Suitcase and World: Süleymaniye and Rüstem Pasha.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Süleymaniye and Rüstem Pasha.

Rüstem Paşa  Mosque on the left and Süleymaniye Mosque on the right.  (Photo by İsmail Yaşartekin)

Hard to believe that I have been to Istanbul twice already and on neither visit did I visit these two places - Süleymaniye Mosque and Rüstem Pasha Mosque. Süleymaniye Mosque is the largest mosque in Istanbul and you can see it from the Galata Bridge which I did at least a couple of times.  Unfortunately, Süleymaniye was closed to visitors from 2007 to 2010 for restoration work but why I never ventured into Rüstem Pasha is something I can't explain considering it stands just stone's throw away from the Spice Bazaar. I am determined to correct the oversight on this trip and have put both places on our must-see list!

Exterior of Süleymaniye Mosque. (Photo by İhsan Deniz Kılıçoğlu)
Mimar Sinan is the great Ottoman architect who designed both Süleymaniye and Rüstem Pasha mosques.  He was the chief Ottoman architect and civil engineer for sultans Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim II, and Murad III. He was responsible for the construction of more than 300 major structures and other more modest projects, such as his Islamic primary schools (sibyan mektebs). His apprentices would later design the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul, Stari Most in Mostar, and help design the Taj Mahal in the Mughal Empire. Quite a résumé!

The son of a stonemason, Mimar Sinan received a technical education and became a military engineer. He rose rapidly through the ranks but it wasn't until he was about fifty years old that he was appointed as chief royal architect, applying the technical skills he had acquired in the army to the both religious and and civic structures.

Mimar Sinan is reputed to have designed over 300 buildings in the course of his career.  In Istanbul, his crowning glory is the Süleymaniye Mosque.

Suleiman the Magnificent.  Portrait by Titian c. 1530.
Suleiman I more commonly known as “Suleiman the Magnificent”  (1494 -1566) was the tenth and longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, from 1520 to his death.

Suleiman ruled the Ottoman Empire at the apex of the empire's military, political and economic power.  He personally led Ottoman armies in conquering the Christian strongholds of Belgrade, Rhodes, as well as most of Hungary before his conquests were checked at the Siege of Vienna in 1529.

He annexed also much of the Middle East in his conflict with the Safavids and large areas of North Africa as far west as Algeria.  In fact, it was Suleiman who constructed the walls surrounding the ancient city of Jerusalem.

Under his rule, the Ottoman fleet dominated the seas from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and through the Persian Gulf.

At home, Suleiman personally instituted major legislative changes relating to Ottoman society, education, taxation, and criminal law. His canonical law(s) fixed the form of the empire for centuries after his death.

Interior of Suleimaniye (Photo by gGia)
He was also a distinguished poet and goldsmith and a great patron of culture - overseeing the "Golden" age of the Ottoman Empire in its artistic, literary and architectural development.

Suleiman took Roxelana, a former Christian girl who was part of his harem to be his wife.  She who converted to Islam before their marriage took place.  Their son, Selim II, succeeded Suleiman following his death in 1566 after 46 years of rule.

Süleymaniye Mosque was built under the command of Suleiman the Magnificent.  Construction began in 1550 and was finished in 1558.  The design of the original mosque was modeled in part on the style of a Byzantine basilica, particularly the Hagia Sophia.  It was ravaged by fire in 1660 and was restored on the command of Sultan Mehmed IV by architect Fossatı. The restoration, however, changed the mosque into a more baroque style, damaging the great work severely.

The mosque was restored to its original glory during the 19th century but during World War I the courtyard was used as a weapons depot and when some of the ammunition ignited, the mosque suffered another fire. Not until 1956 was it restored again.

As mentioned above, the mosque was closed from 2007 to 2010.  Today, it is a functioning mosque and visitors are welcomed except when prayer is taking place.  Visitors need to be mindful to not be there 30 minutes after the call to prayer, and from noon to late afternoonon Friday (the Muslim holy day)

According to Tom Brosnahan, author of my absolute favorite travel guide to Turkey - "The Turkey Travel Planner":
"To get the full effect of the architect's design and Süleymaniye's grandeur, you should walk to the northwest side of the mosque on Şifahane Sokak and enter the courtyard by this main entrance and through the grand courtyard."
The exterior of Süleymaniye is not as magnificent as its interior which measures 59 meters (194 feet) in length and 58 meters (190 feet)  in width. The main dome is 53 meters (174 feet) high and has a diameter of 27.25  meters (89 feet).  The expansive interior was achieved by hiding the massive buttresses that support the dome, incorporating the buttresses into the walls, and adding rows of columns beneath the tympanums on either side.  

Map by Tom Brosnahan.
Apart from the main mosque with the prayer hall and courtyard, the mosque complex also includes a hamam (bath house), theological colleges, a hospital and medical school, a primary school, and a caravanserai/hostel for travelers. There's also a soup kitchen which used to serve food to the poor but now functions as a fine dining restaurant specializing in Ottoman cuisine.  Only the hamam and restaurant are open to the public.

Before we leave the mosque complex, we'll need to find our way to the garden located  behind the main mosque where there are two mausoleums including the tombs of Suleiman the Magnificent, his sultana Roxelana, his daughter Mihrimah, his mother Dilaşub Saliha and his sister Asiye. Suleiman’s tomb features a system of layered domes copied from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. The sultans Suleiman II, Ahmed II and Safiye, the daughter of Mustafa II, are also buried here.

Tomb of Mimar Sinan (Photo by birasuegi)

Lastly, I don't know that we'll find it or if we'll be interested in seeing or not but the tombof Mimar Sinan is located outside the complex at the intersection of Mimar Sinan Caddesi, Fetva Yokuşu, and Şifahane Sokak.  Not surprising, Sinan's tomb is designed by himself.  Looking at photos of the tomb and where it's located, I wouldn't think it was the tomb for such a celebrated Turk.  Not to offend anyone, but it looks like a ticket office of some sort.  I definitely would have walked right by it.

 Rüstem Pasha
Rüstem Pasha Mosque is one of those places, that despite its central location near the Spice Bazaar, is often overlooked by tourists....including yours truly....not once but twice.  We'll definitely be visiting on this trip.

Rüstem Pasha (1500-1561) was born in Skradin, Croatia.  He was taken as a child to Istanbul, where he built a military and bureaucracy career.  In 1539, he married Mihrimah, the only daughter of Suleiman the Magnificent. He was appointed Grand Vizier (aka Prime Minister) by Suleiman the Magnificent and held the title twice, first from 1544–1553 and then from 1555–1561, until his death. As Grand Vizier, he collected a vast fortune.

Whatever political victories or business accomplishments he might have had, Rüstem Pasha is remembered for plotting with Süleyman’s wife Roxelana to denounce the Sultan’s son Prince Mustafa, which led to the latter’s beheading and the ascent to the throne of Sultana Roxelana's son, Prince Selim “the Sot.” It’s said that Selim's rule marked the beginning of the Ottoman Empire’s long decline as Selim proved to be an incompetent ruler.

Although Rüstem Pasha was among the wealthiest of men in the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power and glory, as the sultan's humble servant, it was not his place to build a grand mosque that might rival that of his imperial master. So he selected a site in the midst of the market, at the foot of the hill crowned by Süleyman's grand mosque, the Süleymaniye. Instead of size and grandeur, Rüstem sought exquisite artistic details and that's what he got.

Interior of Rustempasha (Photo by G. Dall'Orto)
Rüstem Pasha Mosque was also designed by Mimar Sinan.  Construction of the mosque began in 1561 and was completed in 1563.  The floor plan of the mosque is that of an octagon inscribed in a rectangle and was the first of this design by Sinan.

Detail of İznik tile from Rüstem Pasha mosque  (Photo from Travel Well, Fly Safe)
The main dome rests on four semi-domes; not on the axes but in the diagonals of the building. The arches of the dome spring from four octagonal pillars— two on the north, two on the south— and from piers projecting from the east and west walls. To the north and south are galleries supported by pillars and by small marble columns between them.

What makes the mosque truly special are the large quantities of exquisite İznik tiles, set in a very wide variety of beautiful floral and geometric designs, which cover not only the façade of the porch but also the mihrab, minbar, walls, columns and on the façade of the porch outside. No other mosque in Istanbul has such lavish tile work.  Additionally, the İznik tiles in Rüstem Pasha mosque also made use of the red color which was incredibly difficult color to render at the time - blue and green were the more commonly used colors.

Both mosques are such gems and must-sees.  I've already slotted them into our itinerary so I am sure that I will not leave Istanbul for a third time without visiting them!