The Sisli Mosque

An Ottoman Building in the Early Republican Era

Southern view of the mosque. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

Şişli Mosque is the first monumental religious building of Istanbul in the Republican era, and has been accepted as a stylistic example, providing a prototype for thousands of neo-Ottoman mosques built in its wake. It is also the first mosque in the city’s history that was built not under the aegis of the sultan or statesmen but through the collective effort of the people.

Vasfi Egeli (front row, third from right) and others involved in the construction of the mosque, standing before the mihrap. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

Its architect, Vasfi Egeli (3rd from right on the front row), is regarded as one of the last representatives of the First National Architecture style that combines late Ottoman and early Republican periods. It cannot be denied that Egeli was influenced by the leading masters of this style. Şişli Mosque exhibits features, however, that show Egeli followed a different line from his predecessors who created buildings that differed from traditional examples by using elements from Seljuk and Ottoman styles, and was much more of a revivalist and remained much more faithful to the Ottoman legacy in his spatial design and in details. 

The alem installed. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

As Beyoğlu begins to lose ground as a coveted residential area in the 1940s and the elite crowd begins to move north towards Şişli, the political, demographic, and cultural weight of the city shifts along this axis. The Muslim population of this cosmopolitan district needed a mosque, and the “Association for the Construction of and Support for a Mosque in Şişli” was founded with the support of Dr. Lütfi Kırdar, the governor of İstanbul at the time; a 3219.5 square-meter lot that belonged to the Special Provincial Directorate of Administration, where the Cavalry Barracks used to be (Fig. 1), was handed over to the association for a symbolic sum on the condition that a mosque would be built there. With the financial aid of both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities of the neighbourhood, the construction began in June 1945 and completed in 1949. The mosque was designed by Vasfi Egeli (1890-1962); Fikri Santur (1876-1951) created the static project, and detail drawings were made by Nazimi Yaver Yenal (1904-1987) and Vahan Kantarcı.

View from Halaskârgazi Avenue of the Bulgarian Ekzarkhia and the Bomonti Brewery behind it, 1928. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

İstanbul’s Şişli district emerged during the late 19th century as the result of the northward expansion of Pera/Beyoğlu and westward expansion of Teşvikiye-Nişantaşı neighborhoods. The urban axis that extends from Taksim to the mulberry orchard of Mecidiyeköy and reaches Şişli connects a heterogeneous urban fabric made up of single buildings, vegetable gardens, cemeteries, barracks, training grounds, factories, and vacant lots. The tram line brought with it high residential buildings on both sides and office spaces that served modern life, carrying the modernism of the Ottoman and later the Republican era to north, where the new expansion of the city occurs. Continuing its development during the early Republican period as one of the most prestigious districts of the city with its Western look, Şişli gets a mention in the operetta Lüküs Hayat [Lush Life], which humorously deals with changing life styles in İstanbul, as the representative of modernity with the words, “an apartment building in Şişli.” 

Northern view of the mosque., 1940s, From the collection of: İstanbul Research Institute
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Vasfi Egeliİstanbul Research Institute

Vasfi Egeli was born in İstanbul as the son of the chamberlain Ömer Lütfi Bey, and graduated from Sanayi-i Nefise Mekteb-i Alisi (Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University) in 1913. He gained experience in the restoration of Ottoman works by working under Kemaleddin Bey, the chief architect of the Administration of Pious Foundations, Ali Ta’lat, and Mehmed Nihad [Nigisberk] as member of the construction board of the Pious Foundations. Following the retirement of M. Nihad Bey, he became the chief architect of the Pious Foundations and carried out the restoration of numerous works, among which were the Süleymaniye, Şehzade, Edirnekapı Mihrimah Sultan, and Hırka-i Şerif mosques as well as the sultan’s pavilion at the New Mosque. He also directed the extensive repairs of architect Sinan’s tomb in Süleymaniye, and renewed the Ağa Mosque in Beyoğlu in 1938 in the classic style. Built in 1947, the Feneryolu Mosque is an unassuming work designed prior to the Şişli Mosque. 

The plot and surroundings of Şişli Mosque on Pervititch map prior to construction, 1923. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

During the years the mosque was built, Şişli hosted hundreds of buildings in the eclectic, neo-classical, beaux-arts, art-déco, art-nouveau and cubic styles, none ever able to dominate the others in size or style, and all with different heights and sizes. As part of this heterogeneous fabric, the Şişli Mosque was designed in the classical Ottoman style.  Halaskargazi Avenue makes a curve right before the mosque lot, which gives the mosque a unique dominance over an urban artery never before enjoyed by any other building.

Halaskârgazi Avenue. Ali Enis Oza, early 20th century. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

The foundations of the mosque almost completed. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

The mosque is placed along the kiblah axis and makes an acute angle with Halaskargazi Avenue, with its ground at a higher elevation compared to the courtyard; it has an entrance portico made up of five units, a harim (prayer hall), and a minaret on its northeastern corner. Limestone was used in the walls, Marmara marble was used in the door and window frames, columns and capitals; green breccia was used to decorate certain details like the discharging arches of windows, the depressed arch of the portal, the corner colonnettes of the mihrab, and the arches on the şadırvan (ablution fountain) façades.

The scaffholding of the central dome., 1940s, From the collection of: İstanbul Research Institute
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Entrance portico completed, with the construction of the harimsuperstructure in progress. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

Reinforced concrete was used in the central dome and the semi-domes of the mosque and the columns that support these, but these “modern” elements were skillfully hidden within the ashlar stone work so that the traditional look of the structure remained intact. Combining modern technologies like reinforced concrete with historical details while going back to traditional architectural forms was not seen as a contradiction.

View of the muezzin’s mahfil from the ladies’ mahfil in the east. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

The harim is made up of a square-shaped central space and three rectangular wings that attach to it on the southern, eastern, and western sides; the main dome is surrounded by three semi-domes covering the lateral wings. The mahfils (elevated galleries) reserved for women on the lateral wings are supported by marble columns that are connected with “Bursa arches”. Above the entrance through the northern wall is the mahfil of the muezzin, with less depth.

Construction of the muqarnas pendentive on the semidome of the mihrab. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

The pendentives providing the transition to the semi-dome of the mihrap adorned with large muqarnas can be found in buildings from the period of Bayezid II such as the Atik Ali Paşa and Davud Paşa mosques in Çemberlitaş. Both the design and the calligraphic composition of the portal is noticeably influenced by the portal of the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque by architect Sinan.

Harim portal under construction., 1940s, From the collection of: İstanbul Research Institute
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Construction of the superstructure and the minaret completed up to the şerefe. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

“… since last year, citizens have been donating Money and materials so that Şişli Mosque will rise rapidly. During the weekends, tradesmen, engineers, architects, doctors, and people from other professions want to volunteer their work for the mosque, even if it is carrying a stone like a workman. It is especially exciting to see among them Armenian, Greek, and Jewish citizens ready to make material and spiritual contributions.”

(Seyfi Arkan, “Şişli Mosque Rises Rapidly,” Cumhuriyet, November 10, 1947)

Eid prayers at the mosque still under construction. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

“That is why, even though the building is not yet completed and the domes have not been finished, that calls to prayer were sung at the mosque during the month of Ramadan, and the people have prayed in masses on the marble floor of the mosque. The carpets and chandeliers given as presents contributed to the rapid completion of this monument.”

(Seyfi Arkan, “Şişli Mosque Rises Rapidly,” Cumhuriyet, November 10, 1947)

Tarawih prayer at the mosque, still under construction., 1940s, From the collection of: İstanbul Research Institute
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Tarawih prayer at the mosque, still under construction. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

The alem installed. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

It is an occasion for joy and pride for Turkish architecture that 200 years after the last great, classical, and accomplished Turkish mosque was built, we have seen a work of the same caliber built in Turkey.”

(Seyfi Arkan, “Şişli Camii Süratle Yapılıyor”, Cumhuriyet, 10.11.1947)

Congregation praying during the opening. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

Courtyard façade of the library. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

On the surrounding walls with rectangular windows bearing iron fences, there is a door with a depressed arch on each of the eastern, western, and southern walls. On the northern edge of the fountain courtyard, beyond the shed with diamond-shaped capitals, the single-floor annex buildings are located. On the eastern end of this wing, which joins the Halaskargazi Avenue, there is a two-floor library resembling a pavilion.

Western courtyard portal and the şadırvan. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

The şadırvan designed by Yenal is placed in the western section of the courtyard. Trials have been carried out with a wooden model on a scale of 1/1 in order to determine its correct location. The interesting design at the upper part of the fountain, along with the Quranic verses in behind the large palmettes, and the soap holders above the taps are noteworthy as original details created by Yenal using classical lines.

Basmala inscribed on the courtyard portal to Halaskargazi Avenue. (1940s)İstanbul Research Institute

The architectural details, the ornamental elements of the mosque, as well as the calligraphic compositions created by Hamid Aytaç, Macid Ayral and Halim Özyazıcı, the renowned calligraphers of the period, are all in harmony with the architecture, and reflect the classical Ottoman style. 

Credits: Story

Curator: M. Baha Tanman
Coordinators: Zeynep Ögel, Gülru Tanman
Digital adaptation: Başak Arifoğlu, Umut Koca; Irmak Wöber

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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