Crowning one of Istanbul’s seven hills and dominating the Golden Horn, the Süleymaniye Mosque is the city’s grandest and most beautiful, an exemplar of classical Ottoman architecture at its finest. Commissioned by Sultan Süleyman I (known as “The Magnificent”), the mosque and its surrounding buildings were designed by Mimar Sinan, the most famous and talented of all imperial architects. Built between 1550 and 1557, the complex’s setting and plan are particularly gorgeous, featuring gardens and a three-sided forecourt with a central domed fountain for ablutions. In the garden behind the mosque is a terrace offering lovely views of the Golden Horn. The mosque itself is stunning in its size and simplicity. Sinan incorporated the four buttresses into the walls of the building, resulting in a wonderfully open and airy interior highly reminiscent of the Hagia Sophia, especially as the dome is nearly as large as the one that crowns the Byzantine basilica. Sultan Süleyman’s original imaret (soup kitchen) today houses a restaurant with a charming garden courtyard. To the left of the site is a popular tea garden set in a sunken courtyard.
The seventeenth-century Ottoman traveler and writer, Evliye Çelebi, makes a fascinating note about the spontaneous reaction of ten “Frankish infidels skillful in geometry and architecture” to their first glimpse of the Süleymaniye Mosque. Each man, Çelebi writes, laid his forefinger against a gaping mouth, tossed his hat into the air, and cried out “Mother of God!” in astonishment!
The streets surrounding the Süleymaniye Mosque are home to the most extensive concentration of Ottoman-era timber houses in Istanbul; many are currently undergoing extensive restoration.