Located in the city of seven hills, across the road from the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, only a couple minutes walk from Beyazıt Square and the Grand Bazaar, the Şehzade Mosque tells a story of the greatest sultan, the greatest architect and an unfortunate prince (şehzade).
The mosque was constructed at the order of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent to commemorate his favorite son Şehzade Mehmed after his early passing in 1543. It is the first sultanic mosques designed by Sinan, the architect of this project. Although he designed it early in his long career, you can clearly see that it is one of his most ambitious works. Despite its unique history, impressive architecture and massive tombs the Şehzade Mosque does not draw large crowds of tourists or hordes of people for prayer. Taking a nap in it’s large, beautiful garden is an outright pleasure.
Sultan Suleyman, known as Kanuni, the law giver, ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566. He was the tenth and one of the greatest sultans of the Ottoman Empire. I usually consider him as the Turkish Alexander the Great. He conquered most of the Middle East and brought European powers to their knees by conquering Hungary and putting Viena under a siege in 1529. His army did not only dominate on land, but also on water; from Mediterranean to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf the Ottoman navy was feared. There is no question Sultan Suleyman had ultimate power and the Ottoman Empire was clearly the most powerful empire in the world during Sultan Suleyman’s reign.
This powerful sultan had fathered several sons, four of whom survived past the 1550s. Their names were Mustafa, Selim, Bayezid and Cihangir. Of these four sons, only Mustafa was not Hürrem Sultan’s son. Şehzade Mustafa, Suleyman’s first-born son by Mahidevran Sultan, was the most popular prince among the Janissaries, ulama and common people of Ottoman Empire. Hurrem Sultan, the Sultan’s lover and his only legal wife, was therefore aware of the fact that Sehzade Mustafa would become sultan and that her sons would be strangled, following Ottoman tradition. She had a lot of influence in the Topkapı Palace, and hence in Ottoman politics, and she naturally wanted one of her sons replace Sultan Suleyman. In order to achieve what she had aimed Hurrem Sultan had to get rid of Sehzade Mustafa. She therefore tried to conspire with several pashas and Grandvizier Rustem Pasha to try and set Sultan Suleyman up against Şehzade Mustafa. She was successful in her efforts, as Sehzade Mustafa was executed by order of his own father, Sultan Suleyman.
However, Hurrem Sultan’s actions might have caused the death of her own son, Sehzade Mehmed. He was Sultan Suleyman’s favorite, and aspired to succeed his father. Some historians say that Sehzade Mehmed died from smallpox; others say he died of natural causes, but according to some the prince was murdered by the order of Mahidevran Sultan. She allegedly couldn’t stand the fact that her prince was sent to Amasya Sanjak while Hurrem’s Mehmed was appointed to Manisa Sanjak. This was a sort of political message from sultan; it meant that Sehzade Mustafa had fallen from the Sultan’s grace and that his place had been taken by Sehzade Mehmed. Rumour has it that Mahidevran Sultan made a deal with Barbaros Pasha to put a deadly sick girl in the harem of Sehzade Mehmed. The young prince slept with the girl, and soon after he became a sick and died at the age of 22 in 1543.
Sultan Suleyman was told of Sehzade Mehmed’s death while he was on his way back to Istanbul after a victorious military campaign in Hungary, where he conquered the Estragon and Belgrade. The news left Sultan Suleyman devastated. He got to the capital before he was expected to, and immediately had his son’s funeral brought to Istanbul from Manisa sanjak. Sehzade Mehmed’s funeral took place at Bayezid square, after which he was buried in his temporary tomb.
Historians report that in the Tezkiretü’l Bünyan, an autobiography of the architect Sinan, the starting date of the construction of Sehzade Mosque is reported to be June of 1543. Considering the death of Sehzade Mehmed occurred in 1543, the complex was not built for him. Sultan Suleyman ordered the mosque for himself, however he dedicated the project to Sehzade Mehmed upon his death and the name “Şehzade” was given to it. Sultan Suleyman is said to have personally mourned the death of Mehmed for forty days at his temporary tomb and immediately ordered a richly decorated permanent mausoleum next to the mosque.
Sehzade Mosque is important in history, as it is the first of the grand mosques created by architect Sinan. This mosque helped Sinan make a name as an imperial architect. According to the architect, Şehzade Mosque was the final work of his apprenticeship. Here it should be said that the construction of Süleymaniye Mosque, considered as his journeyman work, started before he completed the Şehzade Mosque.
The first and foremost thing to mention about the building’s architecture is that architect Sinan, who is no doubt the greatest figure of Ottoman architecture, built this beautiful mosque. He was responsible for the construction of more than 300 major structures, the Şehzade Mosque being his first imperial mosque on monumental scale.
The Şehzade Mosque has a square shape. Four half-domes support its large central dome, which has an area of 38X38 meters. The main dome has a diameter of 19 meters and a height of 53 meters. The mosque has two minarets with a two-minaret balcony. They are decorated with bas-relief sculpture in perfect geometric forms. This pretty decoration was a far cry from the architectural simplicity of that period. Şehzade Mosque’s nine domes encircle the courtyard and form a symmetric unity with the fountain located in the middle. This fountain was added during the reign of Murad IV, who wanted to praise the architect Sinan because of the decoration of the latter.
Apart from the mosque, the complex consists of a madrasah, a refectory, a double guesthouse, a primary school, a caravansary and tombs. The madrasah forms the northeast wall of the complex and was constructed in 1547. It has an asymmetric shape and is decorated with colorful tiles. It consists of a classroom and 20 smaller rooms. The primary school and refectory are on the southern side of the complex and are cut off from the rest of the complex by the main avenue. The guesthouse, a hostel attached to a mosque where travelers, dervishes and mystics could stay for free for a few days, is located just like the madrasah towards the east on the outer wall of courtyard. It has unique ashape and consists of two unconnected sections. Its rooms have rectangle shapes.
A big and peaceful courtyard that isolates the mosque from Istanbul’s chaos surrounds the complex. During Istanbul’s hot summer days the courtyard is a heaven and a place where you can have a little nap!
There are six mausoleums within the complex, five in the enclosed cemetery and one within the walls of the other court. The tomb of Şehzade Mehmed, which was built before the mosque, is one of the finest mausoleums. You can find more information about those mausoleums ahead.
The final thing that can be said about the Şehzade Mosque’s architecture is that the mosque we see today is different from the original mosque. Considering the many fires Istanbul has experienced, this should not come as a surprise.
THE GREEN COLUMN
When you visit the Şehzade Mosque, you may notice the green column in the grey walls that surround the garden. This green column was placed at the exact spot where the southern and eastern walls come together. The column looks quite odd, and historians have understood that the architect Sinan wanted to make a statement by placing it in wall. Their research brought the following story to light.
Where is the middle of cities, countries or the world? Everyone has probably asked himself or herself this question at some point. Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent certainly did, and he was curious to know where the center of Istanbul was. He ordered Sinan to find out; through careful calculation he was able to pinpoint the center of the city. In order to mark the spot, Sinan erected a green column at this exact location. Today, the green column is still around, and even though thousands of people pass by it everyday, it never catches somebody’s attention.
TOMB OF SEHZADE MEHMED
Şehzade Mehmed was the first son of Sultan Suleyman by Hurrem Sultan. There’s no doubt that the Sultan was looking at prince Mehmed to be the next great sultan. He was not appointed as a sancak governor until 1542, which indicates Sultan Suleyman wanted him to be nearby. His first assignment as a governor was in Manisa Sancak, the most desirable of all sancaks and the place where he died after only one year.
Nine years earlier Sultan Suleyman again assigned one of his sons, Şehzade Mustafa, as the sancak governor of Manisa. Şehzade Mustafa gained everybody’s respect and became very powerful. When the old sultan became convinced that Mustafa was preparing to revolt against him, he assigned Şehzade Mustafa to be the sancak governor of Amasya. This was sort of a message to Mustafa that he was not favored anymore, as was mentioned before. In the course of events, according to some historians, Sehzade Mehmed then died from smallpox. According to other opinions, he died a natural death. According to yet others, he was murdered under the command of Mahidevran Sultan, who saw him as a huge threat to become sultan instead of her own son, Sehzade Mustafa.
TOMB OF RUSTEM PASHA
A great historical trickster, Rüstem Pasha was one of the most influential figures in Ottoman politics and one of the wealthiest people in the history of Ottoman Empire. As all the important figures in his time, he was educated in the Enderun, the royal school. Because of his talents Rustem Pasha managed to be favored by Sultan Suleyman. He first was appointed governor of Diyarbakır and then Anatolia. Later on, he found himself as the husband of Mihrimah Sultan, the beloved and only daughter of the Sultan Suleyman. He was given the title “Damat”, meaning bridegroom, since he married a princess. Together with his wife Mihrimah Sultan he was the patron of all kinds of trades and he run many charities. He twice served as grand vizier to the Sultan. He was dismissed by Sultan Suleyman, who was in fear of a Janissary rebellion due to questionable circumstances of Şehzade Mustafa’s death. A few years later he got reinstated however. He died on the 10th of July in 1555. It is said that his wife Mihrimah Sultan had a part in this death, however there is no reliable evidence that supports this.
TOMB OF ŞEHZADE MAHMUD
Prince Mahmud was the son of Sultan Mehmed III who was known for having nineteen of his brothers and half-brothers executed to secure his own power. Although he knew his father’s reputation, prince Mahmud still acted as a fool. He was driven, impatiently asking to his father to send him to Anatolia with an army so he could personally eliminate the Celali rebels that his father was struggling to defeat and bring relief to the sultan. His nagging led his father to suspect that prince Mahmud was plotting to seize his throne and according to contemporary sources it was decided to execute him when the prince’s mother asked a Sufi sheikh to tell her son’s fortune. The skeikh’s fortune predicted that Mahmud would succeed to the throne after an unpleasant thing happened to his father. This fortune would never reach the prince’s mother however. Instead, the letter containing the fortune was intercepted and given directly to Sultan Mehmed III. For a sultan who had faced several military revolts and been threatened with deposition because of his son Mahmud’s popularity among the Janissaries, this letter no doubt raised suspicions of treason, particularly at a time when his son was waiting to leave the court for the battlefield. On June 7th of 1603, Mehmed III therefore ordered Prince Mahmud’s execution. It is said that four mutes executed Prince Mahmud in a harem room while Mehmed III waited outside. After his order had been completed, Sultan Mehmed III entered the room in order to make sure that Şehzade Mahmud was really dead. The very same day his funeral was held at the Topkapı Palace and he was buried in the Şehzade complex.
TOMB OF BOSNALI IBRAHIM PASHA
Bosnali Ibrahim Pasha was vizier during the reign of Sultan Murad III. Originally from Bosnia, he was a graduate of the royal school in Istanbul and then appointed as governor to Diyarbakır, Damascus and Egypt. In 1584 he married Ayşe Sultan, a princess of the royal court. This was a major turning point in his life. He became a very active man; two years after he got married, he was appointed as chief admiral. He then was appointed as second vizier and finally he became the second-man in Ottoman Empire. Bosnali Ibrahim died during his campaign to Belgrad in 1601, after which his body was returned to the capital and he was buried in the Şehzade complex.
TOMB OF DESTARI MUSTAFA PASHA
Destari Mustafa was vizier during the reign of Sultan Selim I. He was educated in Enderun, the royal school. As had happened to Rustem Pasha, he married one of the princesses and became a “damat”. His mausoleum contains the remains of four other people; one of them is his wife, Ayşe Sultan, and the other three are children. Two of them are daughters of Destari Mustafa Pasha while the other one is a son of Lahit Pasha.
TOMB OF HATICE SULTAN
Unfortunately, there are no reliable sources regarding Hatice Sultan. When visiting the tomb, you notice that there is no inscription on the tomb. According to Sicil-I Osmani this tombs contains the graves of the daughters of Yavuz Sultan Selim. According to Haluk Şehzuvaroglu the tomb was built for the daughter of Sultan Murad III, however researcher and writer Çagatay Ulucay emphasized that Sultan Murad III never had a daughter named Hatice. Some other researchers say that the tomb is the final resting place of the daughters of Hatice Sultan, who was the daughter of Yavuz Sultan Selim.
TOMB OF FATMA SULTAN
When prince Mehmed died at the age of 22, his daughter Humasah Sultan survived and received special attention from her grandfather, Sultan Suleyman. She resided in the Topkapı Palace until she married Ferhat Pasha in 1566. It is said that they loved each other a lot and had a very happy life in their beautiful house close to the Şehzade Mosque. Everyone enjoyed the couple’s happiness, especially Sultan Suleyman, enabling Ferhat Pasha to build a prosperous career. Their happiness did not last long however: Ferhat Pasha died 8 years after they got married. Their daughter Fatma Sultan is a reminder of their fortunate marriage. Not a lot is known about her, it is said that she died in 1588 and was buried in the Şehzade complex in a tomb dedicated especially to her.