The New Mosque in Istanbul, also commonly known as the Yeni Cami, is a well-known landmark in the Turkish city. The mosque was built by the rulers of the Ottoman Empire, and stands in the Eminönü district, close to the Galata Bridge. Its historical importance, combined with its impressive appearance and strategic location on the Golden Horn, make it one of Istanbul’s most recognizable sights. The mosque remains in regular use for worship, but is now also a popular place for tourists to visit.
Construction began in 1597 on the orders of Sultan Murad III’s wife, Safiye. The mosque’s original architect, Davut Aga, died just two years after construction had commenced, and Dalgıc Ahmed Cavus took over the project. The sultan himself died in the half century it took for the structure to be completed. The finishing touches were applied under Turhan Hadice. Part of the reason for the lengthy delays which marred the construction work was the mosque’s immense cost. However, there were also concerns about the site of the building as it was in a heavily Jewish commercial area.
Safiye had chosen that location deliberately, with the object of increasing Muslim influence in Constantinople. She realized that many non-Jewish merchants were resentful of the Jews’ influence and power, allowing the Sultan himself to confiscate their property with little opposition. Nevertheless, the problem of expenditure remained, to the extent that Safiye had no choice but to call a halt to the project after the death of Mehmet III. The mosque was devastated by fire in 1660. Work did recommence, however, and the mosque’s inauguration finally arrived in 1665.
The New Mosque’s exterior is notable for its large number of domes. Counting semi-domes as well, there are 66 in all. These are arranged into a pyramidal shape. The largest of the domes rises to over 100 feet, with four semi-domes supporting it. The design of these domes was inspired by two earlier mosques built by Sinan and Sedefkar Mehmed Agha. There is also a pair of minarets. A large courtyard – more than 100 feet in length – stands to the west of the mosque. The stone used for the main edifice of the mosque was transported from the Greek island of Rhodes.
Inside, the mosque’s main room forms a square of about 130 feet along each side. The center is dominated by the four piers which support the dome. To the rear and sides of this are several colonnades, which incorporate graceful and slim marble columns. A mixture of architectural styles is used for the arches which connect the pillars. Elaborate plates, engraved with calligraphy, mark the points at which the pillars join the dome itself. The large numbers of smaller domes act to increase the amount of space available in the mosque’s interior.
Like the other imperial mosques, this one was intended to form the centerpiece of a complex which included cultural and religious buildings. Originally, these included a school, public baths, a hospital, and a pair of fountains. There was also a marketplace, while a library was added at a later date. The market area remains in use as a bazaar to this day. In the mosque’s mausoleum, the remains of six sultans and many important courtiers are held. The mosque is considered a national monument, and as such is maintained by Turkey’s Foundations Directorate.