Turkey // Around the Sea of Marmara //

Selimiye Camii

Designed by the eighty-year-old Mimar Sinan in 1569, at the command of Selim II, the masterly Selimiye Camii is one of Turkey’s finest mosques. The work of a confident craftsman at the height of his powers, it’s visible from some distance away on the Thracian plain.

You can approach the Selimiye across the central park, Dilaver Bey, then through the Kavaflar Arasta (Cobbler’s Arcade), built by Sinan’s pupil Davut and still used as a covered market, full of household goods, souvenirs and cheap clothing. Every day, beneath the market’s prayer dome, the shopkeepers promise to conduct their business honestly.

The mosque courtyard, approached from the arasta up a flight of stone steps, is surrounded by a colonnaded portico with arches in alternating red and white stone, ancient columns, and domes of varying size above the arcades. Its delicately fashioned şadırvan (ablutions fountain) is the finest in the city. In a nod to his predecessors, Sinan gave each of the four identical, slender minarets three balconies. At 71m, they’re the second tallest in the world after those in Mecca. The detailed carved portal once graced the Ulu Cami in Birgi and was transported here in pieces, then reassembled.

It’s the celestial interior, however, and specifically the dome, which impresses most (no photos). Planned expressly to surpass that of Aya Sofya in İstanbul, it succeeds, at 31.5m in diameter, by a bare few centimetres, thus achieving Sinan’s lifetime ambition. Held aloft by eight mammoth but surprisingly unobtrusive twelve-sided pillars, the cupola floats 44m above the floor, covered in calligraphy proclaiming the glory of Allah. Immediately below the dome, the muezzin’s platform, supported on twelve columns, is an ideal place from which to contemplate the proportions of the mosque. The water of the small marble drinking fountain beneath symbolizes life, under the dome of eternity. The most ornate stone carving is reserved for the mihrab and mimber, backed by fine İznik faïence illuminated by sunlight streaming in through the many windows.

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