Istanbul’s Great Buildings – Rumeli Hisari

By 1451, Constantinople was surrounded by Ottoman forces. The city, however, obdurately refused to fall and Sultan Mehmed II was getting impatient. The result was Rumeli Hisari, a fortress built on the European side of the Bosphorus, at its narrowest point.

The Ottomans could now control the sea and particularly traffic arriving from the Black Sea, from where aid and supplies could be delivered to the besieged city. The fortress was completed in 1452 (within four months) and the end came in the following year.

Rumeli Hisari

Rumeli Hisari

In truth, Constantinople was all but finished after the sack by the so-called Fourth Crusade in 1204. Although it was to struggle on for almost another 250 years, it was economically impoverished and close to being politically irrelevant. A city that had boasted a population of around half a million people had about 50,000 inhabitants by the time of the fall. With grim irony, it was the destructive greed of a Christian army that effectively made Constantinople an easy target for the Muslim Ottomans.

Rumeli Hisari may not be an architectural masterpiece in the manner of Istanbul’s great churches and mosques – after all, it was built in quick time for very pragmatic reasons – but it is still impressive and for anyone with an interest in history, it is one of the most significant buildings in Europe. This was where the life was strangled out of the remnants of the Byzantine Empire, which by then effectively meant the city of Constantinople.

View across the Bosphorus

View across the Bosphorus

The fortress offers modern day visitors wonderful views over the Bosphorus, which of course was one of the primary reasons for its existence, though its defenders were not there to admire the scenery. It was subsequently used as a customs house and prison. These days, the place functions as a museum and outdoor concert hall.

The site is open daily with the exception of Wednesdays. For anyone with a sense of history, it is a genuinely evocative place.

Istanbul’s Great Buildings – Süleymaniye Mosque

The vast Süleymaniye Mosque was built in the 1550s and like the later Sultan Ahmed Mosque, lifts its hat in acknowledgement to Hagia Sophia. The three buildings have a similar appearance, all being dominated by a large dome. It was, as its name suggests, ordered by Sultan Süleyman (‘the Magnificent’) and completed some eight years before his death.

Süleymaniye Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque

The Süleymaniye is, perhaps, the most impressive of Istanbul’s mosques. The courtyard is particularly splendid, with its elegant colonnaded arches. Inside, the space feels huge, the area (almost) a square with light flooding in. The interior does not have the abundance of ceramic tiles of the Sultan Ahmed, with rather more subtle decorations being the order of the day.

Courtyard

Courtyard

The lovely gardens house two mausoleums, one containing the tomb of Sultan Süleyman. Also here is the tomb of Mimar Sinan, the architect charged with designing the mosque. Fittingly, Sinan designed his own tomb, a triangular affair that is modest in appearance, suggesting that his deserved reputation as the greatest of Ottoman architects did not go to his head.

Sinan tomb

Sinan tomb

The architect of the Blue Mosque, Sedefkar Mehmed Agha, was a pupil of Sinan and the influence is clearly visible. It’s a pretty safe bet that any sizeable mosque with a domed roof that you encounter in Istanbul was either designed by Sinan or one of his protégés.

As with most large mosques, the Süleymaniye is a complex of buildings and includes a hamam (bath-house). It is open to the public for use, though there is something faintly disturbing in that free life insurance is offered during a bath.

Something to recommend the Süleymaniye is that you don’t get the hordes of tourists that frequent Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. A visit feels much more leisurely here, and there is a row of pleasant little cafés and restaurants next to the mosque, where you can sit with a cup of coffee and admire the architecture and watch the activity.

Interior

Interior

If you find that your visit coincides with a time for prayer, the mosque is next door to the University’s Botanic Gardens, which is a pleasant place to stroll around for a while until the worshippers have gone.