Crowning the third hill of Istanbul and dominating the Golden Horn, the Suleymaniye Mosque, the largest and the most beautiful of the Ottoman Imperial mosques, is a landmark of the city of Istanbul in Turkey. For 462 years, it was the largest mosque in the city, until the construction of Camlica Mosque in 2019. Designed by the imperial architect Mimar Sinan, Suleymaniye Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Suleiman I the magnificent, (Ref suleiman I magnificent), and according to the Arabic foundation inscription above the north portal, it was founded in 1550 and inaugurated in 1557.
Located close to the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar, the Suleymaniye Mosque is regarded as the masterpiece of Mimar Sinan, the architect, who incorporated four buttresses into the walls of the building to make it open and airy, highly reminiscent of the famous Hagia Sophia (Ref hagia sophia istanbul turkey) in the city. Similar to other imperial mosques in the city, its entrance is preceded by a forecourt adorned with a fountain. The courtyard, designed with a colonnaded peristyle, a continuous porch formed by a row of columns of marble, granite, and porphyry, has an exceptionally gorgeous look. While the northwest façade of the mosque is adorned with rectangular Iznik tile lunette window, commonly called half-moon windows, the mosque is the first building where the Iznik tiles include the bright red clay under the glaze.
While the four slender minarets at the four corners of the mosque represent the four sultans who took the throne after the conquest of Constantinople, the ten galleries on the minarets indicate that Suleiman I was the 10th sultan after the foundation of the Ottoman Empire. Out of the total of ten galleries, the taller minarets with a height of 209 feet (63`8 m) without the lead caps and 249 feet (76 m) including the caps have three galleries. With a height of 174 feet (53 m) and a diameter of 86`9 feet (26`5 m), the main dome of the Suleymaniye Mosque was the highest in the Ottoman Empire, when it was built.
The main dome is flanked by the minor domes and to the north and south arches with windows headed by tympana, or semi-circular decorative wall surface, supported by enormous porphyry monoliths.
The 194 feet (59 m) long and 190 feet (58 m) wide, almost square interior of the Suleymaniye Mosque is breathtaking in size and pleasant in simplicity. Decoration of the interior is retrained with stained-glass windows restricted to the Qibla wall, the direction towards Kaaba in Mecca, and the Mihrab, a niche in the wall indicating the Qibla, is covered in fine Iznik tiles.
Other interior decorations include the gorgeous stained-glass windows, window shutters inlaid with mother of pearl, painted Nuqarnas, a form of ornamental vaulting in Islamic architecture, also known as honeycomb vaulting, and the painted pendentives and medallions featuring intricate calligraphy. The interior of the mosque is perfectly designed for natural lighting, which is provided through the 32 windows.
There is a cemetery inside the walled enclosure of the mosque, located to the southeast of the main entrance and behind the Qibla wall, containing the mausoleums of Sultan Suleiman I and his wife Haseki Hurrem Sultan, also known as Roxelana. The octagonal mausoleum of Haseki Hurrem Sultan with its 16 sided interior decorated with Iznik tiles, composed of quartz and quartzite, is dated 1558, the year of her death. The much larger octagonal mausoleum of Suleiman the Magnificent is surrounded by a peristyle with a roof supported by 24 columns and has the entrance facing east rather than the traditional north. Although the mausoleum is dated 1566, probably it was not completed till the next year. Apart from the tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent, the mausoleum also houses the tomb of his daughter Mihrimah Sultan and two subsequent sultans, Suleiman II and Ahmed II. However, the tomb of Mimar Sinan, the architect of the mosque, is located outside the walled garden, next to a disused medrese, which was restored in 1922.
Like the other imperial mosque in Istanbul, the Suleymaniye Mosque was designed as a complex which included many structures other than the mosque, to serve both religious and cultural purposes. Apart from the mosque, the original complex included hammams or public baths, darussifa or a hospital, tabhane or a traveller’s inn, imaret or public kitchen, a library, three madreses, a primary school, and a school for learning the hadith, which the Muslims believe to be a record of the words, actions, and the silent approval of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
The Suleymaniye Mosque was severely damaged in the great fire of 1600, which was restored by Sultan Mehmed IV. Nearly a century and a half after that, part of the great dome was collapsed during the earthquake of 1766. Unfortunately, the subsequent repairs damaged the original decoration of Mimar Sinan. Much later, the huge courtyard of the mosque was used as a depot of weaponry during World War I, and when accidentally some of the ammunitions were ignited, the mosque had to suffer damage due to the consequent fire and was not fully restored until 1956.