garden than to the geometrically coordinated Italian palazzo. The most important political space in Topkapi was the Divan, or Council Hall. Behind the Divan lay the Harem.

The greatest architect of the Ottoman renaissance: Sinan.

  • Sinan was responsible for over 300 projects throughout the realm. They were including mosques in Aleppo and Damascus and magnificent infrastructural works, such as the Maglova aqueduct.
  • In Istanbul alone, he built twenty two major mosques and imarets. He transformed the city’s fabric into a glittering patchwork that juxtaposed impressive monumental enclosures studded with marble-clad cupolas and minarets with neighborhoods of narrow streets and densely packed wooden houses.
  • During long years of military campaigns, he witnessed a variety of design solutions and gained accurate command of engineering through the production of bridges and transport ships.
  • Sinan’s earliest commissions for monumental works came from two female clients in the 1530s: The first one; an imaret in honor of Hürrem, the Haseki Hürrem complex. Sinan covered the mosque with a single hemispherical dome and designed the hospital, an institution specifically for women, with an unusual octagonal court. The second one; two imarets built in honor of Mihrümah: one next to the northwest Edirne Gate and the other across the Bosporus in Uskadar.The Mihrümah Cami (1560s) at the Edirne Gate carried one of Sinan’s most splendid domes.
  • Sinan’s first work for Süleyman I (Sinan rised to prominence during the reign of Süleyman I), the Şehzade Cami, appeared exceptionally harmonious: He abutted the central dome with four semi-domes, drawing upon earlier works inspired by Hagia Sophia, such as the Fatih Cami. The pyramidal massing of the central dome, semi domes, four buttress towers capped with cupolas, and four smaller domes at the corners cascaded to a perfectly square forecourt, identical in area to the mosque.
  • Sinan built his largest mosque, the Selimiye in Edirne during the 1570s for Süleyman’s successor, Selim II. The dome spread slightly larger than Hagia Sophia, and the minarets were among the tallest of all Islam.

Reference: World Architecture: A Cross-Cultural History by Richar Ingersoll.


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