Yazan: Ergun BAKAR
Ottoman architecture means the whole areas of activity including the all kinds of construction of Empire. As soon as the Ottoman principality’s turning into a world state had a great importance in world history; creating a new identity known as “Ottoman Classical Architecture” provides different perspectives to world’s architecture history in terms of architecture and construction. There is no doubt that architect who contributed to the Ottoman architecture to final points and leaves his mark on that period was Sinan. He knows to take advantages of the experiences coming from the Seljuks, Arabs, and Persians and thanks to his active intelligence and he constructed modern and original structures by these developing monuments.
When the phenomenon of “Ottoman identity in architecture” is thought, it is clear that the basic causes of the argument includes “Ottoman identity came into existence due to Sinan” are ideal-dome-space relationship which people can consider as the most significant innovation brought to Ottoman architecture by Sinan, and his more than three hundred works that involves many different structures from the bridge to mosque, caravanserai or baths between 1530’s and to the year of 1588.
Ottoman Classical Architecture until Sinan
Before discussing the classical period of Ottoman architecture, prior periods that made a contribution to this period should be examined. These periods arise from the architectures of Eastern Roman Empire and Anatolian principalities. These two factors affected Ottoman Empire not only politically but also culturally and architecturally. Principalities’ architectural features can be seen in ad widespread manner. Also, politic structures of principalities period which was complex but has many beauties were effectively transferred to architecture.
Even though principality or establishment period was actualized during the reign of Osman I, relations of the principality with architecture increased in the period of the Orhan Ghazi. Conquest of the Bursa, especially, can be seen as the beginning point of developing architectural period of the government. Ottoman society has become more and more settled in this period and general needs of this multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-language community like mosque and aqueducts were tried to meet. On the other hand, Ottoman principality can be seen as fortunate because many architects who were under pressure from East or West came to the Bursa and contributed to Ottoman architecture. Furthermore, artists in the conquered Eastern Roman territories have brought new horizons of Ottomans.
Although mosques are not highlighted as an indicator of state’s or emperor’s reputation in the Seljuk period, Ottomans gave a prominent place in the city centers for their mosques from the beginning. Thus, in the Ottomans, mosques were identified with cities and they became symbols of the cities.
Bursa was the center of development until the interregnum period; however, with a period of interregnum, Edirne started to gain importance. In Osmanische Türkei, Vognt-Goknil asserts that “When people look at the period in question, “Yıldırım Bayezid Mosque” (1390-1395) can be seen as a remarkable monument with its Islamic-Ottoman social complex which has developing extents.1
The conquest of Istanbul gave a chance to Ottomans in order to use of land according to their desire or needs. For example; “An assessment of the one or two structures remaining from the Byzantine constituted the basic principles of architectural activity in the Ottoman city.”2
The conquest of Istanbul contributed to the perspective of the Ottoman architecture. Therefore, the XV and XVI centuries can be depicted as a period in which new techniques or methods were introduced to inquire. Dome systems become prevalent during this period and the urge of doing better rather than the traditional layout. “Structures together with a single dome gained, importance on the top of multi-domed structures.”3
Many techniques were tested in this period and these trials became the basis for constitutions of “Golden age”. For instance, “Edirne Üç Şerefeli Mosque” can be an example for researchers in order to understand changes of architecture style in this period. This mosque is an example of turning from multi-domed structure to the central dome system in that period.
Another significant point showing differences in architectural area is Hagia Sophia which is the only structure left from the East Roman Empire. It became the main example of Ottoman architecture in terms of having a central dome system. In addition to this, “Fatih Mosque” was the first construction depicted as a symbol of transition from principality to emperorship. It constructed on the place of old “Havariun Church” which was the only church destroyed after the conquest of the Istanbul. It was an implementation of the plans of Edirne, Üç Şerefeli Mosque, and Hagia Sophia’s dome system on the plan of Bursa Ulu Camii (Bursa Great Mosque). When people look at these developments, they can see that general features of the principality period blended with the Eastern Roman architecture, so that Ottoman Classical architecture has emerged.
Sinan and the “Golden Age” of Ottoman Architecture
It can be said that the XVI century was the “Golden Age” of the Ottoman Classical architecture. The main symbol flame of the classical duration of architecture in Ottoman Empire was Sinan. He had a great influence on architecture until the XIX century. In this crowded building list, there were all kinds of structures and he brings various practical solutions according to the projects’ different aims; however, the majority of his works which necessitate a creative genius consist of the religious places. Due to this reality, mosques should be studied by researchers in order to be understood, share or give information about the architectural features of Sinan.
Ottoman classical architecture has been researched and these studies reached to pinnacle as results of examination around the Süleymaniye and Selimiye mosques. In here, it is essential to underline that Süleymaniye Mosque is known as Sinan’s building of his period of being assistant master and Selimiye Mosque is underlined as his mastership monument. In both constructions, diameters of domes were enlarged and he put them on eight elephant feet. This system was the solution of continuous technical problems which have been coming since XIV century. Selimiye Mosque was the peak of architectural journey started back in Seljuk time and later on shaped by Arab, Persian, and Eastern Roman Empires. The size of the dome of Selimiye mosque put the size of the dome of the Hagia Sophia behind itself and created a monumental order.
“Sinan tried to create a bright and peaceful environment with Selimiye mosque. He has created an equal order in response to hierarchical orders of the churches.”4 Moreover, Sinan, principally, did not compete with other architectures or structures. He gets over himself. Technical innovations of the Sinan have completed the classical period of Ottoman architecture and formed the basis of the Ottoman Empire and Republic’s mosque plans. With contributions of Sinan, single dome system has almost been the only system after this period and it was applied anywhere from the small mosques to the great monumental buildings.
To very end of his life, Sinan continuously studied, experimented and sought new answers to topography, space, mass, and supporting structure. In doing so, “he provided diverse and highly elaborate solutions which make him the great master of Ottoman, even Islamic architecture.”5
When it comes to give an example about this point, the project of the Çamlıca Mosque in Istanbul can be examined clearly. If people investigate the projects of the Çamlıca Mosque which is under construction today, Sinan’s influences and his great effects on this project will be seen clearly and easily.
Another important point which should be known about the Ottoman architecture is “Hassa Mimarlar Ocağı”. This foundation was providing education for architects as todays faculties of engineering. Furthermore, this institution was the most significant establishment that was building and repairing the formal structures of the empire. It can be said that “this school was one of the most powerful institutions of empire, in addition to this, talented and young people such as architectures Sinan, Hayreddin, Ayas, and Sedefkar Mehmet Ağa were disciplined in this foundation.”6
In this foundation, theoretical and practical education were made. The main tasks of this institutions of the state were drawing plans of important state buildings and their repairing, calculating the estimated costs of them, and to ensure the conclusion of the structures. Chief architect, vice architects who depends on the chief, masters and workers staffed at there. Evliya Çelebi was talking in his well-known book named as “Seyahatname” about a chief architect who had 500 workers under his control in Baghdad. The importance of the architecture in Ottoman Empire in the XVI. century can be understood from this point clearly.
Finally, the Ottoman architecture immediately after the Sinan reached its peak with Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) between 1609 and 1619. In addition, to build a Blue Mosque which became a symbol of Ottoman architecture and the city of Istanbul was granted to Sedefkar Mehmet Ağa trained in the same school with Sinan. As a result, it is clear that the best way to use legacy left by Sinan is to develop his architectural principles and to implement his methods with different perspectives to todays’ contemporary monuments.
All in all, classical Ottoman architecture was result of a long interactive process. This process involves all of the “old continents” and imperial culture. “Ottoman Classical Architecture” was in a close relationship with the Ottoman political history. People should not forget that the ups and downs of the political history had a great influence on the architecture. Classical Ottoman architecture period has almost all stages in the transition from principalities to imperialism of Ottoman Empire. Therefore, to examine Ottoman classical architecture period with empires political history gives a chance to people in terms of understanding the duration from the different views.
UlyaVognt-Goknil, OsmanischeTürkei (München: HimerMerlog) 138.
Doğan Kuban, İstanbul’unTarihiYapısınınGenelÖzellikleri (İstanbul :İTÜMimarlıkFakültesiŞehircilikEnstitüsüDergisi, 1971) 18-37.
 Ayla Ödekan, MimarlıkveSanatTarihiYazıları: OsmanlıDevleti 1300-1600 ed. SinaAşkın (İstanbul: CemYayınları, 2009), 299.
Doğan Kuban, Osmanlı Dini MimarisindeİçMekanTeşekkülü (İstanbul: İTÜ MimarlıkFakültesi, 1958), 20-37.
RehaGünay, A Guide to the Works of Sinan the Architect in Istanbul (İstanbul: YemYayınları, 2006), 22.
SelçukMülayim, OsmanlıMimarisi (İstanbul: İçYayınYayınları, 1996), 55.
Aslanapa, Oktay, Mimar Sinan, Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı, 1992.
Ersan, M. & Alican, Mustafa, Selçukluları Yeiden Keşfetmek, İstanbul: Timaş Yayınları, 2011.
Godfrey, Goodwin, Sinan : Ottoman Architecture and Its Values Today, London : Saqi Books, 1993.
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Kuban, Doğan, İstanbul’un Tarihi Yapısının Genel Özellikleri, İstanbul :İTÜ Mimarlık Fakültesi Şehircilik Enstitüsü Dergisi, 1971.
Kuban, Doğan, Osmanlı Dini Mimarisinde İç Mekan Teşekkülü, İstanbul: İTÜ Mimarlık Fakültesi, 1958.
Mülayim, Selçuk, Osmanlı Mimarisi, İstanbul: İç Yayın Yayınları, 1996.
Mülayim, Selçuk, Sinan bin Abdülmennan, İstanbul: İSAM Yayınları, 2010.
Ödekan, Ayla, Mimarlık ve Sanat Tarihi Yazıları: Osmanlı Devleti 1300-1600, ed. Sina Aşkın, İstanbul: Cem Yayınları, 2009.
Öztürkmen, Ali Galip, Mimar Sinan: Eayatı ve Eserleri Hakkında Bir Etüd, İstanbul: Sinan Matbaası ve Neşriyat Evi, 1940.
Vogt-Göknil, Ulya, Living architecture: Ottoman (Text by Ulya Vogt-Göknil ; Photos. by Eduard Widmer ;Pref. by Jürgen Joedicke), New York : Grosset & Dunlap, 1966.
Boğaziçi Üniversitesi – Tarih Bölümü