Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Istanbul

Last Updated on July 13, 2022

The Rüstem Pasha Mosque (Rüstem Paşa Camii, 1560)in Istanbul's Eminönü district by the Golden Horn, is among the city's architectural gems, but it is currently closed for renovations (May 2016). No date is given for its re-opening.

This is the first example of the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan building a mosque to an octagonal plan.

Although small, it is beautifully proportioned (as you can see in the photo to the right), and the interior is covered in some of the most exquisite İznik faience(colored tiles) ever produced.

Colored tiles & lamps in the Rüstem Pasha Mosque...

The tiles, made at the height of Iznik's supremacy, have a good deal of the famous red color that was the envy of other tilemakers (blue, yellow, white and green were easy colors to produce, but red was extraordinarily difficult.)

Notice also the kündekâri doors of carved and inlaid wood, and the intricate gilded trim (kalemisi) high on the walls and ceiling in the vestibule.

Rüstem Pasha (1500-1561), a Bosnian by birth, was the son-in-law and a grand vezir of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-1566). Although competent, he is remembered in history for having plotted with Süleyman's wife, the famous Roxelana (Hürrem Sultan) to denouncePrince Mustafa, Süleyman's son and heir to the throne, as mastermind of an army plot to dethrone the sultan. Süleyman had Mustafa beheaded, which allowed Roxelana's son Prince Selim, an incompetent drunkard interested only in the pleasures of the harem, to succeed to the throne.

Roxelana died in 1558, but her son Selim the Sot (1566-1574) did ascend to the throne upon Süleyman's death. Selim's reign is considered the end of the great period of the Ottoman Empire, and the beginning of its long decline.

(Each of the sultan's wives and concubines wanted her own son to succeed to the throne because then she, the mother, would become Valide Sultan (Queen Mother), the second-most powerful position in the empire.)

Although the pasha was among the wealthiest men in the Ottoman Empire at the height of its power and glory, as the sultan's humble servant, it was not Rüstem's place to build a grand mosque that might rival that of his imperial master. So he selected a site in the midst of the market, at the foot of the hill crowned by Süleyman's grand mosque, the SüleymaniyeIstanbul's largest.

Instead of size and grandeur, Rüstem sought exquisite artistic refinement, and that's what he got.

Perhaps the best way to visit the Rüstem Pasha Mosqueis on my Istanbul Bazaars Walking Tour, starting at the Grand Bazaar in Beyazıt Square, continuing along Uzunçarşı Caddesi to the mosque, then turning right (east) and continuing along Hasırcılar Caddesi to the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar in Eminönü, and the Galata Bridgeover the Golden Horn (map).

Please be prepared for a mosque visit when you come. More...

—by Tom Brosnahan

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