SINAN, Mimar Koca Agha

(1489-1588)
   The best-known architect of the Ottoman Empire, Sinan was the chief architect to the sultans Selim I, Süleyman I, Selim II, and Murad III. For 50 years, Sinan oversaw every major building constructed around the empire. With such powerful royal patronage, Sinan was provided with a large workshop that aided in the construction of over 300 buildings. Sinan began his career in the Ottoman military, which he joined in 1512, and where he was able to study carpentry and math. As a member of the Janissary Corps, the sultan's household troops and bodyguards, Sinan traveled widely, and after the capture of Cairo, he was promoted to chief architect in charge of rebuilding bridges, roads, and houses, and converting churches into mosques. Through his military experiences, Sinan learned what structural deficiencies might lead to the easy destruction of a building, and he therefore sought in his own work a more sophisticated engineering, which resulted in some of the largest, most monumental structures of his day. In 1539, he became the Architect of Istanbul and then the Architect of the Empire, receiving the title of "Koca," or "Elder."
   Sinan's best-known buildings are his Süleyman Mosque in Istanbul and his Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. The imperial mosque built for Süleyman "the Magnificent" in Istanbul was the center of a group of buildings in the kulliye, or palace complex, which included schools; a hospital; a hamam, or bath; a soup kitchen; and a caravanserai, or traveler's inn. Begun in 1551, the complex was completed rapidly, before the end of the decade. The mosque is based on the church of Hagia Sophia, built in Istanbul in the 500s and subsequently converted into a mosque. Like Hagia Sophia, the Selimiye Mosque has an interior space formed on a 1:2 ratio that emphasizes the massive central dome. The windows that encircle the drum make the dome appear to hover, weightless, above the centrally planned interior. With the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne (1569-1575), Sinan further modified his ideas by creating a dome set upon an octagonal drum with eight external piers to buttress the dome. This provides support for the window-lined drum as well as for the windows located in the walls beneath the dome. Structurally daring, this proliferation of windows around a dome allows for an extremely well-lit, unencumbered interior. Since this mosque is two feet taller than the dome of Hagia Sophia, Sinan achieved his dream of constructing the tallest dome in the world, while the mosque also features the tallest minarets in the world. Sinan's architectural innovations were formed from a more practical, empirical knowledge rather than the classically inspired theoretical basis from which construction was derived in western Europe during the Renaissance. In this regard, Sinan was able to stretch the prior structural limitations of domed, unencumbered space to create some of the most daring religious structures in history.
   See also ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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