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The Ottoman Architecture


Ottoman architecture is the architecture of the Ottoman Empire, which emerged in northwestern Anatolia in the 13th century. The architecture of the empire developed from Turkish and the earlier Seljuk architecture, with influences from Byzantine and Iranian architecture along with architectural traditions of the Balkans and other parts of Middle East.The classical architecture of the Ottoman Empire was a mixture of native Turkish tradition and influences from Hagia Sophia. One of the best representatives of this period is Mimar Sinan, whose works include Süleymaniye Mosque. Beginning in the 18th century, Ottoman architecture was influenced by the Baroque architecture in Western Europe. Nuruosmaniye Mosque is one of the surviving examples from this period. The last Ottoman period saw more influences from Western Europe, brought in by architects such those from the Balyan family. This period also saw the development of a new architectural style called neo-Ottoman or Ottoman revivalism, also known as the First National Architectural Movement, by architechs such as Mimar Kemaleddin and Vedat Tek.

Today, one finds remnants of Ottoman architecture in certain parts of the former empire's territories under decay.


The Ottoman Empire


The Ottoman Empire was established in 1299, and it grew steadily, putting an end to the Byzantine Empire in 1453. It reached its peak by the end of the 16th century. The Empire included a diversity of cultures, which were preserved locally, while its general character remained eastern and Ottoman. After its conquest, Istanbul became the artistic and cultural centre of the empire, diffusing its influence across its various provinces in proportion to the relations it maintained with them.

Eastern influences, especially those brought back from the campaigns waged in the East by Sultan Selim I and his successor Süleyman the Magnificent, also known as Kanuni (Law-Giver)- were integrated into the vast and mature Ottoman culture, as had previously been the case with Byzantine architecture. The most brilliant period of Ottoman civilisation was during the 16th and 17th centuries, during which time the most famous names achieved great feats in fields of science, administration and in the arts.

This was due in great part to the empire's economic power, but also to a well organised and stable administration, the prevalence of justice and fairness, as well as a rational world view.

In Sinan's time, the Islamic institution of the vakıf or waqf, a kind pf pious charitable foundation, was highly developed. It was through the establishment of such foundations and in a charitable spirit that sultans and members of their families, as well as viziers (ministers), and pashas (generals) contributed funds for the establishment of many public works. The wealthy also followed their examples. We can say that practically all the architectural works of that time were built by vakıfs, but it was still the State which provided the revenues for the donors.

Indeed many important State resources were entrusted to prominent people through the institution of the "mülk". And this made it possible for viziers such as Rüstem Paşa and Sokullu Mehmet Paşa (we shall henceforth use Turkish spelling for Turkish names) and princesses of the Imperial Harem, such as Hürrem Sultan and Mihrimah Sultan (the word Sultan placed after a woman's name means princess), to order numerous vakıf projects.

During the reign of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent a most active period was witnessed in the Empire in terms of the construction of public works, and Sinan was most fortunate to have the post of chief architect at a time when resources were so abundant. The vakıf system not only permitted the building of such works, it also ensured their maintenance, which made it possible for them to survive until this day. Funds for their maintenance were provided by the revenues obtained from shops, commercial buildings and kervansarays (hostels for merchants and travellers), hamams (public baths), bedestens or mills, all constructed next to monuments built by donations. The administration of these revenues was entrusted to the vakıfs. The establishment of vakıfs was always encouraged, and many facilities were provided for that purpose. The founder of the vakıf could specify how it was to be used through its administrative statutes or vakfiye. Such freedom of choice brought a significant plurality to Ottoman social and cultural life. As for other works which were directly undertaken by the State, they consisted of military establishments, roads and bridges, as well as palaces and buildings.

Ottoman Sultans of the 16th century were not only patrons of the arts but were also directly involved in their administration. They established workshops which specialized in all kinds of crafts. Artists and artisans of the Palace (the Ehl-i Hiref), ranging from painters to calligraphers, from carpenters to jewellers, were trained at these establishments, where they were then able to contribute to the art of the Empire. The wages earned by these artists were higher than those of civil servants working at the Palace. This explains why architectural works were built with such care.



The Imperial Corps of Architects


Ottoman documents reveal that there was a special architectural institution attached to the palace called the Hassa Mimarlar Ocağı (Imperial Corps of Architects). The date of the founding of this institution is not clear but we do know that it was already in existence before 1525. It was linked to the Şehremini (an individual responsible for the financing, purchasing and administrative activities related to the construction of buildings). The Hassa Chief architect was in charge of its administration. The first chief architect is believed to have been Acem Alisi (Alaüddin). The chief architect had as his assistants the water supply director, the chief of apprentices, the chief limeworker, the warehouse director, the first secretary of the warehouse, the first architect, the deputy architect, the director of repairs, and many master architects, qualified builders, foreman and artisans, as well as officers in charge of monitoring their activities. The institution was in charge of practically everything related to the empire's civil engineering, architecture and urban development activities: water supply, sewerage system, roads and pavements, building regulations, permits and their control, as well as fire prevention, the activities of architects, foremen and superintendents and their wages, the standardisation of building materials and their quality and price control.




It was also in charge of designing, erecting, maintaining and repairing buildings belonging to the imperial family, high-ranking state officials, and of appointing architects, foremen and superintendents for these tasks. In addition, it was responsible for the building of bridges, forts and other military works in times of war. Finally, it functioned as an educational institution, being in charge of the training of the most talented youths among those recruited by the "devşirme" (levy of Christian children for the Jannisary Corps and other State services).

The plans for building projects were first in the form of sketches or models and then they were submitted to the palace together with their cost estimates. Before construction began, someone was appointed to be in charge of the building, who would also be responsible for the building materials and workers, and who would regularly note down the expenses incurred. For important projects, the palace would be directly approached for the procurement of materials and staff. In the provinces, the "kadıs", who functioned both as judges and mayors, would inform the palace of their building requirements and the latter would then give orders to the chief architect. In the construction of imperial buildings, young devşirme recruits, palace artisans (Ehl-i Hiref), hired laborers and foremasters worked along with prisoners of war and convicts. Both Muslims and Christians would be employed. If necessary, architects would be sent to different provinces and sometimes abroad. The Muslim rulers of India are known to have asked the Ottoman Sultans to send them architects, and some of Sinan's students were indeed sent there.

It is believed that the Imperial Corps of Architects became masters during Sinan's time when it was restructured in order to handle the then frantic building activity. The institution lasted for some 350 years, until it was integrated into the municipality in 1831.


Ottoman Architecture Prior to Sinan


In order to get a better understanding of Sinan's architectural achievements, we must dwell briefly on the architectural developments that preceded them. Sinan's greatest contribution lies in his innovations regarding the use of the dome. With the exception of certain tombs, domes did not cover the whole area of buildings in the Islamic world, rather they served to enhance buildings. The Ottomans virtually identified their mosques with domes, trying out every possible variant of the form. The role of Saint Sophia in this context cannot be denied. The function of the dome was moreover not limited to covering a given area, it became a key element in the design of a mosque.
Single, multiple, plural-based or multi-functional inverted T-shaped domed mosques and their domed tombs, departing from the old kümbet form, were already a typical Ottoman style at the time when Bursa was the first capital of the empire (1326), along with domed medreses (theological seminaries), and domed hamams.

The Bursa style continued for some time after the city of Edirne was proclaimed the second capital of the Empire in 1368, but the Üç Şerefeli Mosque, built in Edirne by Murad II in 1447, is considered an innovation in the design of mosques because it introduced a plan which was to be amply developed later.

Innovative features like the hexagonal structure supporting its dome, its porticoed courtyard and its four minarets, do indeed impart a character to the mosque not typical of the period.

After the conquest of Istanbul (1453), the Saint Sophia Basilica, which was much admired by the Ottomans, became a focus of interest for Turkish architects, who practically idolized it. The Fatih (Conqueror) Külliye (a religious complex) was completed in 1471 under the reign of Mehmet II. With its sixteen medreses, its location and composition, this monumental complex put a Turkish stamp on the city. A semidome was added to the main dome of the original Fatih mosque, probably being influenced by the architecture of Saint Sophia, which brought the concept into Ottoman architecture. The old Fatih mosque was still standing in Sinan's time. It was to be destroyed in the 1776 earthquake. Also interesting is the Beyazid II Külliye in Edirne (1488), with pendentives supporting a 20m diameter dome and the design of its hospital. The interior of the mosque is dominated by a single dome. The side walls have windows and the dome supports are almost unnoticeable. This was the prototype for the Mihrimah Mosque in Edirnekapı, which Sinan was to build some 80 years later. The Beyazid II Mosque in Istanbul (1506) is an improved version of the old Fatih Mosque. The influence of Saint Sophia may also be felt here, but must not be considered to be a simple copy.

The works mentioned above indicate that Ottoman architecture was already developed by the time Sinan appeared.



The Works of Sinan


According to the sources available on Sinan's career, he produced more than four hundred works. It may be safer to say that these works were built or restored during his lifetime. We shall not attempt to describe each and every one of Sinan's works but rather focus on the most important ones, as well as those which are most representative of his art.

Religious complexes (Külliyes) had diverse public service functions, the most important of which was religious. The main building of the complex was the mosque, followed by the medrese or theological seminary. The complex would usually also include the following: a soup kitchen or refectory, guesthouse, hospital, school, public bath, fountain, water distribution kiosk and shops. The tomb of the person who had ordered the project would generally be situated within the complex. Külliyes situated on the main caravan routes would include in addition to the kervansaray, a prayer hall, hamam, soup kitchen, shops and stables. The külliyes were powerful social poles, and the fact that they were conceived as vakıfs ensured their continuity. The activities carried out in these complexes considerably stimulated the urban development of the areas in which they were built. Therefore, many külliyes were built in newly settled areas in order to help in their development. The duties and rights of each külliye were specified in detail in the foundation's charter and the people in charge of the vakıf implemented the regulations in the charter.

The külliyes designed by Sinan were exquisitely conceived, be it from the standpoint of the site chosen, integration with rough terrain, or as regards harmony achieved with the city's general skyline. Most of Sinan’s structures are situated on hilltops or along the seashore where they can be easily seen. They strike the eye as one approaches the city, constituting an inseparable part of its silhouette. The choice of the site is not only related to the Külliye's appearance from afar, but also to the view one has of the city from inside the complex, a view enhanced with the spectacle of the sea offered by the shores of the Bosphorus and Golden Horn. Sinan was especially skilled in adopting his design to sloping terrains. Solving such problems seems to have been like some sort of entertaining crossword puzzle for him. The buildings which constitute the külliye are very skilfully situated at levels corresponding to their function and importance. The final result is a well graded complex offering a fine appearance visible from afar, and forming an organic whole dominated by the mosque.

References and External Links
  • “Sinan, The Architect and his Works”, by Prof. Dr. Reha Günay, translated by Ali Ottoman
  • Turkish Art & Architecture
  • Architect Sinan, Wikipedia (English)
  • Mimar Sinan, Wikipedia (French)
  • Sinan'a Saygi

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