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Mimar Sinan, master builder

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Many of the finest works of Ottoman civil and religious architecture throughout Turkey can be traced to Mimar Sinan (1489–1588), who served as court architect to three sultans – Süleyman the Magnificent, Selim II and Murat III. Probably born to Greek or Armenian Christian parents, he was conscripted into the janissaries in 1513. As a military engineer, he travelled the length and breadth of southeastern Europe and the Middle East, giving him the opportunity to become familiar with the finest Islamic – and Christian – monumental architecture there. His bridges, siegeworks, harbours, and even ships, earned him the admiration of his superiors.

Sultan Süleyman appointed Sinan court architect in April 1536, and he completed his first major religious commission, İstanbul’s Şehzade Camii, in 1548. Shortly thereafter, he embarked on a rapid succession of ambitious projects in and around the capital, including the waterworks leading from the Belgrade Forest and the Süleymaniye Camii. Competing with the Süleymaniye as his masterpiece was the Selimiye Camii, constructed between 1569 and 1575 in the former imperial capital of Edirne. Despite temptations to luxury, he lived and died modestly, being buried in a simple tomb he made for himself in his garden in the grounds of the Süleymaniye Camii – the last of more than five hundred constructions by Sinan, large and small, throughout the empire.

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