What came along with the 600-year rule of the Ottoman empire is its architecture. Ottoman architecture has been heavily influenced by two major sources. The first is the Seljuk architecture of Anatolia and the second is a Christian influence, Byzantine architecture, though Ottoman architecture, in general, is developed based on the description in the Quran and characterizes under Islamic architecture.
Over these 600 years, the architecture of not only Turkey but also the neighbouring regions like Egypt, Hungary, Tunisia, Algiers, and few others saw developments that can be broadly classified into three phases.
Early Ottoman period
The first phase, the early Ottoman period spanning roughly between the 9th century and the 15th century. The Anatolian influence can be seen in the architecture of Bursa and Edirne, mainly during the 14th and 15th centuries. This was the birth of Ottoman architecture. Mosques were and still are one of the most striking features of Ottoman architecture. They were continuously developed throughout the Ottoman empire.
In the early phase, multiple buildings called Tekkes were constructed to house holy men. They were built in close vicinity to a mosque or mausoleum. This entire complex is termed Kulliye. By the end of this phase, the integration of Turkish baths, soup kitchens, tombs, hospitals and schools into the complex was observed. Most of the buildings from this period are domed and have a central plan structure.
The mosques can be classified into three types: tiered, single dome and subline angled mosques. One of the first examples of the Ottoman single dome mosque is the Haci Ozbek Mosque in Iznik. Mosques also had exterior facades of windows and gates, highlighting the Byzantine influence.
The classical period came next, spanning from the 11th century to the 17th. Most of the existing examples of Ottoman architecture come from this period. A strong Byzantine influence, especially that of Hagia Sophia runs through the architecture of the classical period. Several mosques can be found that are similar to Hagia Sophia but with different proportions, openings, colonnades and interiors. Mosques now had an interior and exterior courtyard.
All the buildings had clean and logical plans and elevations. Each part was designed considering its impact on the whole monument. Hierarchy in the function of an element and elimination of unnecessary details was key to this phase of Ottoman architecture. The buildings maintained their iconic central dome, a series of half domes, buttresses and minarets, all features symbolic of Ottoman architecture.
The architect behind most buildings of the 16th century is Miman Sinan. He focussed on simplicity, character and open spaces that balanced the heavily built structures. The growth of mosques and complexes were seen during his time. The Süleymaniye Complex, Selimiye Mosque are some of his most noted works that have stood strong despite multiple earthquakes. He perfected the dome construction along with half domes and the pencil-shaped minarets.
The final phase of ottoman architecture is the westernization period. Several western influences including Baroque and Rococo can be seen in the architecture of this period, resulting in more ornate and decorative elements. This period could also be viewed as the Ottoman revival period, based on utilizing modern construction techniques and material like reinforced concrete, steel, iron and glass.
Elements of the traditional Ottoman architecture such as pointed arches, tile decoration, wide roof overhangs with brackets, and domes were retained. Several architects in regions such as Iran and Azerbaijan tried to incorporate their vernacular architecture into the ottoman revival.
Traditionally, Ottoman architecture consists of stone, brick and timber. The stone used for the foundation, brick for the arches, domes and vaults and wood for decorative and some structural purposes. During the classical period, lead capped domes and minarets, polychrome glazed ceramic tiles, Iznik tiles of white and blue replaced marble. Geometric designs were adorned with coloured stone, exotic wood and gold. Calligraphy was also an important aspect of Ottoman architecture.
The central dome of a mosque covered the prayer hall. In the classical period, the size of this central dome increased in size, supported by half domes and small domes. An arcaded courtyard flanks the prayer hall along the façade opposite the qibla wall. The minarets built around this structure had up to three balconies resting on corbelled muqarnas vaults. Mosques with royal assistance had up to six minarets.
The mosque complexes usually had garden pavilions and were centrally planned to free up the surrounding four sides of the built structure. Mosques were considered to be the focal point in Ottoman cities. On modernization, the cities saw an increase in the number of parks, bridges, fountains, pavilions, summer houses, tombs, palaces, clock towers, civic spaces, and bazaars.
Ottoman architecture is influenced by the concept of ‘paradise garden’. Each building was designed in a way that connects art with the spaces of everyday life. Trees planted alongside streets as a balancing element created harmony between the massive masonry structures and nature and open spaces. Ottoman cities were built to ‘look as though they are extensions of the piece of land where they were built’. The influence of nature can be seen in their details and decorative patterns, mosque ceilings, palace walls, summer palaces and frescoes.
The private houses of the ottoman period- konak(mansion)and yali(summer house) had their foundations and ground floors made of stone. The upper floors overlooked the streets and had wooden lattice screens for the women. Houses were planned around a central gallery room that was surrounded by all the other rooms. It was divided based on the parts that could be visited by guests and family members. Larger houses had courtyards separating the areas based on their function, and also had fountains and pools. The houses were designed to respond to the context of Turkey and other regions that see the influence of Ottoman architecture.
The Ottoman architecture depicts a beautiful relationship between nature and architecture. It shows us to strike a balance between the two and build harmony, without one overpowering the other. It is a beautiful amalgamation of Islamic and Christian influences of architecture, seen in its characteristic domes and arches, and stained glass windows.