On a second visit to Istanbul, one of our goals was to find the imposing mosque we frequently saw looming way up on a hill. Especially when viewed from the Bosphorus, the mosque-on-the-hill is beautiful with its slim minarets rising into the sky and the ever growing city climbing up to meet it. When we finally did have an opportunity to go, we forgot to get directions beyond “up”. So starting from the Galata Bridge area, we just picked a street and started climbing. We wandered through areas that had no tourists, lots of traffic, and random stores with random stuff spilling out into the streets until we finally came right up against walls of the mosque complex.
Süleymaniye Camii is an Ottoman imperial mosque that can be found on the Third Hill of Istanbul. Which means nothing to the average visitor to the city. Basically, when you’re on Galata Bridge, put New Mosque on your left. Almost right in front of you in the distance and up in the air, the mosque you see is Süleymaniye. It is sitting on the Third Hill of Istanbul.
If you like exploring, this complex will keep you busy for quite a while. You may want to grab a bite to eat at the restaurant across the street. It looks simple and the food seems kind of humble, but it was actually very good. However, when I ate there, I was starving so that may have coloured my appreciation for the food… The cool thing about this place, though, is that it was the public kitchen of the historical mosque complex. A random way to eat history.
The Süleymaniye mosque and complex was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the time. It was constructed by the famous Sinan from1550 to1557. His other works included the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque and the Rüstem Pasha Mosque. The complex included many buildings besides the mosque itself. There were also a medical school, a madrasa, a Quran recitation school, an elementary school, a Turkish bath, a public soup kitchen, an asylum, a bazaar, and several tombs.
Entering the mosque’s courtyard gives you an idea what it means to have a mosque commissioned by a Sultan. It’s huge. There are four minarets (the number being a sign that a sultan was the commissioner), there is marble and granite everywhere, and there are domes upon domes upon domes. The main dome is 53 meters above your head and has a diameter of 27½ meters. The domes may remind you of Hagia Sophia, if you visited it first on your trip. Inside the mosque, there are Iznik tiles, marble, carved woodwork, ivory, mother of pearl, and 138 windows (many are of stained glass). The place is well visited but it is not as bad as the crush that can be the Blue Mosque.
On the outside of the mosque, there are two things that are worth seeing. One is the view of the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. This can be found at the back of the complex and is a great way to admire the amazing spread of Istanbul. The second thing you should check out is the tombs and mini cemetery. Sultan Suleiman I, the famous Roxelana (his wife), and their daughter Mihrimah Sultan are all buried here.
Süleymaniye Mosque and its complex are definitely worth a visit. It is one of the more beautiful mosques of the city, it has a lot of history to be appreciated, the people-watching is interesting all around the complex, and the views are phenomenal. Well worth a couple hours of your time.