Sinan,the Greatest Architect of all Time of the Ottoman Empire,was a Christian who at 21 was Forced to become a Muslim
The Devshirme System
This is a system that lasted in essence for 300 years,from 1330-1630 and where:
1.Every year or every several years thousands of children were stolen by Turkish-Muslim officials from Christian parents,usually from ages 8-12.If the parents were against it they were killed.
2.The number of children stolen was at least 500,000,others put it at 1 million.
3.The children were forced to become Muslim and learn Turkish.
4.The great majority became soldiers of the Sultan,the janissaries and they had to fight for him.
5.A very small number of the most intelligent were trained to become administrators,even viziers of the empire.The reason was that the Sultan was afraid of the aristocratic Turkish families,that they would kill him.So he depended on stolen children who had no family ties.
6.For a very long time janissaries were not allowed to marry,then,when they were given the right,the devshirme became more and more hereditary,the new janissaries being the children of janissaries and not Christian children stolen by the Muslims.
Joseph,later called Mimar Sinan (1490-1588)
One of those taken was a young man of 21,a late age to be taken,who was a Christian called Joseph.The basics of his life are:
1.He is known as Mimar (Turkish for “architect”) Sinan (Arabic for “spearhead”).He lived to be 98 years old and was the greatest architect of the Ottoman Empire.He was a stonemason and the son of a stonemason and forced to become a Muslim and janissary or soldier of the Sultan.
2.He served under 3 sultans Suleiman (Solomon),the greatest of the Ottoman rulers,under which the empire reached its height, Selim II (who was defeated in the great naval battle of Lepanto,in which Cervantes,author of Don Quixote,participated), and Murad III.
Architect of 300 Constructions
It is said he was the architect of 300 buildings:mosques,palaces,inns,baths,hospitals,aqueducts,Koranic schools,mausoleums,bridges.At age 50 he was made chief architect of the Sultan,meaning he was in charge of all the construction projects in the empire,a post he held for almost 50 years.
There is dispute as to whether he was Greek or Armenian,and he was born in where both Greeks and Armenians lived.It is possible he was of mixed origin.He was born in a small town called Aghurnas (present-day Mimarsinanköy) near the city of Kayseri in Anatolia,Turkey (as stated in an order by Sultan Selim II).Sinan wrote a letter to Selim II in 1573, asking the Sultan to spare his relatives from the general exile of Kayseri’s Armenian community to the island of Cyprus.So he was either 100% Armenian or partially Armenian,
His Military Career
He may have taken part in the attack on the island of Rhodes.Later he took part in the 2nd Battle of Belgrade(1521) when the Muslims conquered that city.The first Battle of Belgrade was in 1456 where the brilliant John Hunyadi of Transylvania,a Romanian noble,prevented the Muslims from capturing the city.
He took part in the 1st Battle of Mohacs in 1526,where the Hungarian king was killed,his army defeated and Hungary conquered.Later in the 2nd Battle of Mohacs in 1687,which was after the 2nd Battle of Vienna in 1683(the first was in 1529) and where the Muslims were twice defeated from conquering Vienna,the Muslims suffered a crushing defeat.
In 1535 he participated in the Baghdad campaign against Persia.in 1537 he went on expedition to Corfu and Apulia,Italy and finally to Moldavia.
The Sources about his Life
We are lucky that we have a biography of Sinan by his friend Mustafa Sai Celebi and Sinan’s autobiography,mostly about his professional career,not about his inner life,called the “Tezkiretü’l Bünyan”(Record of Construction).
The 2 Masterpieces of Sinan
Both of them are essentially copies of the Hagia Sophia of Justinian,of the 6th century.They are:
1.The Suleiman Mosque in Istanbul,built for Sultan Suleiman,when Sinan was around 70.
2.The Selim Mosque(1575) in Edirne(Adrianopolis),built for Sultan Selim,Suleiman’s son,when Sinan was around 80.Sinan and others consider it to be his masterpiece.
The Famous Bridge in Europe built by Sinan
In Bosnia there is a town called Visegrad and through it passes the Drina river.One of the Christian children born in Bosnia and stolen from his parents later became the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire and ruled for 14 years (1565-1579) as Sokollu Mehmed Pasha.He ordered Sinan to build a bridge across the Drina in Visegrad.To read more about Sokollu Mehmed Pasha:
Ivo Andric(1892-1975),the Greatest Writer in the Serb-Croat Language,wrote about the Drina Bridge
He was a Croat born and raised in Bosnia.He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961 and grew up in Visegrad.His masterpiece is “The Bridge over the Drina”,for which he won the Nobel.It tells of the Sinan bridge and the novel tells 400 years of history of the Muslims and Christians of the Bosnian area from the Ottoman Empire till the Austro-Hunagarian Empire.It begins with a little Christian boy taken from his mother and who later becomes Sokollu Mehmed Pasha.
Did Sinan really believe in Islam?
We do not know but by age 21 he had lived all his life as a Christian.Then he was captured,forced to become a soldier,forced to become a Muslim,fight for the Sultan.He lived to be almost 100 and I think it is 50% probable that in those almost 80 years as a Muslim(officially) he was really pretending,just like Skanderbeg and Maimonides.
Comparison of Sinan and Skanderbeg
Skanderbeg(1405-1468) was an Albanian prince and was around 12 or 14 when he was sent as a hostage by his parents to the Sultan in Istanbul.He became a Muslim and pretended to be one for more than 20 years,fought for the Muslims in their battles,later retracted and led military campaigns against them.He is the greatest hero of the Albanians.
Comparison of Sinan and Maimonides
Maimondes(1135-1204) was the greatest Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages and was also a youth,like Sinan, when he was forced to convert to Islam,to save his life,as the law said that all Jews and Christians had to convert or die.Later he retracted but for some years he pretended to be a Muslim.
Video about Sinan’s Life
Video showing the Inside of the Suleman Mosque
Video showing the Selim Mosque in Edirne(ancient Adrianopolis).It is his masterpiece.