On The Trail Of Mi̇mar Si̇nan

Melek Cevahiroğlu Ömür İbrahim Usta February 2014

PROF. DR. GÜLRU NECIPOĞLU’S BOOK, THE AGE OF SINAN: ARCHITECTURAL CULTURE IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE, BRINGS A COMPREHENSIVE AND INTER-DISCIPLINARY APPROACH TO SINAN AND HIS WORKS. WE SPOKE WITH HER ABOUT THE GREAT ARCHITECT SINAN AND HIS AGE.

Sinan Çağı'nın İzinde
Sinan Çağı'nın İzinde

Architect of the Istanbul skyline, Mimar Sinan was remembered in the early 20th century in the same breath as the architects of the Italian Renaissance in Europe. In her book, The Age of Sinan, Gülru Necipoğlu examines the connections between Sinan’s own inimitable monuments and the classical style of ancient Rome on the one hand and the Italian Renaissance on the other. We had a pleasant chat with her recently about the book and about Mimar Sinan.

Sinan is one of the oldest and greatest Turkish architects. How did his career begin?
Sinan, who was from Kayseri, chose carpentry during his training in Istanbul. He took part in the campaigns to Egypt and Iran during the reign of Sultan Selim I and went to the Balkans, Anatolia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Belgrade and very probably also to Italy during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, which significantly broadened his world view. During those campaigns he built ships, bridges and fortresses.

He worked as an architect and designed numerous projects, but was he an engineer as well?
Sinan had a background in engineering. When the previous Chief Architect died, the Grand Vizier, Lütfi Pasha, said that only Sinan was capable of carrying on his work. Previously, chief architects had tended to be selected from among the Court Architects (Hassa Mimarları Ocağı), but Sinan ushered in a new era. I ascertained from documents that Sinan personally appointed the architects in Damascus. The large-scale construction and building projects in the Ottoman imperial realm were realized through Sinan’s drawings and by his team.

We know Sinan mainly for his mosques, but he also built bridges, ships and palaces, did he not?
Yes, there are numerous lost palaces and mansions with gardens, not to mention the Drina Bridge, the Büyükçekmece Bridge and the Kırkçeşme Aqueduct, each one a miracle of engineering. The social service buildings he built, such as madrasas, schools, dervish lodges, caravanserais, hospitals and public soup kitchens, are generally found inside mosque complexes. Sinan divided his buildings into 13 types based on their function. Among them, mosques ranked first because they were the most prestigious and most expensive to build. Not only that, but mosques were subject to the sultan’s personal permission and therefore were an expression of the architect’s close relations with the state.

Could we describe Sinan as an innovative architect?
Sinan emerged from a tradition, but he transformed that tradition through aesthetic and structural innovations. He was respectful of nature and the architectural traditions of the places where he built his buildings. Even though he used innovative techniques and materials, he went for designs that were compatible with the status of their patrons as well as with the natural landscape and the building’s place in the urban landscape. Prominent men and women were well aware of that and they literally vied with each other to have him erect monuments for them. One can see in that a parallel with the modern world. His patrons considered Sinan the “star” architect of the period, and the Ottoman history books exalt him as the Aristotle or Euclid of his time. If Sinan had lived today, I believe he would have been what they call a “glocal” (global-local) architect.

WHO IS GÜLRU NECİPOĞLU?
Gülru Necipoğlu received her doctorate from Harvard University’s Department of The History of Art and Architecture in 1986 and became an assistant professor in the department a year later. The Agha Khan Professor of Islamic Art at Harvard since 1993, Necipoğlu is also director of the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture.