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.
Photo Credits: LWYang