Capping the third of Istanbul’s seven hills is the Süleymaniye Mosque. Süleymaniye Camii, as it is properly named in Turkish, is one of the largest mosques in Istanbul. Its construction was completed in 1558 during the heyday of the Ottoman Empire’s building spree. Süleymaniye quickly became one of the most important mosques in Istanbul.
The mosque is the most famous building designed by Sultan Süleymaniye the Magnificent’s chief architect, Mimar Sinan. Sinan was considered to be the greatest Ottoman architect of the period; his apprentices perpetuated his basic mosque design for decades after his death. As a consequence there is significant similarity between the Süleymaniye and Istanbul’s other imperial mosques.
From the outside a single large dome flanked by smaller domes and half domes dominates Süleymaniye Mosque’s roof profile. These domes sit inside a stout square base. On one side of the main structure is a typical large courtyard surrounded by a colonnaded peristyle. At the corners of the courtyard are four minarets, a number only allowable to mosques endowed by a sultan. (The exception being the Blue Mosque, which has six minarets.)
The interior decorations of the Süleymaniye Mosque are the least elaborate of any of the mosques we visited in Istanbul. Fewer ornate tiles were incorporated; the walls are mostly bare stone. Much of the intricate Iznik tile work is found on the underside of the main dome. This subdued decoration scheme emphasizes the symmetry of the interior and draws visitor’s eyes up to the ornate dome.
It has been said that when Sinan died, classical Ottoman architecture had reached its peak. Indeed, Sinan’s apprentices continued building in his style without implementing substantial changes. As a result the grand mosques of Istanbul vary mostly in the details; the imperial mosques are more alike than are the large churches of Rome. Does that mean that if you’ve seen one of Istanbul’s grand mosques you’ve seen them all? No, not really. Would you look through a kaleidoscope and not bother turning the barrel so the patterns change? Each imperial mosque is it own distinct jewel box. Each needs to be seen from the inside.