The great Ottoman architect Sinan had a long, illustrious career spanning most of the 16th century, the height of Ottoman power. His work pretty much set the tone for subsequent Ottoman architecture
Sinan’s parents were Christian Greeks and, as part of the system known as Devsirme, Sinan was taken as a young boy, converted to Islam and educated and trained to serve the empire. This system arose out of the practice of enslaving prisoners of war during the early years of the empire. By Sinan’s time, the system was meant as a way to balance power among the ruling classes by offering non-Turkic sons the opportunity to reach elevated positions.
Sinan was drafted into the elite Janissary corps of the sultan’s standing army.
There he served as a construction officer, working on bridges and fortifications.
In his extensive travels around the empire as a soldier he was exposed to many great buildings. He distinguished himself as a brilliant engineer and in 1538 was appointed by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent as head royal architect. He served in that position until his death in 1588.
Sinan built over 360 buildings, including mosques, medersas (Koranic schools), mausoleums, hospitals, aqueducts, public baths, palaces and mansions. His mosque designs were influenced by the Hagia Sophia, with a hovering central dome and open, airy interiors. In his exteriors he used smaller domes and half-domes to draw the eye upwards to the central dome.
One of his first buildings was the Sehzade Mosque, built to mark the death of the sultan’s son.
Perhaps his best known building is the Suleymaniye Mosque, which commands a prominent spot overlooking the Bosphorus in Istanbul. Like many of Sinan’s mosques, Suleymaniye comprises a complex with schools, a hospital, baths, shops, a kitchen and stables, in addition to the mosque.
The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne was one of his late projects and is generally considered his masterpiece. It has some of the tallest minarets ever built and the dome equals that of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia in diameter.
Sinan is buried in a modest tomb of his own design in a garden near the Suleymaniye Mosque.
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