The information we have on the life and personality of Sinan is rather
limited. We have no work or theoretical exposition written by him. If there
have been sketches or plans drawn by him anonymously, as was the practice at the
time, they have not reached US.
Sinan was born a Christian in the village of Agirnas, in the province of
Kayseri. We do not know the precise date of his birth, but it must have been
place sometime between 1494 and 1499. He was recruited in 1512 or 1513 by the
"devsirme" to be enrolled in the janissary Corps. It was the first
time a child was recruited for that purpose in the area of Kayseri. At the time
he was recruited, Sinan must have been between fourteen and eighteen years old.
In the devsirme system, some of the recruited Christian children became
janissaries while others were sent to the palace after receiving some education,
to serve in various State offices. As with the other children, Sinan must have
first been sent to work on a farm outside Istanbul so that he could become
familiarised with the language, religion and customs. He was later sent to the
Acemi Ocagi, a sort of palace school, where he practised carpentry and worked on
building sites. Under the reign of Kanuni Sultan Suleyman, he participated as a
janissary in the Belgrade and the Rhodes campaigns, in 1521 and 1522, after
which he was given the rank of" Atlisekban. He was promoted to the rank
of "Yayabasi" after the battle of Mohacs, and later to that of"
Kapiyayabasi". He participated in the German campaign of 1529-32 as a"
Zemberekcibasi", as well as that of Iran and Bagdad (the Irakeyn
campaign) in 1534-35. He built three fully equipped and armed galleys for the
crossing of Lake Van. As a result of this and his other achievements as an
engineer in previous campaigns, he was promoted to the rank of "Haseki" in
the sultan's bodyguards. After the puglia and Korfu campaigns (1537), he won
wide recognition for the bridge he built in a very short time during the
Moldavian campaign. During this campaign, the chief architect Acem Alisi died,
upon which Sadrazam (Prime Minister) Lutfi Pasha appointed Sinan, then a
"Subasi" (Superintendent), to the post of "Mimarbasi" (Chief
Architect). Sinan's previous successes in civil works played an important role
in this promotion. When recalling this event, Sinan says he was sad to leave the
army but happy to have the opportunity to accomplish other important things such
as building mosques.
Sinan was already of a mature age when he became chief architect. He had seen
monuments and works of different cultures during the campaigns he participated
in, both in the west and in the east. He had been faced with problems that
needed rapid solutions, and the army had given him discipline, self-control and
organisational skills. The learning and experience thus acquired must have
helped him develop his design skills and administrative talents. Sinan's
extensive career as chief architect lasted for some fifty years.
According to the documents which list his works, he designed, supervised,
built or restored as many as 400 buildings. But if we consider the fact that he
was in charge of the Imperial Body of Architects and the hugeness of the Ottoman
territory, it becomes difficult to believe that all these works were directly
produced by Sinan personally. However, with the exception of those built towards
the end of his life, the buildings erected in Istanbul can be assumed to be his.
Moreover most of Sinan's smaller buildings have not reached us in their original
condition, but the works Sinan realised in Istanbul are enough to demonstrate
his enormous contribution to Turkish architecture.
Architects do not seem to have held an important place in the Ottoman State
protocol. At a time when the empire was so powerful, Sinan designed buildings
for three successive sultans, as well as numerous palace notables, a sure sign
that he enjoyed a great popularity and was much appreciated as an architect. The
fact that Kanuni Sultan Suleyman would have asked Sinan to lead the opening
procession of the Suleymaniye Mosque although he had had it built in his own
name, is another unmistakable indication of such appreciation and esteem.
According to the charter of the vakif he founded in 1563, Sinan was able to
acquire a fortune including 18 mansions, 38 shops, 9 houses, as well as land,
mills, small mosques and schools. In 1583 he made his pilgrimage to Mecca, and
had his life story and a list of his works written down by a poet friend.
According to the inscription on his tomb, which is situated next to the
Suleymaniye Mosque, Sinan died in 1588.
As an architect, Sinan obviously had a perfect understanding of the
topographical and built environment of Istanbul, the city he contributed so many
works to, and he was able to make the most of this knowledge. It is probably not
wrong to'suppose that he must have visited and studied Saint Sophia very often.
At that time, Istanbul offered the spectacle of a developed city, expanded
and adorned with hundreds of new buildings, which some of the most powerful
Ottoman Emperors, such as, Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Kanuni Sultan Suleyman, as
well as their relatives and high-ranking state officials, had had built next to
remaining Byzantine buildings. All the revenues of the Empire flowed to the
city, all the best artisans and artists gathered there. Sinan was at the head of
an organisation responsible for construction activities throughout the vast
territories of the Empire, with numerous buildings being erected in places
ranging from Bosnia to Bagdad, from Crimea to the Yemen. Sinan had had the
opportunity of travelling through many countries, visiting, studying and closely
analysing much of the architecture. Besides his sense of space, he had thus
acquired wide knowledge on structural support systems. That he should have
designed the Sehzade Mosque only two years after being named chief architect is
a sign not only of his architectural talent, but also of his wide experience and
fine perceptive qualities. To the very end of his life, Sinan constantly
studied, experimented and sought new answers to problems of topography, space,
mass and supporting structure. In doing so, he provided diverse and highly
elaborate solutions, which make him the great master of Ottoman, and even
Above text and pictures are from the book titled "Turkish Art and Architecture in Anatolia and Mimar Sinan".
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