Suleymaniye Mosque

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I recently went to visit Suleymaniye Mosque (cami in Turkish) after last having seen it in 1996. Despite being some time ago, I still had memories of its majestic grandeur. However nothing really prepares you for just how light this solid structure appears. It seems to be perched on the edge of a hill overlooking the Golden Horn yet is firmly anchored to the ground.

Suleymaniye Camii through my Dad's eyes 2007
Suleymaniye Mosque galleries

Built for its namesake, Süleyman the Magnificent, Suleymaniye Mosque the work of the great architect Sinan. It’s the biggest of his mosques and considered one of his most complex in terms of architecture and engineering design. Construction started 1550 and finished in 1557 although the rest of the complex was completed later. Entry is via a large avlu or courtyard, flanked by columns made from highest quality porphyry (igneous rock formed by the cooling solidification of molten lava), marble and granite.

A huge column beside the doorway on the western side of the courtyard marks the entry to two chambers believed to contain the workshop and home of the muvakkithane, the mosque astronomer. The minarets on each corner of the courtyard are said to represent the fact Süleyman was the fourth sultan to reign in Istanbul. Ten balconies (called şerefe­ in Turkish) on the columns, denote he was the tenth sultan in the Ottoman line of sultans.

Entering the courtyard of Suleymaniye Mosue
Suleymaniye Mosque entrance gate
The peaceful inner courtyard of Suleymaniye Mosque
Suleymaniye Mosque courtyard

The interior of Suleymaniye Mosque is a huge almost square space dominated by a large dome. This is supported by a series of semi-domes and two huge columns which help give the impression the space is one complete uninterrupted area, rather than a series of aisles and galleries as in other mosques in Istanbul.

The flying buttresses, the massive architectural constructions used to bear the weight of the roof, have been designed to project inside the building as well as is more usual, the outside. Those inside are artfully concealed by rows of arches and well-placed side galleries. The walls of these are punctuated by windows allowing more light to enter, giving the interior a light and airy feel. On the outside the structure of the buttresses has been worked into halls and meeting rooms, giving the exterior a more human scale façade.

As with many great mosques the beauty of Suleymaniye Mosque lies in its apparent simplicity. Sunshine flits through stained glass windows attributed to Sarhoş (The Drunkard) Ibrahim. The almost austere red and blue designs on tiles with a plain white background are some early examples of the new techniques developed in Iznik, now known throughout the world. The woodwork is studded with mother-of-pearl and the mihrab and mimber are made of exquisite marble.

Column detail, Suleymaniye Mosque
Carved detail in Suleymaniye Mosque entrance way.

Once back in daylight, a tempting view of the Golden Horn beckons. Before you head over for the now almost obligatory selfie, make sure to have a look at the tombs of the Süleyman the Magnificent and his favourite, Haseki Hürrem, also known as Roxelana. As befitting his position as sultan of the Ottoman Empire for 46 years, Süleyman’s tomb is the largest. However take note that the Iznik tiles on that of his consort are decorated with even finer examples of Iznik tiles than his. Fans of the wildly popular Turkish miniseries Muhteşem Yüzyıl (The Magnificent Century) will no doubt have their own theories as to why.


Planning your trip to Istanbul or Turkey? Here are my helpful tips.

For FLIGHTS I like to use

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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