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Mimar Sinan, Şehzade Mosque

Mimar Sinan, Şehzade Mosque, Istanbul, 1543–48, speakers: Dr. Elizabeth Macaulay and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(jazzy music) - [Steven] We're outside of the Sehzade Mosque, the first mosque by the architect Sinan, in Istanbul. - [Elizabeth] It's one of his earliest commissions. He always viewed it as a work of his apprenticeship. It was built by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, or Sultan Suleyman the Law Giver as he's known in Turkey, as a commemorative structure to his son, to his heir Mehmed who had died. - [Steven] Standing here with the sun on it, it's just gorgeous and you can see immediately the impact of Hagia Sophia. There's this huge dome in the center and then all of these smaller domes that surround it. - [Elizabeth] These become a signature of Ottoman mosque architecture, and just Ottoman architecture in general. But what's so remarkable about being on the outside is we can start to see how Sinan's worked out how to do this from the exterior. You have flying buttresses and then you have cascading domes. And what's so interesting is that you have these two piers coming up with domes. - [Steven] Those are the domes on the tall vertical cylinders. - [Elizabeth] And what's interesting when we go inside is you'll see that those are basically standing on top of the big piers in the interior part of the mosque that allow the mosque to stand up. - [Steven] So that's really just a giant, solid piece of masonry. - [Elizabeth] But by putting the dome on top of it, it looks very harmonious and you can see everything cascading down, so you don't have these massive piers like you do outside of Hagia Sophia. - [Steven] So there really is a way of fooling the eye into creating this sense of lightness where there is solidity. - [Elizabeth] You can also see that in the lower level closest to us, right above the portico, there are again massive solid piers, and so the weight of the dome is being pushed off to these different piers coming down, but because you have this interplay also of windows, this doesn't feel as massive, as solid on the outside the way Hagia Sophia does. So on the exterior, it's stunning and beautiful and you can also see all the windows and start to imagine the light coming inside. - [Steven] We've just left the street and we've entered the courtyard just in front of the mosque. - [Elizabeth] It's so much quieter from being on the street. It's contemplative, it's peaceful, it's calm. You can leave everything outside and that would prepare you to be focused on what you were doing here, which was praying. - [Steven] We've just entered into the mosque, and I think the thing that I find most unusual about this space is just how open it is. The only interruptions within this space are these four isolated piers. Besides that, you've got this large, completely unencumbered space, and I guess it is the magic of the dome. - [Elizabeth] An ability to take domes and put windows in them does allow you to get a lot more light in here and it makes the space even more effective and ethereal. - [Steven] And look how many windows there are. I mean, this is a space that is pierced in almost every wall. - [Elizabeth] While Hagia Sophia is pierced in every wall, it has enormous buttresses that people had to put on the outside to make sure it didn't fall over. This is very well-designed from an architect's perspective, and that shouldn't be surprising because Sinan, who designed it, was an architect and an engineer. - [Steven] But there are, of course, so many references to Hagia Sophia. If you look at the necklace of windows at the base of the dome, the way in which the walls are pierced, and of course the way that there are semi domes that help to support the primary dome. - [Elizabeth] You can never forget Hagia Sophia when you look at a lot of the works of Sinan and of Ottoman architects in the 15th and 16th Century. Although of course, one difference here is that we have semi domes on all four sides, not just on two sides, which does make the structure different from Hagia Sophia. - [Steven] This is a truly central planned space. - [Elizabeth] It's a really good example of what Sinan would start to do and he became the chief court architect in 1538, a position which he held until his death about 50 years later. - [Steven] So this building, which is a masterpiece, is in his own eyes, just his beginning. - [Elizabeth] He's clearly looking to Hagia Sophia, reinterpreting it and arguably surpassing it. (jazzy music)