The Süleymaniye Mosque (Süleymaniye Camii) is not only stunning; in my opinion it is also the masterpiece of the famous architect Sinan (Mimar Sinan). Sure, the Blue Mosque is the most famous one and therefore better known among the tourists, which is also its drawback. The Süleymaniye Mosque, crowning Istanbul’s highest hill, doesn’t suffer from that huge, constant flow of visitors. And that’s not the only quality it possesses.
Süleyman the Magnificent
The Süleymaniye Mosque was commissioned by Sultan Süleyman I, also known as Süleyman the Magnificent, the greatest and richest of all Ottoman sultans. The construction began in 1550, and the 3.500 craftsmen that worked on it finished the job seven years later.
Just like most imperial mosques, the Süleymaniye Mosque is more than just a place of worship. Apart from the praying hall (camii) and courtyard (avlu), the complex also included four Koran schools (medrese), bath houses (hamam), a hospital, a caravanserai (kervansaray, a roadside inn where travelers could rest) and a public kitchen (imaret) which served food to the poor; Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.
The Grand Mosque
The best approach to the Süleymaniye Mosque is via Prof Sıddık Sami Onar Caddesi. This street is still known as the Alley of the Addicts because the tea-houses located on it used to sell hashish in the past. The hashish is gone, but the tea-houses are still there.
From the alley you make your way through an opening in the walls surrounding the mosque. Enjoy the well maintained gardens, pass the ablution facilities and walk into the courtyard. You’ll find an ablution fountain in the middle of the courtyard. Before entering the mosque itself, also notice the four minarets, a number only allowed for mosques commissioned by a sultan. The minarets have a total of 10 galleries or balconies, indicating that Süleyman the Magnificent was the 10th Ottoman sultan.
Once inside, you’ll find the mosque with 59 meters in length and 58 meters in width breathtaking in size. The main dome is 53 meters high, exactly double its diameter of 26,4 meters. The pillars to support it all are ingeniously incorporated into the walls and nicely masked. The interior decoration is minimal yet effective and pleasing, as is the light coming in via the 200 stained-glass windows.
Just like many other monuments in Istanbul, the mosque suffered a lot. In 1660 it was ravaged by fire, after which Sultan Mehmed IV ordered to restore it. In 1766 part of the dome collapsed during an earthquake, with the necessary renovations carried out in the middle of the 19th century.
During World War I, the mosque suffered another fire. The courtyard was used as a weapons depot, and some of the ammunition ignited. It was again restored in 1956 and is undergoing more restoration since 2008 in the eve of Istanbul becoming the European Capital of Europe in 2010.
Tombs of Süleyman, Roxelana and Sinan
Behind the mosque are a graveyard and two mausoleums, including the beautifully restored tombs of Sultan Süleyman I, his wife Roxelana (Haseki Hürrem), his daughter Mihrimah, his mother Dilaşub Saliha and his sister Asiye.
Just outside of the mosque walls, at the front, is the tomb of architect Sinan. The latter is however not open to the public.
Caravanserai, kitchen and sunken tea-garden
Also at the front and outside the mosque walls are the caravanserai (closed to the public) and the public kitchens, now a restaurant. Next to the restaurant, hidden behind the trees, you’ll find a café in a sunken garden. The accommodation is not that great, but it’s an oasis of silence and cool on a hot summer day.