Sokullu Mehmet Paşa’s Mosque in Istanbul is a feast for the eye’s for Iznik tile lovers. Another example by the famous architect, Sinan, it has a few unique features within which make it well worth seeking out when you’re next in the nation’s capital.
Strictly speaking it is a külliye (a mosque complex) and it was designed and built by Sinan for Sokullu Mehmet Paşa, a man who was Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) to no less than three sultans.
To find the mosque start from the Museum of Islamic Arts (opposite the Blue Mosque) turn right and walk along to the end of the Hippodrome where you will see a narrow alley called Şehit Mehmet Paşa Yokuşu which winds down the hill. Follow the alley and you will come to the walled complex which contains the mosque and its medrese (theological complex).
Sokullu Mehmet, son of a Bosnian priest, was taken into the Janissary corps as a youth and educated at the palace school in Topkapı. He rose to be Grand Vizier to Süleyman the Magnificent in 1565, and continued in the same role for Süleyman’s son and successor Selim II whose daughter, Princess Esmahan, he married. In fact this mosque complex was built for her but is popularly known by his name.
After Selim died in 1574, Sokullu Mehmet Paşa continued as Grand Vizier under Murat III until 1579 when he was murdered by a mad soldier.
The mosque is one of Sinan’s most harmonious designs.
It has panels of Iznik tile in mint condition and features four tiny fragments of black stone from the Kabaa in Mecca (over the main entrance; above the mihrab; and two above the mimber). The mihrab is the prayer niche which always faces Mecca; the mimber is the pulpit with stairs from which the imam preaches on Fridays. The mimber in this mosque is also unusual in that it has a conical tiled top.
The mosque has hardly been restored since its original construction yet it is in wonderful condition. Given that it is built of stone and marble, and features tile and stained glass, all hard, harsh materials, it has, as the imam said during my visit “A beautiful, welcoming atmosphere” – he was right. Next time you find yourself in Istanbul with time to spare, be sure to visit this gem of a mosque.