Süleyman was an unusual sultan in that he actually legally married a concubine from his harem and made her his sole wife………
Süleyman ascended to the throne at the age of twenty-five and in August 1521, on the first major campaign of his reign, he captured Belgrade – gateway to western Europe. He extended his Hungarian territories in 1526 and by autumn 1529 was besieging Vienna. But he was forced to raise the siege and return to Istanbul following heavy losses, and before winter really set in.
Süleyman was an unusual sultan in that he actually legally married a concubine from his harem and made her his sole wife. It is believed the marriage took place in 1533 by which time Roxelana, as she is known in the west, had already borne him six children.
In the spring of 1534 he turned his attention to the eastern borders of his empire and led his army in an invasion of Iran and Iraq capturing Tabriz and Baghdad.
On Roxelana’s birthday in 1538 Süleyman surprised her with the gift of a mosque complex designed by Sinan and named after her Haseki Hürrem Camii. Sinan was to become the chief imperial architect and construct hundreds of buildings for several sultans over a very long life – he died the week before his 99th birthday. In 1550 Süleyman commissioned Sinan to build the Süleymaniye, the world’s most magnificent mosque complex, instantly recognizable as an intrinsic part of Istanbul’s famous skyline. The complex comprises an imperial mosque, four theological colleges and their preparatory school, a school to teach reading of the Koran, a school of sacred tradition, a primary school, a medical college, a hospital, an insane asylum, a public kitchen, a market street, a public bath and two tombs: one for Süleyman and the other for Roxelana. When the Süleymaniye was finally completed in 1557 Sinan is reputed to have said:
“I have built for thee, O emperor, a mosque which will remain on the face of the
earth until the day of judgement.”
It has certainly lasted well for almost five hundred years weathering countless earthquakes.
Before the Süleymaniye complex was completed Süleyman had led his army in triumph into Aleppo in November 1555. In March 1558 Roxelana died and was duly interred in her splendid tomb within the Süleymaniye. Following her death, Süleyman’s two surviving sons, Selim and Beyazit, starting fighting over the succession, with Selim eventually winning and ensuring that Beyazit, and all his five sons, were executed.
In Turkey Süleyman is known as the Kanuncu or Lawgiver because he was the first sultan to codify civil law and reconcile it with religious law. His whole reign saw a vast expansion in Ottoman spheres of influence not only through the conquering of additional territory, but also with a great growth in trade to and from the empire. In particular Turkey exported carpets and textiles which dazzled western Europe.
By spring of 1566 Süleyman was ailing and when the army left Istanbul to campaign in southern Hungary, he had to ride in a carriage being incapable of riding a horse. He died in early September of a heart attack with only his grand vizier and doctor present. The grand vizier quickly killed the doctor and sent a messenger to summon Selim from Kütahya where he was governor, asking him to meet the army on its march back to Istanbul. The grand vizier, along with two trusted servants, managed to pretend that Süleyman was still alive until Selim joined them near Belgrade and accompanied his father’s body to Istanbul. Selim was acclaimed sultan and, the next day, he buried his father at the Süleymaniye.