Ottoman Empire During 15th Century

The Ottoman goal of creating an Islamic Roman Empire required the capture of Constantinople and after a few unsuccessful sieges it was finally taken in 1453 by II. Mehmed later named “Fatih” Sultan Mehmed. After capturing the city, Fatih declared a general amnesty for non-Muslim ethnic groups to quickly repopulate his city. So the name “Istanbul” derived from this demand which is a word that derives from the Greek phrase “to the city“. As a result, in two centuries the city’s population doubled. He also built Kapalı Çarşı which, like Koza Han in Bursa, had square bays capped with rounded, lead-covered domes. The Bedestan in Kapalı Çarşı which is a fortified compound for luxury goods, rose slightly taller in the midst of the shops. ..

Fatih’s structures show a considerable amount of Italian influence on their engineering.

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Fatih considered Hagia Sophia as his great prize and turned it into a royal mosque by adding a minaret. He built Fatih mosque as his residence with imarets. Later, he decided to move to the extreme tip of the peninsula, to where the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium used to stand on. So he commissioned the Topkapı Sarayı. Topkapı Sarayı had the same parts as Fatih Mosque but additionally in the main entrance one had to go through freestanding pavilions that resemble a Byzantine triumphal entry. The courtyard followed a perfect orthogonal alignment but each elevation had different styles of arcades and roofs.

The plan of Topkapı Sarayı allowed Fatih to better demonstrate the important applications of the Ottomans which were the education of foreign slaves and training military forces and politicians. It had the Enderun College which was an institution for the clever devşirme boys who were taken from their non-Muslim families and trained as Muslim individuals of the court and the army. Also, successful officials that come from a Turkish family would marry slaves from the Harem. All this would prevent the state of conflicts of interests.

Sinan and the Challenge of Hagia Sophia

Sinan (1490-1588), the greatest architect of the Ottoman renaissance, came from the devshirme system. He built twenty two major mosques and imarets in Istanbul alone. He gained the title “architect” rather late, when he was 47 years old. During wars and sieges he witnessed various design solutions and gained thorough command of engineering through building bridges and transporting ships. He was working Sultan Süleyman. For building Süleymaniye Sinan returned to the composition of Hagia Sophia. He created central dome nearly as large as the Byzantine prototype, flanked by two semidomes. Süleymaniye’s imaret covered less area than Fatih’s complex and occupied the true center of Istanbul. Like the Fatih Camii, Süleyman’s mosque had a vast terraced space. It had seven madrasas on the edges each with a square courtyard.

Sokollu Pasha commissioned Sinan to design an even more impressive imaret than of Rüstem Pasha’s mosque, which was also designed by Sinan earlier. Sokollu Pasha’s imaret overlooked the Marmara Sea. Its central dome rose on a fenestrated drum over a hexagon. Two small semi-domes to either side pushed obliquely to the edges.

Sinan built his largest mosque, the Selimiye in Edirne during 1570s for Süleyman’s successor Selim II. The dome spread slightly larger than Hagia Sophia and the minarets were among the tallest of all Islam. The eight piers in the corners of the octagonal drum supporting the dome rose as single, colossal columns. Sinan articulated the façade with an alternating rhythm of wide and narrow bays.

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Since the taking of Constantinople, Ottoman architects practiced variations of Hagia Sophia, extending semi-domes from a central dome. Sinan, expressed his not-so-secret obsession with Hagia Sophia in one of his biographies. He stated that Christian archietcts might think they have an upper hand to Muslims because they have the dome of Hagia Sophia, but he has built a bigger and higher dome for Sultan Selim’s mosque.


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