Muslims are known as the greatest builders in history. Some of the finest and most splendid buildings in the world including the Alhamra and the Mosque of Cordova in Spain; the Taj Mahal of Agra and the Jami Mosque of Delhi; the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo; the Friday Mosque of Isfahan and the Sulaimaniya and Salimiya Mosques of Istanbul, have been built by Muslims. A large number of magnificent palaces built by Muslims in Cordova, Cairo, Baghdad, Istanbul, and Samarkand, have perished due to the ravages of time or razed to the ground by the later invaders.
The history of architecture is full of the achievements of Muslim architects who raised splendid monuments in different parts of the world. But the greatest among the Muslim architects was Sinan who is credited with erecting 343 magnificent buildings throughout the Ottoman Empire.
Sinan, usually called ‘Khudai-Memar Sinan’, is universally recognized as the greatest architect of his time and of the Ottoman Empire. He was born on April 15, 1489, in Kaisariya (Anatolia). He was the son of Abdal-Mannan. He became a Janissary in Istanbul. As a Janissary in the Ottoman army, he distinguished himself for bravery in the campaigns against Belgrade in 1521 and Rhodes in 1522. Later he was promoted to the post of Chief Fire-work Operator in the Ottoman army.
During the Persian war, fought by the Ottomans in 1534 A.C., he devised ferries for crossing Lake Van which were very effective and led to the victory of the Turks.
When the Ottoman Sultan Salim I, advanced on Wallachia, Sinani hastily built a bridge across the River Danube which laid the foundation of his rising fame.
Henceforward, he was assigned the task which suited his genius. He was extensively engaged in erecting monumental buildings on orders from the Sultan and the grandees of the great Ottoman Empire.
After the death of Salim I, he built the Salimiya Mosque on the top of a hill overlooking Istanbul.
Sulaiman, the magnificent, the successor of Sultan Salim I, is credited with raising some of the best monuments throughout the vast Ottoman Empire. These monuments were built by Sinan under orders of Sulaiman.
These include the Mosque of Roxelana (Khasseki Khurram) built-in 1539, the Princes Mosque built-in 1548, the Sulaimaniya Mosque built-in 1550—56, and the Salimiya Mosque of Adrianople built on the orders of Salim II. These are considered to be his best efforts.
In addition to these, Sinan is credited with erecting numerous mosques, palaces, schools, bridges, and baths, etc. His biographer, poet Mustafa Sai, gives a list of 81 mosques, 50 chapels, 55 schools, 7 Quran Schools, 16 kitchens for the poor, 3 infirmaries, 7 aqueducts, 8 bridges, 34 palaces, 13 rest houses, 3 storehouses, 33 baths, 19 domed tombs, totaling 343 buildings built by the famous architect, Sinan, during a period of three-quarters of a century in a region extending from Bosnia to Makkah.
Sinan displayed an incomparable lightness of touch in his construction of domes. “On a square, hexagonal octagonal base he developed his interiors, always striving at the effect of a great ceremonial hall, a uniform architecture enclosing the worshipping rulers and their hosts”.
Sinan is mostly concerned with the interior of his buildings, sometimes at the cost of their exterior, “But everywhere”, says Gurlitt, “appears the peculiarity of the Turkish character. Everywhere he creates models which are as little Byzantine as they are Persian, as little Syrian as they are Seljuk, but all the more Turkish”. He had a large number of pupils who attained great fame as architects. These included Ahmad Agha Kamal al-Din, Daud Agha, Yatim Baba Ali, Yusuf, and Sinan, the junior. Yusuf, his favorite pupil, is reputed to be the architect of the palaces at Delhi, Lahore, and Agra built by Akbar.
This great Muslim architect, Sinan, breathed his last on July 17, 1578, at the age of 90 years and was buried under the shadow of his masterpiece, Sulaimaniya Mosque of Istanbul.