Şehzade Mosque

Photo by: Muscol, CC

The Şehzade Mosque is among the most important of the imperial mosques built in Istanbul, Turkey during the Ottoman Empire. It is occasionally given the name “Prince’s Mosque,” and stands in the Fatih district of the city. The mosque, which was constructed at the orders of Süleyman the Magnificent in memory of his dead son, is renowned for the beauty and intricacy of its architecture. As well as its role as a Muslim place of worship, it has now become a significant tourist attraction.

Historical Background

Sehzade Mehmed, the favorite of all Süleyman’s sons, died at the early age of 22 in 1543. He had achieved great military success while campaigning in Hungary, and was returning to what was then Constantinople in triumph. However, he was killed during the return journey, leaving Süleyman devastated. The sultan had several older sons than Sehzad, but none of them were born to legal wives. Sehzad had therefore been the eldest legitimate son of the sultan, and he had been groomed to take over from his father in that role.

Historians report that Süleyman was so badly upset by his son’s untimely demise that he went to the family’s temporary tomb, which was also in Constantinople, and went through 40 days of mourning. A few years later, a richly decorated and extravagantly designed permanent mausoleum would be erected on the site by Sinan, who would go on to become one of the most famous of all Ottoman architects. This was part of a larger complex dedicated entirely to the young man. This helped to make Sinan’s name as an imperial architect.

Architectural Details

The exterior of the mosque stands within a courtyard, known as an avlu, which is colonnaded. This courtyard’s area is identical to that of the mosque inside, and a portico borders it. On every side, this portico has five bays topped by domes, linked by white and pink marble arches, alternating in sequence to create a striking visual effect. The fountain for ablutions before prayer stands in the center of the courtyard. This was not part of the original design, being added in the reign of Murat IV in the early 17th century.

There is a pair of minarets, which are decorated with bas-relief sculpture in perfect geometric forms, as well as a small amount of terracotta detailing on the inlays. The mosque is square in shape, with its large central dome standing over 110 feet high and having a diameter of about 60 feet. Four semi-domes guard each of its flanks. This was the first building in which Sinan was able to hide the structure’s bulky buttresses by means of colonnaded galleries, which run along the full length of both the southern and the northern facade.

Inside, unlike in many mosques, there are no galleries. The mosque displays strong symmetry thanks to the semi-domes being at regular spaces around the main dome. These create the impression of a cloverleaf. Despite the cleverness of the plan, there were a number of problems with the design that Sinan chose for the mosque. Chief among these was that the piers which support the main dome are isolated and therefore extremely prominent. Perhaps for this reason, this is the only major building by Sinan which uses this technique.

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