Skip Navigation Links

[Masters of Our Culture]

MIMAR SINAN (1489 - 1588)      

Skip Navigation Links.

Mimar Sinan is one of the greatest architects ever lived. He was born in Agirnas village of Kayseri and died on 17th of July, 1588 in Istanbul. His date of birth is unknown. Although the information about his life and family is insufficient and conflicting, some reliable information is being tried to be gathered from the writings of Sai Mustafa Celebi who noted some of his speeches, his written correspondences form the times when he was a chief architect, his own deed of trust and from the documents and books of unknown writers.

According to the sources, Sinan was recruited as a solider to Istanbul in 1512 as a result of the new law passed after I Selim (Yavuz) became a sultan that required the recruitment of soldiers from Rumeli and Anatolia. He was sent to “Acemi Oglanlar Ocagi” (A school for Beginning Soldiers) where soldiers were trained for army. He participated in Caldiran battle in 1514 and went to the military expedition to Egypt. After returning to Istanbul he was accepted to Yeniceri School.

During the period of Kanuni Sultan Suleyman he participated in Belgrad military expedition (1521) and Rodos military expedition (1522) and received a rank of military officer. After participating in Mohac military expedition in 1526, he became a senior technician. He participated in Vienna (1529), Germany (1529 – 1532), Iraq, Baghdad and Teheran (1532 – 1535) military expeditions. During this last expedition he received the title of haseki for successfully designing three ships that would pass over Van Lake. In 1536 he participated in Pulya (Puglia) military expedition. In 1538 he attracted attention by designing a bridge over the River of Prut during the Karabugdan (Moldavia) military expedition. One year later, after the death of Acem Ali, he became Sermimaran-i Hassa (chief architect of the palace). He performed this administrative function that corresponds to the title of Minister of Public Works today until the end of his life.

Mimar Sinan lived during the strongest period of Ottoman Empire. He worked as a chief architect during the periods of I Suleiman (The Magnificent), II Selim and III Murat and played a primary role in design and application of architectural masterpieces that symbolized the power of the empire. His influence continued even after his death and he was remembered with respect during all times. Ataturk ordered to start a scientific research about Mimar Sinan and ordered to make his statue. In 1982 in Istanbul, when State Academy of Fine Arts was made a university his name was given to this new university. Even though there isn’t enough information about his early training, it is believed that he learned carpentry in “Acemi Oglanlar Ocagi” (A school for Beginning Soldiers). Here along with other thing constructive works were also told.

In army Sinan was assigned to the units whose function was related to construction works where he stood out with his works. Construction and repair works done in master – apprentice relationships in these army units and the constructions he saw in places where he went with the army were the part of Mimar Sinan’s education. According to various sources, Sinan constructed over 350 structures that include 84 mosques, 52 small mosques, 57 madrasah, 7 schools, 22 mausoleums, 17 hostels of pilgrims, 3 hospitals, 7 water pipes, 8 bridges, 20 caravanserai, 35 villas and palaces, 6 depots and cellars and 48 Turkish baths. Even though, he served as a chief architect of the Ottoman Empire for over fifty years it is hard to say that he designed and constructed all these structures by himself. A part of these constructions spread across the empire most of which are located in Istanbul must have been made by his students or by the organization of architects under his supervision. There are also repair works among these. These types of numbers show the respect towards Mimar Sinan. His real success was taking the Ottoman – Turkish architecture to its peak of success called “classic”, by the experiments done in his contractions and brought novelties.

His first big work was Sehzade Mosque in Istanbul. This mosque that he built during his apprentice periods stands on four bases and covered by a dome that is supported by four half-domes. The outside appearance has been reduced while inside was made more illuminated. Preceding it, in the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in Uskudar, a more comfortable internal space was achieved by reducing the number of half-domes to three. One of the most important structures of the Turkish-Ottoman architecture is Suleymaniye Mosque and its adjacent complex of buildings. In this structure, Sinan renewed the carrier system used in Beyazid Mosque in Istanbul and supported the dome standing on four columns with half-domes in entrance-mihrap (Mihrap: niche in a mosque wall indicating the direction of Mecca) direction.

In his works, Mimar Sinan has attached a lot of importance to research and studied old construction techniques. For an instance, his Sinan Pasa Mosque in Istanbul with its hexagonal dome structure resembles Uc Serefeli Mosque located in Edirne. Mosques like Mihrimah Sultan Mosque in Edirnekapi with a single dome covering the main hall reminds of early Ottoman mosques. An example to one of his most curious experimentations is Piyale Pasa Mosque located in Istanbul. This is an example of a structure covered by many small domes and supported by many columns; a plan that was used even before the early Ottoman period. All these experimentations are important because they lead him to the construction of the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.

In this work of art that he built during his master periods, he found a solution for a problem that he was looking in Rustem Pasa Mosque in Istanbul, namely mounting the dome on an octagonal layout. In this way, the carrying columns were reduced and by decreasing the size of the weight carrying elements made the dome the most important position determining item in the structure. Here Sinan built his biggest dome that had a diameter of more than 31 meters. The complex of adjacent buildings was kept in the second plan. Selimiye is a truly magnificent masterpiece.

Sinan’s works have are equally important both from architectural as well as engineering standpoints. That’s why he was remembered as “The head of world’s architects and engineers of all times”. The fact that most of his constructions still hold up after 400 years and some are even being used indicates that a special attention was paid to both carrying systems as well as to the foundations of the structures.

Sinan’s talents of an engineer are apparent from his water supply facilities. He used all available engineering knowledge of the time to build these structures and even brought some innovations to the existing techniques. After he was assigned with a task to solve Istanbul’s water problem he built a water supply system known as Kirkcesme in over 50km in length that included many dams, tunnels, water channels and aqueducts as well as water accumulation and distribution facilities. 53 million akce (a unit of money) were spent on Suleymaniye structures and 43 million akce were spent on Kirkcesme structures showing the importance that was given to those during his time.

Sinan was also equally valued his bridges and was proud of his Buyukcekmece Bridge that has a total length of 635.5 meters.

Turkish – Ottoman architecture has entered its classic period with him. Making dome - the most important element of the monumental architecture, a core of the monumental architecture arrangements by using it and its surrounding structures in a most elegant and clear way, is the most important contribution of Sinan and the Turkish – Ottoman architecture to the world architecture.