Chapter 6

Mimar Sinan's Architecture

1539 - 1588

The origins of the celebrated Ottoman achitect Mimar Koca Sinan (Joseph) (1491-1588) are shrouded in legends. European Islamic art historians (like Alfred Renz) believe he was born in Kroatia or Bosnia. Turkish specialists admit now that he may have been the son of Greek or Armenian Christian parents, but insist that he was born 1489 in a small village now renamed Mimarsinankoy near Kayseri in Anatolia. Undisputed is that in 1512 he was a member of the elite corps (Janissaries) of Lütfü Pasha, who recognized his talents as an engineer and craftsman. Minmar quickly advanced from cavalry officer to military engineer.

In 1539 Sinan was appointed by Sultan Süleyman I chief royal architect (mimar) to the Ottoman court. During his fifty-year career he designed and constructed hundreds of buildings, mosques, palaces, tombs, schools, madrasas, hospitals, hospices, caravanserais, aqueducts and bridges. The most celebrated of Ottoman architects, Sinan is renowned in particular for his mosques, where his inventive experimentation with centralized domed spaces  produced monuments in which the central dome appears weightless and the interior spaces are bathed in light. His distinctive architectural idiom left its imprint on the Ottoman capital of Istanbul, and across the vast empire that extended from the Danube to the Tigris.
For an exhaustive illustrated list of some 321 Mosques built by Sinan see
This collection is a much abbreviated listing of Sinan's buildings mostly in Istanbul. Several of his most important mosques - like the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne - are discussed separately.

Sinan died in Istanbul in 1588. His tomb is in the Sülemaniye Külliye



Haseki Hürrem Sultan Mosque and Külliye
Architect Mimar Sinan

Built for Haseki Hürrem Sultan, the favorite wife of Süleyman the Magnificent, this külliye is the first important complex to be taken on by Sinan after he was appointed Mimar, chief architect. It is composed of a mosque, a medrese, a primary school, a hospital, and a refectory which was later added to the complex (1550). By locatting his buildings at different angles and leaving narrow passages and gaps between them, Sinan chose an organic approach rarely to be seen again in his subsequent work, resulting in rich perspective effects. (Text by Evliya, GE-BBS)

Isometric dawing by Arben N. Arapi

View of the painted dome and the squinches at its corners.

Barbarossa Hayrettin Pasha Tomb

Architect Mimar Sinan

Barbarossa Hayrettin Pasha was the feared naval admiral of Süleyman the Magnificent. The type of tomb plan Sinan most labored over all his life was an octagon-based "Türbe". This is one of his most perfect examples: both externally and internally octagonally shaped and decked with an eaved entrance. (Text modified from Evliya, GE-BBS)

Sehzade Mosque and Külliye

1543 - 1548
Architect: Mimar Sinan

The Sehzade Camii in its urban setting

At the age of 54, Sinan, already a famed architect, voiced that he felt like an "apprentice" when faced with difficulties of the Sehzade Mosque, because it was here that he encountered the problem posed by the half-dome, though he came up with a very elegant solution using four half-domes.
Sultan Süleyman commissioned the mosque in memory of his beloved son, Prince Mehmet. The Sehzade Külliye, which was completed before the mosque itself, was made up of the Tomb of Sehzade Mehmed, a theology school, a soup kitchen and a printing house. (Text adapted from Evliya, GE-BBS)

An old etching of the Sehzade Mosque. From

Interior, the domes

Mihrimah Mosque (Iskele)

Architect Mimar Sinan

The first of the mosques Sinan built for Mihrimah, the daughter of Sultan Süleyman and wife of Rüstem Pasa.

Isometric drawing of the Külliye. (From

Sülimaniye Camii and Külliye

1551- 1558
Architect Mimar Sinan

Sinan's Sülemaniye was intended to be the architectural answer to Justinian's Hagia Sophia, which had already served as a model for many other Ottoman mosques in Istanbul. Sinan's Sulimaniye surpasses in rational symmetry, and light-filled space all earlier Ottoman precedents, as well as the Hagia Sophia. It is possible that the dialogue between Istanbul and Italy contributed to Sinan's enthusiasm for symmetrical and rational forms, as promoted by writers like Alberti.
As a self-conscious representation of Süleyman's dream as a 'second Solomon' it also references the Dome of the Rock, built on the site of the Temple of Solomon, as well as Justinian's boast upon the completion of the Hagia Sophia: "Solomon, I have surpassed thee!" The Suleymaniye, similar in magnificence to the preceding structures, asserts Sultan Suleyman's historical importance. The structure is nevertheless smaller in size than its older archetype, the Hagia Sophia. Photos by RWFG 1954, 1990.

Iznik tiles on the türbe — the tomb of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and his wife Haseki Hürrem Sultan in the cemetery of the Süleymaniye. Mimar Sinan is also buried near there. Photo RWFG 1990

Isometric drawing of the Külliye from

Floor plan of the complex, showing (1) mosque, (2) mausoleum of Süleyman, (3) mausoleum of Hürrem, (4) Koran recitation school,
(5) public fountain, (6) elementary school, (7) first (evvel) madrasa, (8) second (sani) madrasa, (9) remains of medical school,
(10) hospital, (11) hospice, (12) guesthouse, (13) Sinan's tomb with domed sabil and empty plot of his endowed school and residence,
(14) the janissary agha's residence, (15) third (salis) madrasa, (16) fourth (rabi) madrasa, (17) bathhouse, (18) hadith college, (19) madrasa near the palace of Fatma Sultan and Siyavus Pasa.

It seems befitting to end this description with Titian’s (1530) portrait of Süleyman the Magnificent

Hadim Ibrahim Pasha Mosque

Architect Mimar Sinan

This is an example of the first stage of single-domed mosques in which Sinan managed to widen the interior space by adding two buttresses to each side wall. It prefigures the octagonal based dome plan Sinan was later to realise. The smooth passage from the walls to the dome is ensured by trompes invisible from the outside. This mosque's plan bears a striking resemblance to that of the Bali Pasha Mosque (1504-1505).

Interior showing the trompes which integrate the dome and the square base.

Zal Mahmut Pasha Mosque

Architect Mimar Sinan

The mosque is part of a kulliye commissioned by Zal Mahmud Pasha, one of the viziers of Selim II. The complex is masterfully planned on a sloping site, with two separate levels linked bya flight of stairs. The mosque and a medrese are situated on the higher level, while the lower part consists of another medrese and a tomb. The com- position is more organic than symmetric. Due to the slope, the mosque has a vaulted basement and a beautiful view over the Golden Horn. (From Evliya, GE-BBS)

Isometric Drawing from

Sinan Pasha Mosque

Architect Mimar Sinan

In this mosque, Sinan re-evaluates the hexagonal plan of the Uç Çerefeli Mosque, managing to improve on its model

Isometric Drawing from

Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamam

Architect Mimar Sinan

The Haseki Hürrem Sultan Hamam (Bath) is a well preserved hamam open to visitors today. Here Sinan has juxtaposed the men's and the women's sections so as to create an interesting mirrored complex. (Text from Evliya, GE-BBS)

View of entry from the men's dressing room into the cool room

Entryway with multifoliate crown into the hot room

A romantic sunset behind Sinan's hamam

Finally a picture of Haseki Hürrem Sultan, who hailed from Poland and was given to Süleyman as a present. A formidable woman with many legends to her credit, she became Süleyman's favorite wife.

Rüstem Pasha Mosque

Architect Mimar Sinan

Rüstem Pasha was Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent's Grand Vizier and was married to his prefered daughter, Mihrimah. This little gem of a mosque was built by Sinan. It is covered inside and out with beautiful blue Iznik tiles 

The porch. - Photo by Dick Osseman

The tiled interior

The dome

Interior photos and Isometric Drawing from

Mihrimah Sultan Mosque

Architect Mimar Sinan

Mihrimah Mosque is one of Sinan's most astounding designs. Mihrimah was the daughter of sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and wife of the Grand Vizier Rüstem Pasha.

This is the "Gothic" mosque among Sinan's buildings. The non-bearing walls are broken by several dozens of windows flooding the interior with a profusion of light. The dome seems to be nearly weightlessly suspended on four slender pilasters and 6 collumns, the only weight-bearing supporta . There are no outside buttresses. A stupendous example of structural engineering.

The structurally seemingly weightless window wall

The same wall from the inside: light everywhere

The floating dome

Kara (Gazi) Ahmed Pasha Mosque

Architect Mimar Sinan

Havier and not as daring as Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, this mosque is part of a külliye which includes a medrese, a primary school and a tomb The complex was commissioned by Kara Ahmet Pasha, one of Kanuni Sultan Suleyman's sadrazams (Prime Minister). The medrese and the mosque share the same courtyard while the primary school and the tomb are located at a distance from the mosque.

Interior view from upper gallery, looking towards qibla wall

Interior view showing mihrab and minbar

Interior detail; painted wooden ceiling of muezzin's platform (müezzin mahfili)

Isometric Drawing from

Piyale Pasha Mosque

Architect Mimar Sinan

This kind of conservative floorplan is called "Ulucami". it goes back to the Omayyad mosque in Damascus and the lesser Byzantine churches of Constantinople. The Ulucamii in Bursa is another, earlier example. It appears like a fall-back in Sinan's development so much so that some scholars doubt Sinan's authorship. Perhaps he followed the client's wish.

Historical photo from the beginning of the 20th century

It was recently restored, the porch had collapsed. The interior is again charmed by old-fatherly bands of tile inscriptions.

Istanbul- Kadirgalimani
Sokollu Mehmed Pasa Complex

Architect Mimar Sinan

Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Mosque is located southwest not far from the Blue Mosque. It is another of Sinan's works built in 1572 for Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmet Pasha. It has beautiful tiles in a dominant blue colour.

Portico and ablution fountain

The tiled interior

Blue tiles near the quibla

foundation inscription above northern portal

Isometric Drawing from

Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Mosque-Azapkapi

Architect Mimar Sinan

This mosque is another variation of the octagonal plan of the Selimiye, with semidomes or trompes added to each apex of the octagon. The latecomers' porch is walled in, while the mosque rises above a basement which serves as a warehouse, as in the case of the Rüstem Pasha Mosque.

Sultan Selim II's Tomb
Architect Mimar Sinan

The Tomb of Selim II holds a special place among the tombs designed by Sinan. Its outward appearance consists of a square prism with bevelled corners and a superimposed octagonal prism buttressed with four trompes. The entrance porch is both domed and eaved. There is a recess on each side of the entrance. The wide eave overhangs are supported by iron stanchions.

Interior view showing the columns supporting the dome structure and sarcophagi belonging to Selim II and his family

Atik Valide Mosque and Kúlliye

Architect Mimar Sinan

This very large külliye was built for Princess Nurbanu. Nurbanu Sultan was the mother of Murad III and the wife of Selim II (son and successor of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman). Built again on sloping ground, it includes a mosque, a medrese, a tekke (dervish lodge), a dar-ul kurra and a dar-ul hadis, a hospital, a guesthouse, a kervansaray (with very large stables, including camel stables, being situated on the Anatolian shore), a refection hall, a hamam and a primary school. The buildings are situated on different levels, with the refectory, guesthouse, kervansaray and hospital forming an important autonomous social unit, separated from the group formed by the mosque, medrese and tekke by a street. The school is situated on an elevated storey, with a street passing through the void created below. Apart from the mosque, medrese and tekke, the buildings have lost much of their original appearance because of the misuses they have suffered at different times. (Text from Evliya, GE-BBS) Plans and Photo from

Floor plan of complex with a hypothetical reconstruction of its hospice-caravanserai-hospital block: (1) mosque, (2) madrasa,
(3) convent, (4) elementary school, (5) hadith college and Koran recitation school, (6) fountain of Hasan Çavus, (7) vestibule,
(8) double caravanserai with stables, (9) hospice courtyard, (10) hospice kitchens, (11) guestrooms, (12) hospital, (13) double bath

Kiliç Ali Pasha Mosque and Külliye

Architect Mimar Sinan

The külliye commissioned by Kiliç Ali Pasha, one of Sultan Suleyman's admirals, is situated close to the sea, and consists of a mosque, a medrese, tomb, and a hamam.The plan of the mosque proper, with its lateral galleries surrounding the central area on three sides is reminiscent to that of Agh. Sophia. Its concept of space is different from that of the Suleymaniye, which also shares a similar plan. The central and lateral areas are separated from one another. Contrary to what Sinan has attempted until then, the plan is developed in length rather than in width. The dome rests on a square base, with supporting semidomes on two sides, and, on the two other sides, wide arched buttresses reaching from the piers to the outer wall. Even though the galleries advance as far as the central area, calling to mind the Mahmud II Mosque, the arches supporting the dome remain much higher than the upper galleries. The latecomers' porch is doubled. The mihrab and pulpit as well as the tiles and ornamental paintings are interesting. - Interior view from the galleries towards the mihrab.

Isometric drawing from

Shemsi Ahmet Pasha Külliye

Architect Mimar Sinan

Although this mosque is small in size, it is remarkable because of its mass and composition, and the way it is situated right on the sea shore. With the tomb of Semsi Ahmet Pasha adjacent to the mosque, and the L-shaped medrese surrounding the courtyard on an independent axis, Sinan has designed a very original kulliye, perfectly adapted to the coast line.

Cemetery of the Shemsi Ahmet Pasha, last two photos RWFG, 1990

Nisanci Mehmet Pasha Mosque
1584 -1589
Architect Mimar Sinan

Some scholars do not consider this mosque to be Sinan's work, attributing it to Davut Aga. However, if the mosque is studied carefully, one becomes convinced that it constitutes an important step in the development of Sinan's octagonal plan. Even if he was too old to conceive a new design, the great master must have continued to have his previously conceived schemes implemented. Here the central dome is no longer fitted into a simple square structure, and the mosque, as in the case of Kadirga Sokollu and Molla Celebi, becomes a truly unified space covered with a single main dome and its integrated semi- domes. This basic unity of design is broken however by two cloister vaults covering the entrance and its neighbouring areas. (Text from Evliya, GE-BBS)

Floor plan

Sinan in Edirne

There may be many Sinan mosques in Istanbul, but his most beautiful creation is the Selimiye Camii in Edirne. A perfectly balanced building with a highly refined inner space. It was preceeded by a Medrese for Rüstem Pasha.

Rüstem Pasha Caravanseray

16th cent, restored 1972
Arichitect Minmar Sinan

Text and Photographs from

Sinan's caravanseray (once a rest- and warehouse for camel caravans) is located in the historical centre of the city. Built in the 16th century by the great architect, it was restored and converted into a 150-room hotel in 1972. Although the restoration itself was kept to a high standard of of historical architecture, the hotel conversion proved economically unfeasable. The complex is now a "pious" monument open to the public.

View from the restored rooftops of the Caravanseray onto Sinan's Selimiye mosque. The domes of the caravanseray were completely reconstructed with concrete and supported by concrete beams.

Selimiye Camii
Architect: Mimar Sinan

The mosque was commissioned by Sultan Selim II and was built by Mimar Sinan between 1568 and 1574. Sinan considered it his masterpiece. It is one of the highest achievements of Islamic architecture. Photos by Dick Osseman

The Dome

Floor Plan from

Sinan in Anatolia

Van, Anatolia
Köse Hüsrev Pasa Camii

1567-1568,   1587-88
Architect Miman Sinan


The mosque below Van Castle.

the rebuilt mausoleum, which was destroyed 1915 during the Russo-Turkish War 

Lala Mustafa Pasa Mosque

Architect: Mimar Sinan

Lala Mustapha Pasa Mosque seems to be the only Ottoman Mosque in Erzurum - a simple provincial mosque with a single minaret. It deserves our attention because it was built by Sinan!


Sinan in Diyarbakir

Diyarbakir, Anatolia
Hadim Ali Pasa Camii

Architect Mimar Sinan

The architectural surprise of Diyarbakir are three mosques by Mimar Sinan -- in the wild Kurdish town of Diyarbakir! - Maybe it should not be so surprising, Sinan's great sponsor, Suleyman the Magnificent - don't say it aloud - was a Kurd! This is Sinan's earliest mosque in Diyarbakir.

Interior view of the qibla wall. The mosques of Diyarbakir are carpeted with beautiful local Kurdish rugs

Diyarbakir, Anatolia
Çerkes Iskender Pasa Camii

Architect Mimar Sinan

Built at the same time as Sinan's Sülemaniye in Istanbul (1551- 1558) it is by comparison an unpretentious complex. Interior view

Diyarbakir, Anatolia
Behram Pasa Camii

Architect Mimar Sinan

The last of the three graceful Sinan mosques. - Its entry porch is a reminder of his Rüstem Pasha Mosque (1561-63) in Istanbul.

Two tone ashlar masonry using the local black stone and knotted columns reminiscent of earlier Anatolian architecture. 


Damascus, Syria
Takiyya Sulaymaniyya, Sultan Süleyman Mosque

1544-1558 (1567 madrasa)
Architect Mimar Sinan

This major takiyya complex was built on the ruins of Qasr al-Ablaq by the Ottoman Sultan Süleyman I. A separate madrasa was added to the southeast of the takiyya complex by Selim II.

The courtyard and pool.

Isometric drawing, Text and photos from

Khüsrev Pasha Camii
1556 - 1565/66

Architect Mimar Sinan

The Khusruwiyah (Adiliyah) Mosque, located in the Saffahiyah district, was built for Wali Mohammed Basha in 1556. The mosque has a main courtyard with a covered water pool. A double parallel colonnade creates the mediating space between the courtyard and the north side of the main prayer hall. The prayer hall is square in plan each side measuring 23 m. The mosque has one cylindrical minaret in the Ottoman style.

 Floor plan and elevation from