Mimar Sinan, Mosque of Selim II, Edirne
Edirne was the first major city that Europeans traveling to the Ottoman Empire reached—so building a large complex here offered the Sultan an opportunity to use architecture to impress the Ottoman Empire’s greatness upon visitors. Furthermore because Edirne was not Istanbul, whose Golden Horn and many hills were already home to monumental mosque complexes, it also offered an opportunity to build a mosque that would dominate the city. Built in an area of the city once known as Kavak Meydani, the modern designs of the Selimiye complex overshadowed Edirne’s more traditional architecture.
The complex is huge. It measures 190 x 130 meters (or more than the length of two football fields) and is composed of a mosque, two symmetrical square madrasas (one of which served as a college for studying the hadiths, or traditions of the Prophet Muhammad), and there was a row of shops (arasta) and a school for learning the recitation of the Quran located to the west and added during the reign of Sultan Murad III, whose rule followed Selim II. It is likely these additions were planned by Sinan.
Muqarnas are the faceted decorative forms that alternately protrude and recess and that are commonly used in Islamic architecture to bridge a point of transition—in this case, the broad base of the dome above and the slender piers below. Note that the muqarnas steps outward it rises, creating a corbelled effect, and allowing for a more open space below. The squinches are the architectural support, decorated by the muqarnas, transition from the dome down to the eight piers.
The placement of the muzzin’s platform (müezzin mahfili), under the center of the dome is very unusual. From this platform, the muzzins who lead prayers, chant to the congregation. Gülru Necipoğlu, a leading Ottoman art historian, has compared its placement to that of a church’s altar or ambo, a raised stand for biblical readings in a church. She notes that while this innovation disrupts the space below the dome, it reflects Sinan’s interest in surpassing Christian architecture. The position of the platform also creates a vertical alignment of square, octagon, and circle, using geometry to refer to the earthly and heavenly spheres.
The dome’s octagonal shape was probably influenced by the tomb of Öljeitü in Soltaniyeh, which Sinan had seen while on Süleyman’s Baghdad campaign. The tomb had a large octagonal dome of 25 meters, which at one time was surrounded by eight turrets, which we can see echoed at Edirne. Sinan’s dome, at just over 31 meters, is larger than Hagia Sophia’s. The architect had wanted to disprove claims that no architect could match Hagia Sophia. Selim II funded his project with booty taken from the Ottoman campaign against Cyprus, a Christian island. Sinan sought to build a monument for the Sultan that expressed Islam’s triumph. His achievement—building a mosque that surpassed Hagia Sophia—was recognized as soon as the mosque was complete. Evliya Çelebi, a 17th century writer who traveled extensively across the Ottoman Empire, praised the mosque in his ten-volume Seyahtname, (or “Travelogue”).