Timeline: Ottoman {1299-1922}

Major Islamic dynasty based in Turkey which at its height controlled a vast area including all of modem Turkey, the Balkans and much of the Middle East and North Africa.


The origins of the Ottoman dynasty can be traced back as far as their 13th c./7th c. AH founder Othman (Osman). Othman was a leader of a branch of the Qayigh clan which was part of the Turkic Oghuz tribe originally from Central Asia. The Oghuz was amongst those Turkic groups who had fled west with the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century and now threatened the ailing Byzantine Empire. Originally the Ottomans had been based around the southern city of Konya but later moved north-west to the area of Bursa later known in Turkish as the Hudavendigar (royal) region. The position of the Ottomans on the border with Byzantine territory meant that they constantly attracted fresh Turkic warriors (ghazis) willing to fight the Christians. The constant warfare and arrival of new soldiers meant that the emerging Ottoman state developed a strong military organization and tradition which enabled it gradually to take over rival Turkish states in the vicinity. In 1357/758 AH a new phase in Ottoman expansion was achieved by crossing the Dardanelles into Europe and fighting the divided Balkan Christians. By 1366/767 AH the Balkan provinces had become so important to the Ottoman state that the capital was moved from Bursa to Edirne. Another result of the move into Europe was that instead of relying on the Turkic warriors the army was now formed by Christians who had been captured as children and converted to Islam. The advantage of this new method was that the religious orthodoxy and absolute allegiance of the soldiers could be ensured. The new troops known as Janissaries were the elite force of the growing empire; at the same time, a system of feudal land grants was adopted for the Ottoman cavalry. In 1394/796 AH Ottoman control of the Balkan provinces was recognized when Bayazit was granted the title Sultan of Rum by the Abbasid caliph in Cairo. A major setback occurred in 1402/804 AH when a second Mongol invasion led by Timur (Tamurlane) conquered much of Anatolia and defeated the Ottoman sultan at Ankara. However, Timurid success was short lived and soon the Ottomans were able to regain control of much of their territory in Anatolia. The major event of the fifteenth century was the capture of Constantinople (later known as Istanbul) and the defeat of the Byzantine Empire by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453/856 AH.


The nineteenth century saw the emergence of new building forms and types influenced by Europe. The most successful of these new forms was the clock tower which by the beginning of the First World War had been established in Ottoman cities throughout the empire. The earliest example was a three-storey wooden tower outside the Nusretiye Cami in Istanbul, other early examples are at Yozgat and Adana. The extent of European influence can be seen in the decision to move the royal residence from the Topkapisarai in old Istanbul to the newly fashionable banks of the Bosphorus. The new residence known as the Dolmabahce Palace was built in 1853/1269 AH in the European Classical style with a colonnaded facade looking out over the water. The palace stretches out along the side of the Bosphorus in a series of blocks or wings, the most famous of which is the throne room measuring 44 by 46 m. Increased European interest in Ottoman and Seljuk architecture also stimulated an interest in revivalist architecture. One of the earliest examples of revivalism in Turkish architecture is the palace of Ishak Pasha at Dogubayazit in eastern Anatolia completed in 1784/1198 AH. This imposing building, set against the backdrop of Mount Ararat, recalls the Seljuk architecture of eastern Anatolia with carved animals and huge monumental doorways. However, this building is exceptional and it is not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that revivalism becomes established as a style in Ottoman art. Notable examples are the Vakif Han built by Kemalettin in 1914/1332 AH and the Istanbul main post office built in 1909/1326 AH. Both these buildings incorporate medieval and early Ottoman features in buildings made using modern methods and materials.

Having consolidated their position in Anatolia during the 15th c./9th c. AH by the beginning of the 16th c./10th c. AH the Ottomans were able to launch a major offensive in Europe and the Middle East. In 1517/922 AH the defeat of the Mamluks brought Syria and Egypt into the Ottoman Empire and in 1526/932 AH Hungary was brought under Ottoman control. For the next century and a half the Ottomans were the world's foremost Islamic power and undisputed rulers of most of the eastern Mediterranean. As orthodox Sunnis the Ottomans established contacts with their co-religionists the Mughals of India although the distance was too great for any meaningful co-operation beyond sending a few Turkish ships against the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean.


The siege of Vienna in 1683/1094 AH marked the high point of their military power in Europe and their defeat marked the beginning of an irreversible decline that continued into the eighteenth century. Nevertheless, Turkey remained a major power during the nineteenth century despite the loss of large amounts of territory to local leaders in Europe and the Middle East. Turkey's disastrous participation in the First World War led to the loss of its remaining Arab provinces and a European attempt to take control of Anatolia. European expansionism in turn prompted a reaction in Turkey which led to the rise of the Young Turks and the abolition of the Ottoman sultanate in 1922/1340 AH.


For over 500 years the Ottomans ruled an area now occupied by more than fifteen modern states so that Ottoman buildings now represent a sizeable proportion of the historic architecture of the region. The Ottoman presence in these areas was marked by the erection of imperial structures such as fortresses, mosques and khans which preserve a remarkable degree of uniformity despite the large distances involved. However, this picture must be modified by two observations, first that direct Ottoman control over some areas was limited to relatively short periods and second that Ottoman architecture was subject to local influences. The first observation may be illustrated by the case of Iraq where constant warfare with the Saffavids meant that Ottoman control fluctuated throughout the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries and was only firmly established in the nineteenth century. The consequence of this is that Iraq contains few distinctively Ottoman buildings from before the nineteenth century. The second observation is important as it calls for a distinction between buildings in the imperial style and locally derived buildings - thus an imperial mosque in Damascus (e.g. the Tekkiye) may differ from a local mosque in the Syrian style. Even in the case of imperial Ottoman buildings concessions were made to local taste; thus the Sinan Pasha Cami in Cairo is Ottoman in plan but has distinct Egyptian features like the use of muqarnas above the windows, the short minaret and the use of ablaq masonry. Sometimes local styles affected the imperial style - thus the tall domes of Syria and Egypt influenced the 'baroque' buildings of seventeenth-century Istanbul.


The heartland of the Ottoman Empire was western Anatolia and Thrace and it was in this area that the imperial style developed out of Byzantine and Seljuk architectural traditions. The Byzantine tradition is characterized by domes, baked brick and tiles, the Seljuk by iwans, carved stonework and the use of spolia. The main building materials used in Ottoman architecture were baked bricks and tiles, cut limestone, marble, and wood, whilst glazed tiles and glass (coloured and plain) were used for decoration.


The use of baked brick in Ottoman architecture was inherited directly from Byzantine practice which in turn was copied from earlier Roman work. Brick is used on a much greater scale in early Ottoman buildings than those of the later period possibly in imitation of contemporary Byzantine practice which used bricks until the beginning of the fourteenth century when they were no longer available. The usual brick form was a flat square of varying dimensions, the Ottomans had a much wider range of brick sizes than the Byzantines whose bricks were of a standard size although better in quality. The standard Byzantine construction technique, copied in early Ottoman buildings, was rubble and brick construction where the size of bricks determined the thickness of the walls. Often layers of brick alternate with layers of cut stone thus the Haci Ozbek Cami at Iznik is built of triple layers of brick alternating with layers of individual cut stone blocks separated by single vertically laid bricks. The ratio of layers of brick to layers of stone does not seem to have been standard for every building and in some cases, the thickness of layers varies in the same building. In general, however, three layers of brick to one of stone was fairly usual during most periods. The standardized size of bricks and their lightness compared with stone also made them ideal material for the construction of domes, barrel vaults and arches. When stone replaced brick and stone as the main facing material, bricks continued to be used for arches, domes, and vaults. In early Ottoman buildings, tiles were used to cover the outside of the dome although from the sixteenth century onwards lead was increasingly used.


The walls of Ottoman buildings were built with a rubble stone core enclosed by a facing of stone or brick and stone. In some of the earlier buildings rubble stone was used on the exterior of buildings either contained within layers of brick or plastered over. Later on the use of cut limestone became more usual, first in conjunction with brick and later on its own. Immediately after the conquest of Constantinople there seems to have been a reversion to brick and stone due to a shortage of cut limestone. However, from the beginning of the sixteenth century onwards most important buildings were faced in cut stone, although subsidiary structures continued to use brick and stone. The quality of masonry in Ottoman buildings is extraordinary due to its precision and smoothness which gave buildings a monumentality not easily achieved with brick and stone.


In addition to limestone Ottoman buildings used large quantities of antique and Byzantine marble both as columns and for decoration. During the sixteenth century, there were large numbers of disused Byzantine churches which were used as quarries for marble columns thus the Ottoman buildings of this period tend to use more columns than earlier or later periods. The hardest form of marble available was porphyry, which is twice as hard as granite, although this was only used rarely as it tended to crack. New marble seems only to have been available from the quarries at Marmara although there was enough ancient marble available to fulfil most needs. Sometimes, however, there seems to have been an acute shortage of marble; thus the tomb of Suleyman was built using fake red and green marble. Fake marble was often used for voussoirs of arches where the weight of real marble would cause structural problems. Fake marble voussoirs were usually made of brick and covered with plaster which was then painted.


Wood was essential in the construction of Ottoman buildings and was used for the centering of vaults and domes, for tie-beams, and as scaffolding. In addition, wood was used for projecting galleries and also for pitched wooden roofs, although these were less common than brick domes in monumental buildings. In domestic architecture, however, wood was the predominant material and most of the houses of Istanbul were built entirely out of wood.


One of the most distinctive features of imperial Ottoman architecture is its use of polychrome glazed tiles as wall decoration. Glazed tiles were used by the Ottomans as early as the thirteenth century at the Yesil Cami at Iznik although it was not until the fifteenth century that the first of the famous Iznik tiles were produced. During the sixteenth century Iznik tiles replaced marble as the main form of decoration in mosques thus in the Ivaz Efendi Cami in Istanbul tilework columns are placed on either side of the mihrab instead of the usual marble columns.


The windows of mosques were often decorated with stained glass set into thick plasterwork frames. Coloured glass made with a high proportion of lead was mostly imported from Europe and clipped to the sizes required. Although coloured glass was used more often, the architect Sinan preferred to use clear glass and altered the structural arrangement of buildings to introduce the maximum amount of light into the interior. Ottoman architecture can be divided into three major periods which roughly correspond to historical developments. The early period between the thirteenth and mid-fifteenth century was the period before the capture of Constantinople in 1453/856 AH and characterized by the transition from a small principality to a sultanate. The second period from the capture of Constantinople (Istanbul) to the mid-sixteenth century is regarded as the classical Ottoman period and saw the most brilliant developments in arts and technology to match the spectacular Ottoman victories in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The third period from the end of the sixteenth century to the twentieth century is known for political and economic decline, matched in architecture by weaker forms on a smaller scale and the increasing influence of Europe.


Early Period

Possibly the oldest Ottoman building is the Etrugrul Mescit in Sogut 40 km south-east of Iznik which dates from the first years of the 14th c./8th c. AH. The mosque has been significantly altered by the addition of a minaret and tall arched windows although its essential form of a tall cube capped by a dome remains unchanged. More authentic and better dated is the Haci Ozbek Cami at Iznik which is dated to 1333/733 AH, two years after the capture of the city from the Byzantines. Like the mosque at Sogut the Haci Ozbek Cami is a small cube covered with an almost hemispherical dome (radius 4 m) resting on a zone of Turkish triangles. The original portico was on the west side (i.e. at right angles to the qibla) and consisted of three bays resting on two marble columns. Two of the bays were covered by barrel vaults, whilst that above the entrance was covered with a cross vault; the north and south sides of the portico were walled in as protection against the wind. Other early Ottoman mosques include the Alaettin Cami at Bursa and the Orhan Ghazi Cami at Bilecik. The Aleattin Cami was built in 1555/962 AH after the Ottoman capture of Bursa and is of a similar form and size to the Haci Ozbek Cami except that the portico and entrance is on the north side in line with the mihrab. The Orhan Ghazi also has a similar plan but here the size of the prayer hall is increased by four large (approximately 9 by 2.5 m) arched recesses which make it twice as large as the Haci Ozbek Cami whose dome is approximately the same size. The walls are pierced with windows and the mihrab is flanked by two large windows in an arrangement that became standard in later Ottoman mosques. The Orhan Ghazi Mosque also has a detached minaret which may be the oldest surviving Ottoman minaret. The next major development in Ottoman mosque architecture is the Yesil Cami at Iznik built in the late fourteenth century (1378-92/779-794 AH). This is one of the first buildings for which the name of the architect is known (Haci bin Musa). The portico consists of three long bays set side by side with a high fluted dome in the central bay. The portico is open on three sides with the entrance in the middle of the north side formed by a stone door frame. The portico leads into the main part of the mosque which contains a rectangular vestibule and a prayer hall. The vestibule is an arcade of three bays resting on two thick columns and opening into the main prayer hall. The central bay of the arcade is covered by a fluted dome and is flanked by two flat-topped cross vaults. The prayer hall is the usual square domed unit although its diameter is slightly larger (11 m) and the vestibule on the north side appears to increase its floor area. The Seljuk-style brick minaret is set on the northwest side of the mosque, a position that became traditional in Ottoman mosques.


The capture of Bursa in 1325/725 AH led to its growth as the Ottoman capital city with mosques, khans, public baths and madrassas. A result of this centralizing process was the development of new, more specialized, architectural forms.

The most remarkable changes occurred in mosque architecture with Orhan's royal mosque which is an adaptation of the Ottoman square domed unit to a Seljuk madrassa plan. The building consists of a central domed courtyard opening onto three domed chambers on either side on the east and west and a larger one on the south side. The building is entered via a five-bay portico and a small vestibule. The plan is ultimately derived from the Iranian four-iwan plan although the northern iwan has been reduced to a shallow vestibule. The side rooms were used as teaching areas as the building was also a zawiya, or convent, and the main room to the south is the prayer hall. The courtyard dome is higher than that of the prayer hall and originally had an oculus or hole at the apex to let in light and air. This plan was later used by Orhan's successor Murat for the famous Hudavendigar Mosque which he built just outside Bursa at Cekirge. This extraordinary two-storey building combines two functions, a zawiya on the ground floor and a madrassa on top. The combination seems particularly surprising when it is realized that the zawiya represents a mystical form of Islam and the madrassa represents orthodox Sunni Islam which would generally have been opposed to mystical sects. This combination suggests a royal attempt to incorporate reconciled mystical and orthodox forces in the service of the Ottoman state.


The zawiya on the ground floor has the same basic T-plan as Orhan's mosque with a central domed courtyard leading off to iwans; however, in this building, the iwans are vaults instead of domes and the mihrab projects out of the south wall of the southern iwan. The walls of the central courtyard and the prayer hall are raised up above the upper floor thus forming a two-storey courtyard. The upper floor is reached by twin staircases on either side of the main entrance which lead upwards to a five-bay portico directly above that on the ground floor. Five entrances lead off the portico into the body of the madrassa which also has a four-iwan plan around a central courtyard. The centre of the courtyard is occupied by the prayer hall and courtyard from the ground floor and so is reduced to a vaulted walkway with windows opening onto the courtyard below. To the north of the upper courtyard between the staircases is a vaulted iwan which is the main entrance to the upper floor. Either side of the courtyard are six vaulted cells whilst at the south end, there is a domed room directly above the mihrab on the ground floor. The same T-plan is used for the mosque of Murat's successor Beyazit, built between 1391 and 1395. Modifications in this mosque include the positioning of the lateral iwans along the side of the prayer hall, or in other words, the prayer hall is brought into the body of the mosque instead of projecting beyond it. This building is also noted for its portico which is regarded as the first monumental Ottoman portico because of its height and the use of wide stilted arches to create an elevated and open space separate from the mosque inside. The Yesil Cami built in 1412/814 AH has essentially the same plan although the portico was not completed.


In addition to the royal mosque Beyazit also built the first great Ottoman congregational mosque or Ulu Cami at Bursa. The building was begun in 1396/798 AH and completed four years later in 1400/802 AH. Before this period congregational mosques had usually been re-used Byzantine churches. The Ulu Cami represents a different design concept from either the square domed unit or the Bursa T-plan mosques and is more closely related to the ancient mosques of Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. The Ulu Cami consists of a large rectangular enclosure five bays wide by four bays deep (63 by 50 m) and roofed by twenty domes resting on twelve massive central piers. The mihrab is centrally placed and is or the same axis as the main doorway. In the second bay in front of the mihrab is the courtyard represented by an open dome above a sunken pool. The mosque has two minarets, one on the north-east and one on the north-west corner of the mosque; the north-east minaret was added later by Mehmet I, sometime after 1413/815 AH. Mehmet also built a smaller version of the Bursa Ulu Cami at Edirne known as the Eski (old) Cami which consists of nine domes.


The climax of the first period of Ottoman architecture was the Yesil Cami at Bursa which was part of a complex built for Mehmet I. The complex consists of a mosque, madrassa, bathhouse (hammam), an imaret, or kitchen, and the turba (tomb) of Mehmet. Earlier sultans had built complexes such as that of Beyazit or Orhan, but this is the best-preserved example of its type. The madrassa has a standard form consisting of cells on three sides and a domed prayer hall on the south side. The kitchen and bathhouse are both rectangular domed structures whilst the turba is an octagonal domed building located high up above the rest of the complex. The mosque is of the familiar Bursa T-plan design and closely resembles that of the Beyazit complex. The chief differences are the use of brilliant green tiles to decorate the interior and royal boxes or loggias which overlook the internal domed courtyard.


The development of mosques and religious buildings is paralleled in secular architecture by the evolution of classical Ottoman forms from the Seljuk period. The clearest examples of this are bridges, which in the early period are graceful structures with a high central arch flanked by two lower arches, whereas those of the later period are more heavily built in the Roman style, with a succession of evenly spaced arches resting on massive piers. Several bathhouses survive from this period particularly in Bursa which contains simple structures like the Cekige Hammam and complex double-domed structures like the Bey Hammam. The plan of these bathhouses develops from a single-domed area leading off to two or three smaller domed or vaulted chambers to a building consisting of one or two large domed areas which open onto a series of small cells arranged around a cruciform covered courtyard.


Classical Period

The second period of Ottoman architecture often referred to as the 'Classical' period, has its origins in the UcSerefeli Cami in Edirne built by Murat II and completed in 1447/850 AH six years before the conquest of Constantinople. The Uc Serefeli Mosque had its origins in the fourteenth-century Ulu Cami of Manisa which was visited by Murat II sometime before 1437/840 AH. The Ulu Cami of Manisa differs from others of the time in having a large central dome in front of the mihrab covering a space equivalent to nine bays. The Manisa Ulu Cami is also unusual because the central courtyard is separated from the main body of the mosque and is not covered by a dome as in the Bursa tradition. Both of these features were found in the Uc Serefeli Mosque built over seventy years later. However, the dome of the Edirne mosque is much larger and measures over 24 m in diameter, more than double that of its Manisa prototype. Also in the Edirne mosque, the size of the central courtyard is increased so that it resembles those of Syria and Egypt rather than the internal courtyards of the Bursa tradition. However, the arcade on the south side of the courtyard adjacent to the sanctuary of the mosque is raised up in the manner of earlier Ottoman porticoes (e.g. Beyazit Cami in Bursa). The exterior of the building is distinguished by four minarets placed outside each corner of the courtyard. The two north minarets have one balcony (seref) each whilst the south-east minaret has two balconies and the massive north-west minaret (from which the mosque gets its name) has three balconies each with its own spiral staircase.

The conquest of Constantinople in 1453/856 AH exposed Ottoman architects to a whole new range of buildings, the most important of which is the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sophia) which was immediately converted into a mosque by the addition of a wooden minaret to one of the corner turrets. The new concepts introduced by the Uc Serefeli were not immediately incorporated into Ottoman buildings, and the first mosques were either converted churches or single-domed units in the traditional style. The first major complex to include these features was the Mehmet Fatih Cami built for Murat II between 1463/867 AH and 1470/874 AH. Unfortunately, the complex suffered an earthquake in 1766/1179 AH and the main part of the mosque collapsed so that the present building is an eighteenth-century replica built on the same foundations. The most notable feature of the Fatih Cami was its 26 m dome which for the next hundred years was the largest dome in the empire with the exception of the Hagia Sophia dome of 32 m. The internal arrangement of the Fatih Cami consisted of a large central dome combined with a semi-dome of similar diameter flanked on two sides by three smaller domes and a half dome. This huge area (approximately 40 by 58 m) is entirely open except for two massive piers on either side of the semi-dome and two smaller piers on either side of the main dome. Outside the mosque is the original rectangular courtyard built to the same design as the Uc Serefeli Cami courtyard although here there are only two minarets placed against the north wall of the mosque. In addition to the mosque itself the Fatih Cami is remarkable for the ordered geometry of the vast complex which surrounds it. The complex is located on an artificially leveled terrace with the western part of the complex raised up on a vaulted substructure. To the west and east of the mosque are eight orthodox madrassas, four on the west and four on the east side. The design of the madrassas is uniform and consists of nineteen cells arranged around three sides of a rectangular arcaded courtyard with a domed teaching room (dershane) on the fourth side. The complex also includes a hospital and a hostel for travelers and dervishes built on a similar plan to the madrassas.


The next major imperial complex was built by Beyazit II at Edirne in 1484/888 AH. This complex is the major monument to Beyazit's reign and significantly is not in Istanbul, which was dominated by Mehmet's complex, but at Edirne the former capital. The mosque at the centre of the complex combined the new concepts of courtyard and large domes with older ideas of the single-domed unit and the incorporation of tabhanes (hostels for dervishes). The central area of the mosque is a single square unit covered with a dome of 20 m diameter. Flanking this central area but separate from it are two square nine-domed tabhanes (one on either side). Although separate from the central area the tabhanes are definitely part of the mosque as they are both incorporated into the south side of the courtyard and each has a minaret attached on the exposed north corner. The rest of the complex includes the elements found in earlier structures, although here the buildings are specifically directed towards medical facilities, thus there is a hospital, asylum and medical college as well as the usual kitchen, bathhouse and bakery. The main hospital building is hexagonal and consists of series of iwans opening onto a central hexagonal hall covered by a dome. Another complex built by Beyazit at Amasya also contains a building that departs from the traditional square form of Ottoman architecture. This is the Kapiaga Madrassa which is an octagonal building built around a central arcaded courtyard.


Although Beyazit's complex at Edirne is the largest monument to his reign, probably the finest is his mosque in Istanbul begun in 1491/896 AH. The building has a cruciform plan consisting of the square domed sanctuary, a square courtyard of equal size, and two small rectangular wings projecting out of the sides. Like the Edirne mosque, these wings were officially tabhanes although unlike Edirne they are not separated from the main area of the mosque by walls suggesting resting rooms rather than hostels. The architectural achievement of this mosque is the incorporation of a second semi-dome so that the large central dome (in this case only 17 m diameter) is balanced by a semi-dome either side, one above the door and the other above the mihrab. On either side of this central domed area are rows of four domes balancing the space of the central area. Like other imperial mosques before it with the exception of the Uc Serefeli Mosque, this building has two minarets placed at the northern corners of the covered area. The next major mosque to be erected in Istanbul was the Selim I Cami completed in 1522/928 AH during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. The building comprised a single-domed space flanked by tabhanes and opening onto a rectangular arcaded courtyard. The main dome has a diameter of 24.5 m and was the largest Ottoman dome of the time. However, the design of the building with its single dome covering a square area recalled earlier Ottoman mosques and represented no significant architectural advance. The real advance came with Sinan, whose designs ensured him a place as the foremost of Ottoman architects.


Sinan's first major project was the mosque of Sehzade built for Suleyman the Magnificent in memory of his son Sehzade who died at the age of 22. The mosque was begun in 1543/949 AH and completed five years later. The main feature of the design was the quatrefoil arrangement of domes based on the use of a single central dome flanked by four semi-domes, one on each side. The idea was not entirely new and had been used before in the Fatih Pasha Cami at Diyarbakir and Piri Pasha Mosque at Haskoy. Sinan's achievement was to translate this plan into a large scale and reduce to a minimum the obstruction of piers to create an open space horizontally and vertically. The domes rest on four huge central piers and sixteen wall piers and four major corner piers which also functioned as buttresses for the outward thrust of the domes. The size and proportions of the domed area are matched by those of the courtyard, a symmetry which is improved by the absence of the tabhane rooms of the Beyazit and Selim mosques.


Sinan's next major work was the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent begun in 1550/956 AH and known as the Suleymaniye. This building and its associated complex was Sinan's largest commission and took seven years to build. Like the Fatih complex, the Suleymaniye is located on a large artificially levelled terrace and has foundations which reach 12 m into the ground. At the centre the complex consists of the mosque in the middle with a courtyard to the north and a tomb garden to the south all enclosed within a wall defining the mosque precincts (cf. ziyada). Outside this enclosure are the usual buildings of an imperial complex including a hospital, medical college, hospice, advanced religious college, primary school, soup kitchen and bathhouse. In the northeast corner of the complex, there is a small garden containing the tomb of Sinan who was buried there thirty years after the completion of this complex. The mosque at the centre of the complex was covered by a large central dome (26 m diameter) contained within two semi-domes instead of the four used at Sehzade's complex. Either side of the central dome is a series of smaller domes alternating in size from 5 to 10 m in diameter. The same principle of four massive central piers and several external piers is used here as in the Sehzade Mosque although here the arrangement of the outer piers is more complex - on the south (qibla) side they are on the outside as buttresses whilst on the north side abutting the courtyard they are inside the mosque to enable a neat join with the courtyard portico. Several other of Sinan's buildings stand out including the Rustem Pasha Cami noted for its profusion of Iznik tilework, the Mirimah Pasha Cami, and the Zal Mahmut Pasha complex. However, undoubtedly Sinan's greatest achievement is the Selimiye Cami in Edirne built between 1569/796 AH and 1575/982 AH. This building, with a dome of equal dimensions to that of Hagia Sophia, is regarded as the supreme achievement of Ottoman architecture. The brilliance of the building relies on the enormous size of the dome which is emphasized by the use of giant squinches or exhedra instead of the semi-domes used earlier at the Suleymaniye or the Sehzade Mosque. In the earlier buildings, the semi-domes tended to break up the interior space whereas the giant squinches emphasize the circular space. The central dome and its supporting domes rest on eight huge circular piers which are detached from the exterior walls and appear as freestanding columns although they are actually tied to huge external piers of buttresses. The mihrab space is emphasized by placing it in an apse-like half-dome that projects out of the mosque between the two southern piers. Like the Uc Serefeli Cami the Selimiye is equipped with four minarets, two on the north side of the dome and two at the north end of the courtyard. Although Sinan continued for another thirteen years after the completion of the Selimiye, his most important work had already been done.


In contrast to the advances of religious architecture, secular buildings of the period are fairly conservative and tend to stick to established forms. Where there is development this is often influenced by mosque architecture: thus the Haseki Hurrem Hammam in Istanbul designed by Sinan owes much of its grandeur to its tall domes inspired by contemporary mosques. Civil engineering, including bridges and forts, is characterized by solid construction and austere design reminiscent of Roman architecture. This can be seen in Rumeli Hisar, the fortress built by Mehmet II to control the Bosphorus before the conquest of Constantinople. The building consists of a huge enclosure (approximately 220 by l00 m) formed by three huge towers (two semicircular and one polygonal) linked by a tall crenelated wall strengthened by interval towers or bastions. The interior was filled with a mosque and a large number of wooden buildings which have now disappeared. The bastions and towers represent a variety of different shapes and designs which suggest that the fortress was built by a number of individuals working to a broad general design rather than a detailed architect's plan. Bridges on the other hand tended to be built to a standard plan which was applied to a variety of situations. The most famous bridge of the period is that of Buyukcekmice to the west of Istanbul; built by Sinan in 1566/973 AH, it consists of a series of four humped bridges resting on three artificial islands. At the west end of the bridge there is a rectangular caravanserai covered with a wooden gabled roof. Other important caravanserais of the period include the Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Caravanserai at Luleburgaz and the Selim II complex at Payas in eastern Anatolia both built by Sinan. One area where secular architecture was innovative and influential was in the imperial palace or Topkapisarai. This building was established as the centre of imperial power soon after Mehmed II entered Istanbul and remained the centre until the collapse of Ottoman power in the twentieth century. Several parts of the fifteenth-century palace remain, the most important of which is the Cinili Kiosk built in 1473/877 AH. This pavilion, based on a four-iwan plan, was designed by a Persian architect and decorated with blue glazed bricks in Timurid style. The building influenced much of the subsequent domestic architecture of Istanbul, in particular some of the Bosphorus mansions.


Later Period

In the last years of the sixteenth century and the first years of the seventeenth century Ottoman architecture continued to use the forms and style developed by Sinan during the Classical period. Thus the Yeni Valide complex built by Sinan's successor Davut is a copy of the Sehzade Mosque with a few alterations to the size and shape of the courtyard. The most famous building in this late classical style is the Sultan Ahmet Cami in Istanbul also known as the Blue Mosque begun in 1609/1017 AH and completed in 1617/1025 AH. The most distinctive feature of this building is the use of six minarets instead of the previous maximum of four. It is roofed with the quatrefoil design used in the Sehzade Cami with four huge cylindrical fluted piers supporting the 23.5 m dome (considerably smaller than the Selimiye). The plan has several weaknesses, the most notable of which is the way the mihrab is placed in the middle of a flat wall without any architectural emphasis. Also the portico is not raised to the level of the central domed area thus making the mosque and courtyard seem like two independent units rather than a gradual development of mass.


From the end of the sixteenth century slavish copying of the Classical style was gradually replaced; characteristic features of the new style are flamboyant decoration, increased use of windows and curves, and growing European influences. The most famous example is the Nuruosmaniye Cami in Istanbul completed in 1755/1168 AH. The plan of this building is still based on the square covered by a dome but the strict geometry of the Classical period is modified, thus there are small projecting wings either end of the qibla wall and the mihrab is located in a curved apse in a manner similar to that of the Selimiye in Edirne although here the apse is curved. The recessed porches, which in earlier mosques would have been filled with muqarnas mouldings, are here filled with carved acanthus leaves. The most striking feature of the building is the courtyard which is built in a curved D-shape with the straight side forming the portico of the mosque. The courtyard is also unusual because the domes above the two north entrances are pierced with a series of arched windows which add to the light coming from the trefoil arched windows at the sides. The absence of a central fountain and the positioning of the mosque on an irregular-shaped terrace add to the surprise of this building. Other eighteenth- and nineteenth-century mosques, however, retained the strict square geometry which was now prescribed by the religious orthodoxy as the necessary form for a mosque. Thus the Laleli Cami and complex built ten years later in 1785/1199 AH has a conventional plan, although this is modified by making the prayer hall rectangular instead of square, by cutting off the two side aisles on either side of the main dome and making them into external arcades. The apse form of the mihrab area used in the Nuruosmaniye is retained although here it has a square form similar to the Selimiye in Edirne instead of the curved form of the Nuruosmaniye. The Laleli is also noticeable for its use of Ionic capitals instead of the muqarnas capitals preferred in the Classical period.


Several methods were used to break away from the enforced geometry of the square domed unit; one method was to give an undulating curved form to the outer edges of domes. This was a technique that was first used on the wooden roofs of sebils (fountains) and kiosks such as that on the tomb of Mehmet II rebuilt in 1784/1198 AH. The use of this technique on mosque domes can be seen on the Beylerbey Cami of 1778/1191 AH and in an extravagant form at the Iliyas Bey Cami built in 1812/1226 AH. Similar techniques were used for windows and arches which had undulating curves hung as drapery in the European manner. Outside the strict boundaries of orthodoxy there was more room for experimentation, thus the Kucuk Efendi complex in Istanbul was built for dervishes and has a radical plan. The building, completed in 1825/1240 AH, consists of an oval structure that combines a mosque and dervish dance hall.


Petersen, Andrew. Dictionary of Islamic Architecture. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.


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