Welcome dear mosque lovers or those of you who are keen on learning about Islamic architecture! Today, I am here to introduce to you one of the most underrated mosques in Istanbul:
The Fatih Mosque also known as Conqueror’s Mosque.
While searching especially for historically remarkable mosques to visit the most popular ones you are likely to encounter are, without a doubt, the Blue Mosque, Eyüp Sultan Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, etc.
So, the chances of skipping this monumental structure are high. No worries though, my job here is to make sure that you don’t!
P.S. Even though this mosque is most of the time overlooked by travelers, it is a popular mosque among the disciples of Islam religion.
In fact, it receives roughly a thousand visitors every day. So, don’t be surprised if you encounter a crowd. And also please check the hours of azan (5 times a day) since you cannot visit any mosque during prayer time.
Fun fact: According to the statistics of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, there are 84.684 (3.385 in Istanbul) mosques in Turkey! You know what they say – the more the merrier! We must have taken it quite seriously…
Enough of the background informarion, let’s jump straight to the facts, shall we?
1 – The Fatih Mosque was built on behalf of Mehmed the Conqueror
Both the district Fatih’s name (where the mosque is located) and the mosque’s name come from the legendary emperor who took Constantinople from the Byzantines – Mehmet the Conqueror.
Important to note, this mosque is the first selatin mosque* in Istanbul after the conquer.
The Fatih Mosque was also built as a part of a large social complex consisting of 16 madrasahs (Muslim theological schools), a Turkish bath, soup kitchen, library, guest house, and a hospital.
Selatin mosque: It is the name given to the mosques built by the sultans and their families in the Ottoman era.
2 – Unfortunately the mosque lost its original appearance after an earthquake hit Istanbul in 1766
The mosque is constructed on the site of the Church of the Holy Apostles built by Constantine I who placed there the tombs of 12 apostles.
This magnificent church, however, was defeated by time and was standing as a ruin by the time the city was conquered by Mehmed II.
Sultan Mehmed II, on the other hand, did not want to demolish the ruin of the church altogether. Instead, he started the construction of the mosque in 1462 above the foundation of this ruined church and it was completed in 1470 after 8 years of work.
Unfortunately, the mosque was heavily damaged during the earthquake in 1509 and had to be repaired during the reign of Bayezid II.
Yet when the second earthquake hit Istanbul in 1766, it was damaged beyond repair this time. Therefore, during the reign of Mustafa III, it had to be rebuilt with a different design, losing its original appearance.
In 2008 the mosque also underwent restoration and reinforcement after the damage from the very fatal Gölcük Earthquake in 1999 was discovered on the grounds of the mosque.
Even though most of the relicts of the original mosque were lost after this tragedy, today you still find some valuable artifacts from the reign of Mehmet II such as the water-tank with a fountain at the entrance and the crown gate.
P.S. It is also said that the tombs of Constantine I and many other early Byzantine emperors remained below the foundation of the mosque.
3 – The first azan in Turkish was recited in the Fatih Mosque
Translating azan into Turkish was a very big deal in Turkish history which has its roots in a movement called Turkism. Turkism became widespread in the 19th century, however, it gained its momentum especially after the Republic of Turkey was founded.
In the early phase of the Turkish Republic, it was decided that the azan (call to the prayer) now would be recited in Turkish rather than in Arabic as a result of this effort of Turkism and secularism. Then in 1941, azan in Arabic was prohibited altogether up until the 1950s.
The first azan in Turkish was actually recited in the Fatih Mosque in 1932.
4 – It is one of the most remarkable examples of Ottoman architecture
To begin with, the mosque is said to be an unequaled example of Islamic Persian Madrasah architecture and a part of Near Eastern architectural tradition. But what makes it so outstanding?
Looking from the exterior, the mosque has one central dome supported by 4 semi-domes; and its courtyard, entrance, and minarets (that are actually from its original construction) are an example of Baroque style.
The interior design also reminds that of Hagia Sophia with its high domes and the touch of calligraphy, still conforming to the Baroque style. The usage of tile is not as exquisite as the eye-catching Iznik tiles of the Blue Mosque yet still it is quite a sight to see.
One of the most interesting pieces of this mosque is surely the windows in the yard with wooden leaves (shown in the image above) that can be locked. Many people are confused about what these window leaves or closets (if we are to be more appropriate and contemporary) serve for.
Here is your answer: Mehmet II thought genially that people traveling to Istanbul without a place to stay can put their valuables there until they can find a place. One could also use the yard as a place to stay after locking their valuables safely on the window leaves.
Inside the mosque, you can see “the ten with glad tiding of paradise” as heralded by the prophet Muhammad before he died. This list of names is actually unique to the Fatih Mosque as it is not present in other mosques across the country.
Not to mention, there exists an example Hünkar Mahfili – something you might find interesting. Itis a private structure within the mosque where the Sultan, his family, and high-ranking statesman perform (Friday) prayers (Friday is the holy day in Islamic culture).
The structure is raised from above, rendering it private and outside the scope of the public eye.
Last but not least, in the library within the mosque, “Sakal-ı Şerif” (beard of Prophet Muhammad) is exhibited.
This holy relict mostly remains in the Fatih Mosque yet it is sometimes carried to other mosques for exhibition, especially on certain religious days and holidays out of the belief that it would bring prosperity.
5 – The architect of the mosque was actually a freedman from the Byzantine Empire
The name of the architect is Atik Sinan or Azadlı Sinan (Christodoulos was his Greek name) who was actually a Greek descendant.
Rumor has it that Atik Sinan actually fails at making the dome of the mosque larger and higher than that of Hagia Sofia which pisses off the Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.
The Sultan reprimands him and the architect answers by saying that he has built it the way it is to protect the mosque from the frequent earthquakes happening in Istanbul. The sultan becomes angrier and gets Atik Sinan’s hand severed in the end.
The story gets quite interesting here: Retaliation in mind, Atik Sinan goes to the judge who follows and exercises Islamic rules and accuses the sultan of being unfair, and thus he seeks justice by asking permission for severing the sultan’s hand.
The judge’s verdict is, surprisingly enough, that he is right. He proclaims that the Sultan’s hand can be severed in exchange.
Again, interesting enough, the Sultan also agrees with them and upon seeing the Sultan ready to get his hand amputated, Atik Sinan is amazed, immediately forgives the Sultan, and converts to Islam.
Yet at the same time, Mehmed II indeed granted the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Mary of the Mongols, to the mother of Atik Sinan as a thank you gift for his contribution to the construction of the mosque.
This is actually a confirmed fact by the way. Bayezid II (the son of Mehmed II) approved that in acknowledgment of his services the church was gifted to Atik Sinan’s family.
You are free to believe any of these narratives but keep in mind that historians agree on the enigmatic and complicated (almost contradictory) character of Mehmed II.
6 – Including the tomb of Mehmed II, there remains hundreds of mausoleums of important figures
One of the key reasons to visit this mosque lies in the fact that many important figures of Ottoman history are buried here. Can you guess one? Yes, of course, no other than Mehmed II himself!
In fact, it is quite like the Hollywood Star Walk in Los Angeles, only featuring grand viziers, important statesmen, scientists and reverends, Shayk al-Islam, and some family members of the sultan.
Fun fact: There are 409 tombstones in total minus the vacant tombs. To whom 47 tombs belong is still not known today.
If you want to check out some sort of an Islamic cemetery to see how the tombs are and what is different about them, pay a visit, will ya?
I also made a compilation of prominent names I think you should know. Here’s how the list goes:
Gülbahar Hatun – the wife of Mehmed II and the mother of Bayezid II
Osman Nuri Pasha – famous Ottoman field marshal knew for his outstanding defense against the Russian during the Siege of Plevna
Abedin Dino – an important contributor in the Albanian independence
Ahmed Cevdet Pasha – Ottoman scholar, bureaucrat, historian, and a very renowned reformist
Ahmet Mithat – very famous Ottoman author, translator, and journalist who is known for his commitment to the tradition
Mustafa Naili Pasha – Ottoman statesman and the grand vizier of Abdulmejid I
Sami Efendi – Ottoman calligrapher
Akif Pasha – Ottoman statesman, poet, and author
7 – The first university in Istanbul was inside the social complex of this mosque
Sahn-ı Seman Madrassah which is accepted as the first university in Istanbul used to be a part of the Fatih Mosque.
This “university” holds so much importance in that it was founded by Ali Qushji who is known for his contribution to astronomical physics- chiefly for his empiric evidence for the Earth’s rotation.
This university provided important training in the areas of physics, mathematics, theology, medicine, law, astronomy – ultimately an assemblage of positive sciences.
Until the construction of the Süleymaniye Mosque Madrassah, Sahn-I Seman Madrassah was unrivaled as being the most prestigious educational institution in the Ottoman era.
8 – Last but not least the first fire pool of the city is found here by the sultan Mahmud II
This mosque is marked by being the first of many things. Surely, one of the most important ones is the construction of a fire pool at the entrance of the yard.
Suffered from horrible fires (the thorniest one lasted for 7 full days), Istanbul needed to have its fire pool. In 1825, Mahmud II (late Ottoman era sultan who is known for his constructive reforms) commands for its composition.
In light of all of these, I highly recommend you visit the mosque. Not only it is extremely big, containing many other important structures within itself, but also it is located in a historic site of Istanbul in which you can have a taste of the Ottoman era and the high Eastern civilization of the olden times.
This could be both an enlightening and novel experience for you to say the least. If you decide to follow my lead, my last advice for you is to wander around the district for a while, especially in the nearby market area.
How to go? As mentioned, the Fatih Mosque is located in a district called Fatih which is on the European side of the city.
Depending on your location, you will probably have to use various means of transportation. The most reasonable way is to find a way to reach Eminönü and then transfer to a bus from there to Fatih.
If you are on the Anatolian side of the city, use the ferry from Kadıköy or Bostancı to Eminönü and then transfer to the bus with number 28.
If you are on the European side can also try to reach Eminönü either by bus or by tramway depending on whichever is more convenient for your route.