The Legacy of Architect Sinan: The Master Builder of the Ottoman Empire

Architect Sinan was one of the most influential and prolific architects in history, who designed and built hundreds of structures for the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. His works include mosques, palaces, schools, bridges, and tombs, many of which are still standing today. He is widely regarded as the greatest architect of the classical period of Ottoman architecture, and his style and techniques have inspired generations of architects and builders.

Sinan was born around 1490 in Ağırnas, a village in the Karaman province of the Ottoman Empire, now part of Turkey. He was the son of Christian parents, who were Armenian. He was conscripted into the Janissary corps, an elite military unit composed of Christian boys who were converted to Islam and trained as soldiers and administrators. Sinan rose through the ranks and became a military engineer, specializing in fortifications and siege warfare. He participated in many campaigns and battles, including the conquest of Belgrade, the siege of Rhodes, and the Battle of Mohács.

In 1539, Sinan was appointed as the chief royal architect by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the most powerful and influential ruler of the Ottoman Empire. Sinan served under three sultans: Suleiman, Selim II, and Murad III, and oversaw the construction of more than 300 major structures, mostly in Istanbul, the capital of the empire. He also supervised the restoration and renovation of 177 buildings, including some of the most important monuments of Islamic architecture, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, and the Kaaba in Mecca.

Sinan’s architectural style was based on the principles of Islamic geometry, symmetry, and harmony, as well as the traditions of Anatolian and Byzantine architecture. He was a master of the dome, which he used as the main element of his buildings, creating various shapes and sizes of domes and combining them with half-domes, smaller domes, and vaults. He also experimented with different types of arches, columns, and windows, creating elegant and spacious interiors that were filled with natural light and ventilation. He paid attention to the details and decorations of his buildings, using marble, stone, tile, wood, and metal to create intricate patterns and motifs. He also integrated his buildings with their surroundings, using gardens, fountains, courtyards, and terraces to create a harmonious and functional environment.

Some of Sinan’s most famous works are the Şehzade Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, and the Selimiye Mosque, which are considered to be his masterpieces. The Şehzade Mosque, built between 1543 and 1548, was his first major commission and the one he considered to be the best work of his apprenticeship. It was dedicated to the memory of Prince Mehmed, the son and heir of Suleiman, who died of smallpox at the age of 21. The mosque has a square plan with a large central dome supported by four semi-domes and four smaller domes at the corners. The mosque is surrounded by a complex of buildings, including a school, a hospital, a library, and a mausoleum.

The Suleymaniye Mosque, built between 1550 and 1557, was his most ambitious and grandiose project, and the one he considered to be the best work of his mastery. It was commissioned by Suleiman, who wanted to create a magnificent mosque that would rival the Hagia Sophia, the former Byzantine cathedral that was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans. The mosque has a rectangular plan with a huge central dome that is 53 meters high and 27 meters in diameter, flanked by two semi-domes and four minarets. The dome is supported by four massive pillars that are hidden by arches and walls, creating a sense of openness and lightness. The mosque is also surrounded by a complex of buildings, including a school, a hospital, a library, a soup kitchen, a caravanserai, and a mausoleum.

The Selimiye Mosque, built between 1568 and 1575, was his final and most refined work, and the one he considered to be the best work of his old age. It was commissioned by Selim II, the son and successor of Suleiman, who wanted to build a mosque in his hometown of Edirne, the former capital of the Ottoman Empire. The mosque has a square plan with a colossal central dome that is 43 meters high and 31 meters in diameter, supported by eight pillars and eight semi-domes. The dome is the largest in the Ottoman Empire and one of the largest in the world. The mosque has four slender minarets that are 83 meters high, the tallest in the Ottoman Empire. The mosque is also surrounded by a complex of buildings, including a school, a library, a hospital, and a mausoleum.

Sinan died in 1588, at the age of 98, and was buried in a modest tomb near the Suleymaniye Mosque. He left behind a legacy of architectural excellence and innovation that has influenced the development of Turkish and Islamic architecture, as well as the architecture of other regions and cultures. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest architects of all time, and has been compared to Michelangelo, his contemporary in the West.

Sinan’s life and works have also been the subject of controversy and debate, especially regarding his religious and ethnic identity. For centuries, the Ottoman authorities and historians denied or ignored the fact that Sinan was born a Christian and had a non-Turkish origin. They portrayed him as a loyal and devout Muslim and a proud Turk, who embraced Islam and the Ottoman culture. However, in recent decades, Turkey has acknowledged that Sinan was a Christian convert, but has not officially recognized his Armenian identity. Some Turkish scholars and officials have argued that Sinan’s ethnicity is irrelevant or insignificant, and that he should be celebrated as a universal and humanist figure, who transcended the boundaries of religion and nationality. However, some Armenian scholars and activists have claimed that Sinan was a victim of forced conversion and assimilation, and that he should be recognized and honored as an Armenian, who preserved and expressed his cultural heritage through his architecture. The debate over Sinan’s identity and legacy continues to this day, reflecting the complex and contentious history of the Ottoman Empire and its successor states.


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