Shrines fit for sultans’ splendor

Shrines fit for sultans’ splendor

Niki Gamm ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Shrines fit for sultans’ splendor

Turbe construction in Anatolia followed some of the traditions of the Great Selçuks but following the Battle of Manzigert, the influx of numerous Turkish nomadic tribes led to experimentation in architectural forms and decoration. Hürriyet photo

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” but the wealthy and the powerful have from time immemorial wanted and gotten a special place in which to be buried, even in cultures that practiced cremation or exposure. The Ottomans were no different as they followed a long tradition that can be traced back to Central Asia with the shape of the mausoleums supposedly reflecting the shape of nomadic tents.

The earliest tomb structures from the Selçuk Turk period were built in the 11th century in present day Iran. They were low-lying, octagonal, without decoration and covered with a dome. The building material was stone although other mausoleums found in the Caspian Sea area were of brick. There was a narrow inscription in Kufic in one of them. Later this type of tomb would achieve monumental proportions. Other mausoleums from the later Selçuk period in Iran had double domes and reached heights of up to 13 meters in one case. While they were also of brick there were ornamental patterns with pointed arches in the facades of the octagonal buildings.

Turbe construction in Anatolia followed some of the traditions of the Great Selçuks but; following the Battle of Manzigert in 1071, the influx of numerous Turkish nomadic tribes led to experimentation in architectural forms and decoration. Some of the mausoleums were square or octagonal, hexagonal or 12-sided. Brick or stone might be used or some combination of the two. Domes topped some mausoleums while fluted, cylindrical roofs were on other ones.

Ottoman Turkish rulers were first buried in Bursa which served as their capital and this continued until Fatih Sultan Mehmed conquered Constantinople. As Oktay Aslanapa has pointed out, the turbes built for Osman and Orhan Ghazi are actually reconstructions that were erected in the mid-19th century to replace the two that had been destroyed over the centuries. The only original turbe is that of Bayazid I, built in 1406.

Most outstanding turbes

The Yeşil Turbe, or Green Mausoleum, is one of the most outstanding buildings in Bursa and was built at the beginning of the 15th century for Şelebi Sultan Mehmed I. It is an octagon raised over a burial chamber. The sarcophagus, which is completely covered in tiles, is on a raised platform. The tiles give verses taken from the Quran and floral patterns. Its dome is made of lead and has a pointed shape to it.

The other noteworthy change in the turbes in Bursa came about in first half of the 15th century also when Sultan Murad II specified in his will that he should be buried in a tomb that would be open to the rain and sky on top. Unlike other tombs, this one has no decoration inside but over the marble entry, the eaves are done in wood that has been beautifully worked in green, red and dark blue geometric designs.

The ability to produce better and better tiles led to more refined decorations in the turbes and to their appearing more frequently inside the structure itself. The tiles continued to develop and now there were realistic portrayals of flowers.

120 official turbes in Istanbul

In Istanbul there are 120 official turbes, according to the directorate within the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. About 10 percent of these belong to Ottoman sultans with a certain number of people who were members of the imperial dynasty including women. Of the others, they were either high court officials or the leaders of sufi sects. Muslims are enjoined to visit graves, including turbes, and pray.

Even today it’s not surprising to see someone stop at one of the prominent turbes and offer a prayer. It’s not encouraged though as it’s thought to lead to worshiping the deceased as a saint.
The turbe that the great architect Mimar Sinan built for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent is considered one of the most beautiful of all the mausoleums in Istanbul. This mausoleum was built in the garden behind the mosque. Most turbes actually were built in mosque complexes. The building is octagonal as many of the turbes are. The number eight has significance in Buddhism and other cultures but in Islam, it is supposed to be the number of angels who carry the throne of Allah in heaven. Whether or not Sinan thought of it that way, we can’t know but such a symbolic meaning would suit a turbe.

The mausoleum is surrounded with an arcade that allows the visitor to walk all the way around the building and, if it happens to be closed, one can at least look in the windows although it’s rather dark inside. The largest sarcophagus belongs to Süleyman but members of his family have been interred alongside him, his daughter Mihrimah, two later sultans and other women belonging to the dynasty.
Located in the same garden, the turbe belonging to Süleyman’s wife, Hürrem Sultan, is plainer and smaller.

Among all the other turbes in Istanbul, the ones at Hagia Sophia Museum are quite interesting. There are three large mausoleums and one small one in the area on the south side of the museum. One of these was originally the baptistery for the church but after the conquest, it was used for storing lamp oil. In the first half of the 17th century, it became the resting place of Sultan Ibrahim I and Sultan Mustafa I, both of whom were crazy. The other three mausoleums contain the remains of five sultans, three sultanas and 140 royal children. The mausoleum for Sultan Selim II is the most important as it was a work of Mimar Sinan. Both the inside and the outside are covered in beautiful İznik tiles that are a treat to see, even if one has to visit a mausoleum to do so.