Süleymaniye Mosque is considered one of the magnificent architectural works of art, located upon one of the seven hills of Istanbul. Istanbul contains many other works of art that serving as a kulliyah (külliye in Turkish and complex in English) although Süleymaniye itself has a special position among them. Its visual beauty is somewhere, to begin with; however, its symbolic and historical significance are also worth to mention “thoroughly”, if that was possible. From its architect’s own words, Süleymaniye Mosque is the “symbol of paradise” work of Sinan who was the chief architect in the court and a civil engineer (Necipoğlu, Kafadar, 1985, p. 100). Süleymaniye is full of intricacies and many new discoveries abound there, that everyone should personally achieve.
Its courtyard, to begin with, is very large and visual details and organization of the environment seem to be done with special attention. Architectural details such as the arts used in building, building materials et cetera, are striking even in the courtyard, the outer walls are designed as huge murals and are eye-catching though they are very plain and simple in terms of ornamentation. In the courtyard, it is possible to see many green altogether and the view due to its placement is worth to see. Close to the edges in the courtyard, The Bosphorus is purely visible and one can enjoy the remote view of bridges and the sea and could observe the very own distinct dynamics of Istanbul.
Although the main building is the core of the area, surroundings are also as important as the mosque. Sinan built madrasas, hammams, hospices, latrines and many other institutions to the periphery and constituted a socio-religious complex. These buildings served people to develop themselves scientifically and religiously. They were slightly different from the other madrasas in the reign of the other sultans (such as Sahn-ı Seman during the reign of Mehmet II) because medical and mathematics school were lacking in the Sahn-ı Seman madrasas (Kılıç, n.d.). Hospices and soup kitchens were meant to aid people who are in need, and to the students that study in the madrasas there. Hammams are served as today’s baths and hadith school (originally named Dar’ul Hadith – Dâr’ül Hadis) was there to educate Muslims about the words of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the ilm (science) of citing the hadith and similar practices.
Since many imperial mosques were built with a complex surrounding them, the “complex” of Süleymaniye was no surprise; however, interesting enough, Süleymaniye is also now hosting the tomb of its own architect which was not conventional at all. Very close to the complex, visitors can visit the mausoleum of Sinan the Architect and read the information tablets about him. Furthermore, just like Sinan’s tomb, Suleiman the Magnificent and his beloved wife Hürrem Sultan have their tombs there, open to visits. There are other graves there in the periphery yet within the complex, but they are some high-ranking officers that were later buried there.
The internal courtyard of Süleymaniye is the place where people should enter before getting into the mosque. Originally it was designed without a şadırvan, the place where people have their wudhu to be pure and clean before praying. However, in the later additions a şadırvan, the ablution fountain, was added since it was thought to complete the view. More micro-artistic part of Süleymaniye starts at the internal courtyard. Visitors can observe the alignment of the interior with its domes and see how they are situated to create an impressive view. Also, a style called ablaq is used the upper-sides of columns by having changing color patterns. Some of its large outer columns are also brought from outside, not all of them are made specifically for the mosque and this can easily be seen by the different colors from other columns, called “spolia”. Another style of art called muqarnas is also used at the top of the columns and at the corner tops of the entrance which consists of 3D shaped, stalactite-like formations. These also indicate that although the outer view is simpler and plainer than many other artistic buildings, little details are not bypassed but rather being processed, one by one.
Passing the main gate and getting inside is not so hard if shoes are taken off and packed properly. The interior of the mosque is ornamented with and calligraphy (names of the God, Prophet and Khalifa-i Rashideen). Iznik tiles were also used, on the minbar of the mosque and on the windows. Different colors and shapes attract attention even if they are distant to onlookers since their shapes and alignment inside are as if made to impress the mosque community and visitors. Süleymaniye has its own glory from inside too; a large main dome, two halves of a dome and many other surrounding smaller domes constitutes the “roof” of it. Pillars are also visible as the main dome that is supported with pendentives, depends on them. Furthermore, although not quite visible from the visitors’ point of view, there are smoke chambers in the mosque so that the soot of the burning objects like candles that were used to illuminate the mosque were gathered in one place; which provides two at the same time – cleansed view continues, and no additional full-fledged cleaning needed, and the gathered soot was later used to make soap and other suitable cosmetic products.
The minbar (or mimbar) is generally a place to artistically apply the ornamentation and Süleymaniye’s minbar is softly designed. In general, interior design is austere but also bland.
Today, the interior of the mosque is parsed to two or say three, to separate the visitor and prayers (and women prayer section) so that the visitors do not disrupt the regular prayers. Also, entrance and exit gates are arranged accordingly meaning for the ease of both prayers and visitors.
Süleymaniye, unfortunately, faced serious damages since it had been built, such as fires and earthquakes It has been restored several times, fortunately, and if you leave the robustness and artistic durability that even not easily seen today’s buildings alone, restoration helped it to survive until today. Even this, is as if an indication that Süleymaniye as a historical building is defying the hardship that comes alongside aging, and will continue to demonstrate what is hidden in itself to the enthusiastic researchers and to the eager-to-see visitors.