Architectural Form: Suleymaniye Mosque

Architectural Form: Suleymaniye Mosque

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The Suleymaniye mosque was truly a masterpiece during the time it was built in the mid 1500s. Today, it still never fails to captivate its audience through the complexity of its design and the intellectual analysis of its significance. The mosque was actually said to be as magnificent as the Seven Wonders of the World according to two European travelers, Freynes Moryson and John Sanderson, soon after its completion (Nelipogulu 221). The mosque is definitely symbolic in the city of Istanbul, sitting a top the highest hill, in that it represents central power and strength of the Turkish Empire (see Image 1) (Yayinlari 30). As we take a closer look at the Suleymaniye we see many aspects of religion through its sensual and visual experience. We also find a great deal of complexity, from the contradictory aspects Sinan applied to the mosque, throughout a more in depth intellectual analysis.
The general structure of the Suleymaniye mosque mirrors that of many Islamic mosques, but Sinan's work shows that it can remain a unique piece of architecture. The mosque is designed around a central axis. The length is running from north to south while the width spans east to west. This is appropriate for the purpose of the building, where Muslims must face the cardinal direction of Mecca during prayer (Freely 124). Sinan further emphasizes the north and south direction by place two short pillars on the north end and two taller ones on the south end (see Image 2) (Nelipoglu 212). Looking at the plan of the Suleymaniye we see a definite presence of geometry (see Image 3). The mosque is made up of spherical and rectangular shapes, as well as series of arches along the facades. The main, central dome is further magnified by the surrounding half domes. This draws the attention towards the center (Goodwin 35). The dome becomes the spiritual focus, representing God's "unity without distinctions" (Freely 128). Sinan focused on a harmonious connection of the dome to the rest of the mosque to further emphasize its spiritual representation (Cansever 65). Sinan also strived for the Islamic belief of uninterrupted space between man and God. In his floorplan (see Image 3), he works to build the interior space with few obstructions as possible. Any existing obstruction was placed so that its transition was experienced gradually.

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The separations of the interior space created quiet areas for religious study. Instead of interrupting the spirituality, this only emphasizes it (Freely 124). The plan of the Suleymaniye at first seems very similar to that a many Muslim mosques. Sinan worked to make his mosque unique in that he applied notions of continuity and emphasized symbolic pieces of his plan to further emphasis the divine experience of the place. Worshipers enter the mosque and, through visual senses, are surrounded by spirituality.
The front façade continues to communicate the complexity of Sinan's creation. The Suleymaniye's exterior appears pyramidal in shape, and works as an organic continuation of the hill it sits on top of (see Image 1) (Nelipuglu 212). The front façade combines a series of arches, followed by semi domes and finishes with the main dome (see Image 4). Although Sinan's blend of many structures is complex, the way in which he connects the pieces astonishingly results in a sense of weightlessness (Freely 123). This then relates back to the purpose of the building, a place of worship and of spiritual growth. Sinan wanted no interference with man's connection to God. A dramatic building with a bold sense of weight would only distract the sensory experience of spirituality. Sinan also introduced new elements of balance and rhythm to Ottoman architecture (Goodwin 40). This is seen on the front façade (see Image 4), as well as the east and west facades (see Image 5), through a series of arches. These arches not only promote a balance and rhythm, but also contribute to releasing the weight of the rest of the structure. Each element of the Suleymaniye, from the smallest piece of detail to its central dome, is evenly placed so that nothing is exaggerated (Cansever 66). Each part of the building is harmoniously connected so that the pieces are not separate, but the creation of a single body (Freely 123).
The interior space of the Suleymaniye continues to communicate Sinan's ideals on spirituality and its sensory effect on inhabitants. The relation between the interior and the exterior is comparable because both strive for spatial continuity and this notion of defying gravity. The similarities in the transition of the exterior into the interior create a sense of "unboundedness" (Nelipuglu 215). This relates back to Sinan's ideals of a place of worship, that God is also unbounded and omnipresent. It is no question that the interior space itself is grandiose. With the dome having over a 26 meter diameter and the highest point reaching almost 50 m from the floor, it is almost unfathomable to imagine such a large internal space (see Image 6) (Freely 27). The "centipetality" of the dome makes the entire space come to life (Goodwin 36). One may mistake the dome for being the central focal point, but the way in which Sinan incorporates the central dome communicates otherwise. Relating back to Sinan's focus on religious beliefs, in Islam there is no physical focal point. Sinan works to downplay the attention on a centralized dome. The connection points of the dome are concealed and placed on the exterior so that the dome appears suspended in space. It creates a "cosmic" focus in the mosque, so that instead the dome being simply seen, it is felt in the connection between man and God (Freely 123-128). Sinan also applied a uniform distribution of light about the mosque so that each point of the interior space would be of equality. Nothing is hidden by darkness like nothing is hidden in religious faith (Freely 131). Complexity of the interior volume lies in that it seems to exceed sacred meaning, but because of Sinan's applications of design to spirituality, the sensory experience is uninterrupted.
The magnificent volume of the Suleymaniye seems to contradict the modesty Sinan was striving for. Although the interior space is physically large in volume it is scaled down by the decoration and detail so that it does not surpass the focus of the most important element of the mosque, God and Islam. The use of numerous small windows and doors, touches of color through ceramic tiles, and Arabic inscriptions allow for the viewer to be at one with the space and at one with religion, rather than be consumed by it (see Image 6). The décor does not only scale down the size of the interior, but works back to the condition of weightlessness Sinan was striving for. Windows help disguise connection points and lines of force. Ceramic tiling creates adornment so that any weight from the walls is drawn upward (Freely 137). Arabic inscriptions enhance the focus of the mosque which is Islam. The inscriptions are concentrated on the notion of prayer and how Muslims must dedicate themselves to the divine worship (Nelipuglu 217). This is appropriate because the Suleymaniye is a place of prayer and practice of the divine worship. Every element within the mosque plays an appropriate role in its purpose. Sinan continually works with contradictory elements, in this case the grand and the small scale, but combines them in a way that fits harmoniously (Cansever 65). It causes a communication of subliminal messages that enhance one's spirituality.
Sinan designed many mosques that all originated from a basic architectural type of the centralized dome. Although the basic structure was that of many other structures, we see Sinan's originality in his ultimate strive for the viewer's divine, sensory experience. In the Suleymaniye, he creates an ornamental whole by applying contradictory elements (Cansever 65). Bold shapes, yet continuity of their transitions, central points but not as physical focuses, and great amplitude of the interior however balanced by modest elements, all contribute to the enhancement of harmonious connection between components and the development of spiritual significance. Sinan's contributions to Ottoman architecture is said to make him a "true man" of the renaissance (Freely 45). The Suleymaniye came about in attempt to outshine the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. With Sinan's innovations to Ottoman architecture and applying them to the Suleymaniye, the mosque, in accordance to many architectural historians, with no doubt surpasses Hagia Sophia (Goodwin 35).

Works Cited

1. Cansever, Turget. "The Architecture of Mimar Sinan." Architectural Design. V. 74. n. 6. Nov/Dec 2004. pg 64-70.
2. Celebi, Sai Mustafa. Book of Buildings: Memoirs of Sinan the Architect. Kocbank: Istanbul, 2002. pg. 68. (Image 3).
3. Freely, John and Augusto Romano Burelli. Sinan: Architect of Suleyman the Magnificent and the Ottoman Golden Age. Thames & Hudson: London, 1992. pg. 15-18, 26-33, 44-45, 74-77, 123-137.
4. Goodwin, Godfrey. Sinan: Ottoman Architecture and Its Values Today. Redwood Press Limited. Great Britain, 1993. Pgs. 33-45.
5. Nelipuglu, Gulru. The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire. Reaktion Books: London, 2005. pg. 207-221. (Includes Images: 1,2,4-6)
6. Yayinlari, Ege. Sinan: An Interpretation. Istanbul, Turkey, 1997. Pgs. 28-30.
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