Sinan: The Great Muslim Architect

Sinan: The Great Muslim Architect
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Muslims are known as the greatest builders in history. Some of the finest and most splendid buildings in the world including the Alhamra and the Mosque of Cordova in Spain, the Taj Mahal of Agra and the Jamia Mosque of Delhi, the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo, the Friday Mosque of Isfahan and the Sulaimaniya and Salimiya Mosques of Istanbul. All these have been built by Muslims. A large number of magnificent places built by Muslims in Cordova, Cairo, Baghdad, Istanbul, India have perished due to the ravages of time, or razed to the ground by the later invaders.
The history of architecture is full of the achievements of Muslim architects who raised splendid monuments in different parts of the world. But the greatest among the Muslim architects was Sinan who is credited with erecting 343 magnificent buildings throughout the Ottoman Empire.
Sinan, usually called ‘Khudai-Memar Sinan’, is universally recognized as the greatest architect of his time and of the Ottoman Empire. He was born on April 15, 1489, in Kaisariya. He was the son of Abdul-Mannan. Sinan became a Janissary in the ottoman army and distinguished himself for bravery in the campaigns against Belgrade in 1521 and Rhodes in 1522. Later, he was promoted to the post of chief fire-work operator in the ottoman army.
During the Persian war, fought by the Ottomans in 1534 A.C., Sinan devised ferries for crossing Lake Van which were very effective and led to the victory of the Turks. When the Ottoman Sultan Salim, advanced on Wallachia, Sinan hastily built a bridge across the River Danube which laid the foundation of his rising fame.
Hence forward, he was assigned the task which suited his genius. He was extensively engaged in erecting monumental buildings on orders from the Sultan and the grandees of the great Ottoman Empire. After the death of Salim I, Sinan built the Salimiya Mosque on the top of a hill overlooking Istanbul.
Sulaiman, the magnificent, the successor of Sultan Salim I, is credited with raising some of the best monuments throughout the vast Ottoman Empire. These monuments were built by Sinan under orders of Sulaiman and included the Mosque of Roxelana (Khasseki Khurram) built in 1539, the Princes’ Mosque built in 1548, the Sulaimaniya Mosque built in 1550-56, and the Salimiya Mosque of Adrianople built on the orders of Salim 2nd. These are considered to be his best.
In addition to these, Sinan is credited with erecting numerous mosques, palaces, schools, bridges and baths, and so on. His biographer, poet Mustafa Sai, gives a list of 81 mosques, 50 chapels, 55 schools, 7 Quran Schools, 16 kitchens for the poor, 3 infirmaries, 7 aqueducts, 8 bridges, 34 palaces, 13 rest houses, 3 store houses, 33 baths, 19 domed tombs, totalling 343 buildings built by the famous architect, Sinan, during a period of three quarters of a century in a region extending from Bosnia to Makkah.
Sinan displayed an incomparable lightness of touch in his construction of domes. On a square, hexagonal octagonal base he developed his interiors, always striving at the effect of a great ceremonial hall, a uniform architecture enclosing the worshipping rulers and their hosts.
The great architect is criticized for being mostly concerned with the interior of his buildings, sometimes at the cost of their exterior. “But everywhere, says Gurlitt,appears the peculiarity of Turkish character”. Everywhere he creates models which are as little Byzantine as they are Persian, as little Syrian as they are Saljuk, but all the more Turkish. He had a large number of pupils who attained great fame as architects. These included Ahmad Agha Kamal al Din, Daud Agha, Yatim Baba Ali, Yusuf and Sinan, the junior. Yusuf, Sinan’s favourite pupil, is reputed to be the architect of the palaces at Delhi, Lahore and Agra built by Akbar.
This great Muslim architect, Sinan, breathed his last on July 17, 1578 at the age of 90 years and was buried under the shadow of his masterpiece, Sulaimaniya Mosque of Istanbul.

—The author is a class 12 student at the MPML Higher Secondary School. He can be reached at: