The Laleli Complex is a mosque complex commissioned and partly designed by Ottoman sultan Mustafa III. The word "Lale", in Turkish, is a tulip. The name Laleli, which the complex shares with its neighborhood, is thought to either refer to a local saint named Laleli Baba whose tomb stood near the mosque until the mid 1950's or the Laleli Fountain, which is mentioned in 18th century sources. Primary sources mention that construction on the building began in 1760/1173 and ended in 1764/1177 AH. It is the last royal complex to be built in Istanbul and follows the Ottoman baroque convention established at the Nuruosmaniye Complex built a decade earlier. Most scholars attribute this monument to Mehmed Tahir Aga, while others have suggested a role for head-architect Haci Ahmed Aga. The complex consists of a mosque (cami), madrasa (medrese), soup-kitchen (imaret), fountain (çesme), sabil, tombs (türbe), a room for the timekeeper of the mosque (muvakkithane), housing for the imam and muezzin, a caravanserai (han), and stores built as an endowment for the religious foundation.
The mosque and soup kitchen are located inside a rectangular walled-in precinct that is raised considerably above the street level on a tall basement. The precinct is entered through two main gates located at the two southern corners facing Ordu Street. Both gates are vaulted and open into ramps that lead up to the precinct level. The mosque is placed diagonally inside the precinct, with its qibla wall facing the southeast gate. The soup-kitchen is sited to its northwest. Flanking the southwest gate are the sabil and the Tomb of Mahmud III and Selim III, both of which are incorporated into the walls of the cemetery located at street level to the west of the raised precinct. The han, known as the Çukurçeşme Han, is located beyond the precinct to the north and a row of stores was built along the precinct wall to the west.
The Laleli Complex was damaged in an earthquake in 1766/1179 AH and restored in 1783/1197 AH. A fire swept the neighborhood in 1911, destroying the madrasa, which was located on a side street to the east of the complex. What remained of the madrasa and the 18th century residential neighborhood was demolished in 1918 and development followed a newly established orthogonal street pattern. The monument's original context was disrupted a second time in 1956, during the enlargement of the highway to its south, when the precinct wall and gates were moved further north and new stores were built along its southern wall. Since then, Laleli has been gradually transformed from a residential to a tourist neighborhood that is centered on international trade.
Oriented along the northwest-southeast axis, the mosque has a square prayer hall and a rectangular courtyard about twice its size that precedes it to the northwest. The courtyard is enveloped by a continuous arcade composed of eighteen domed bays five of which form the mosque portico and has an ablution fountain at its center. It is entered through a main portal to the northwest, in axis with the mosque entrance, and two side entrances that flank the portico. The portal leading into the prayer hall is located at the center of the portico and bears an inscription plaque referring to the 1783/1197 AH restoration.
The prayer hall is square, capped with a dome carried on eight tall columns that form an octagon in plan. The square hall is extended by a three-bay narthex to the northwest and rectangular mihrab apse projecting to the southeast. Side arcades composed of twelve bays flank the whole on the exterior. The narthex gallery has two balconies projecting to the right and left of the entrance carried on marble pillars. The right balcony, protected by a gilt screen, is reserved for the sultan and is accessed primarily through an enclosed and gated ramp outside the mosque. The left balcony is the muezzin's lodge.
The dome of the Laleli mosque is 12.50 meters in diameter at a height of 24.50 meters, about half the size and height of the dome at Nuruosmaniye. It is carried on an octagonal drum made of eight arches, with semi-domes attached to the corner arches and larger semi-domes joining the arches above mihrab and the central bay of the narthex. The eight columns that carry the dome arches are engaged with the side walls, with the exception of the two at the narthex. At the corners, angular squinches provide transition from the square plan to the octagonal crown.
The interior of the prayer hall is well-lit with twenty-four windows in the dome, five windows in the large semi-domes and three in each of the small semi-domes. There are also casement windows at ground level that open into the side arcades, and a tier of arched windows above, topped by circular windows below the dome arches. All windows, with the exception of the casements, are made up of combinations of white and colored glass. In addition to sculptural elements such as pilasters and cornices that animate the prayer hall, the interior of the Laleli mosque is enlivened by the polychrome arrangement made of marble wall panels that reflect various shades of yellow, red and blue. The mihrab and minbar are also made of precious marbles.
On the exterior, the dome on its octagonal drum sits flatly on the large rectangular mass its understructure, which is crowned with large weight turrets at its corners. The baroque character is expressed with regularly spaced pilasters with spreading capitals that merge into the thick cornice that unites the prayer hall and the courtyard. Concave pilasters are also employed between the dome windows, among them eight curved buttresses. There are two minarets located at either end of the portico flanking the courtyard entrances; they have single balconies and stone caps. The left minaret was built about six years after the completion of the mosque. The construction is two courses of brick alternated with a single layer of cut stone, with the exception of the minarets and superstructure, which are made entirely of cut stone.
The Çukurçeşme or Sunken Fountain han is also called the Büyük Tas Hani or big stone han. Its irregular plan manifests the constraints of the urban fabric at its time of construction. It has a long rectangular porticoed court that is entered through a long vaulted passage to the south; passages here lead into two smaller courtyards.
The original function of the basement underneath the Laleli mosque is not known. Built of regularly spaced piers and covered with vaults, it remained enclosed until 1957, when its southern wall was torn down during highway expansion. It was then converted into an underground shopping plaza with a western entrance and a row of stores was added facing Ordu Street to the south. The underground plaza has a fountain at its center and is lit through large basement windows placed around the mosque walls.
The Tombs, Sabil, and Cemetery
The Tomb of Mustafa III and Selim III and the sabil are located along the cemetery wall to the west of the southwest precinct gate. In addition to Mustafa III, the tomb houses his mother Mihrisah Sultan, his son and later successor Selim III, his daughters Hibetullah and Fatma Sultans and Mihrimah Sultan. It is an octagonal building crowned with a dome and preceded by a portico to the north. Its exterior appearance is marked by wide corner pilasters and thick cornices that wrap the building between the two tiers of windows and below the recessed drum. Sixteenth century tiles adorn the tomb on the interior crowned by a wide band of calligraphy that envelops the walls. A smaller tomb inside the cemetery houses the graves of the Mustafa III's favorites or Haseki Sultanlar. There is a third, open tomb dedicated to Adilsah Kadin; it is protected by an intricate bronze canopy.
The sabil is raised on a circular base and has concave windows facing the street. Its windows are covered with bronze lattices that were originally gilt and the wide segments of its large eave resembles the petals of a flower.
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