Sinan (Sinan bin Abdulmennan, c. 1489–1588)

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SINAN (Sinan bin Abdulmennan, c. 14891588)

SINAN (Sinan bin Abdulmennan, c. 14891588), chief court architect of the Ottoman dynasty from 1538 until his death; his works defined the architectural style of the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century. Born to Greek parents in a central Anatolian village, he converted to Islam and was recruited into the elite Ottoman janissary corps in the 1510s and trained as a carpenter. In his autobiography he noted that the military campaigns he took part in founded his architectural knowledge. In these campaigns he worked on the construction of several military structures, and he learned from the architectural monuments he encountered.

The fifty years that composed Sinan's career as chief court architect correspond to the reigns of three sultans, Suleiman (ruled 15201566), Selim II (ruled 15661574), and Murad III (ruled 15741595), and to the peak of Ottoman political power. As builder of the major architectural monuments of the Ottoman dynasty and ruling elite, he helped to create and spread the imperial court culture that was consolidated throughout the second half of the sixteenth century.

As chief architect, Sinan was designer and over-seer of all building activity of the centralized Ottoman court, hence the large number of buildings (between 344 and 422) he claimed to have built. Although Sinan's many imperial, religious, educational, commercial, and civic structures were dispersed throughout the vast empire and made a myth out of his long career, his major works are located in Istanbul, the Ottoman capital, and in Edirne and Damascus, cities of importance to the dynasty.

Ottoman architecture inherited architectural typologies from the medieval Islamic world. It also reflected aspects of the Greco-Roman and Byzantine architectural legacies of western Asia Minor from the previous two centuries: a cellular and additive notion of design, based on domed cubic volumes, shaped buildings of ashlar (a type of hewn stone) and masonry in various scales. Sinan transformed this legacy. His centralized schemes integrated various volumes through a complex interplay of architectural elements. A hemispherical dome supported by half domes, smaller domes, and vaults defined the superstructure; this system of vaulting determined the external massing and the interior space of the building. A masterly use of windows allowed natural light to accentuate all of these features. Externalization of the structural order and exploration of the plastic possibilities of stone marked important Sinan buildings.

The three buildings that Sinan singled out as his masterworks also marked important stages in his career; these buildings exhibit Sinan's relationship with a series of architectural traditions and concepts of design. The Şehzade Mosque (15481549), built for the crown prince Mehmed, son of Suleiman the Magnificent, features a perfectly centralized scheme of a square prayer hall covered by a hemispherical dome rising on four half domes in a quatrefoil design reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings for centralized churches. The mosque of Suleiman the Magnificent (1557), centerpiece of the largest socioreligious compound in Istanbul, is an Ottoman interpretation of the Hagia Sophia. The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne (15741575), with its immense dome held by an octagonal support system, sums up a career of explorations with domed spaces wherein attached or freestanding piers disengage a domed canopy from surrounding walls, turning the latter into luminous membranes pierced by numerous windows.

While monumental mosques were the primary symbols of Ottoman power, and therefore constitute Sinan's primary works, a series of lesser structures embody other aspects of his architectural style. Dynastic mausoleums exhibit novel interpretations of polygonal, double-shelled commemorative structures from the early Islamic era and medieval Iran; a hospital and a college, built for Suleiman's wife Haseki Hurrem and the grand vizier Rustem Pasha, interpret a fifteenth-century scheme with an octagonal courtyard. A number of aqueducts reflect Sinan's engineering skills and mastery in sculptural articulation. The Çoban Mustafa Pasha Bridge in Svilengrad (1529) and the Drina Bridge in Visegrad (1578) are among his important engineering works in the Balkans.

Sinan's contribution to the urban environment was his method of relating buildings to their immediate urban context as well as to the larger cityscape. His building complexes were laid out in multiaxial arrangements that offered multiple views of urban space, creating varying spatial experiences and dramatic encounters with buildings. These buildings also contributed to the creation of Istanbul's imperial image, as the city's famed silhouette was consolidated through these constructions.

Sinan was called the "Euclid of the times" by his contemporaries. Modern commentators have noted the rational architectural sensibility and predilection for centralized schemes he shared with architects of the Italian Renaissance.

See also Constantinople ; Janissary ; Ottoman Dynasty ; Ottoman Empire .


Primary Source

Sai Mustafa Çelebi. Mimar Sinan and Tezkiret-ül Bünyan. Edited by Metin Sözen and Suphi Saatçi. Translated by Georgina Özer. Istanbul, 1989. Translation of Tezkiretü'l-Bünyan.

Secondary Sources

Kuban, Doğan. Sinan's Art and Selimiye. Istanbul, 1997.

Kuran, Aptullah. Sinan: The Grand Old Master of Ottoman Architecture. Washington, D.C., and Istanbul, 1987.

Necipoğlu, Gülru. "Challenging the Past: Sinan and the Competitive Discourse of Early Modern Islamic Architecture." Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture 10 (1993): 169180.

ÇiĞdem KafescioĞlu