A Seaman’s Temple Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque And Complex

One Of The 16th Century’s Greatest Admirals, Kılıç Ali Pasha Played A Key Role In The Ottoman Fleet’s Mediterranean Victories Due To His Keen Intelligence And Navigational Skills.

Thanks in particular to his superior maneuvering capability at the Battle of Lepanto, Sultan Selim II conferred on him the epithet Kılıç (Sword) and the title High Admiral.

A rare monument of the world cultural heritage with a history going back 430 years, Kılıc Ali Pasha Mosque Complex stands like a seaside mansion in the historic Istanbul district of Tophane. Built in the 16th century on land reclaimed from the sea, it still adorns the site today.  An interesting story lies behind the construction of this mosque, an architectural monument meant to perpetuate the name of this pasha when it was built. When the pasha requested land and permission from the sultan to commission the building of a mosque, the reply was: Oh, captain of the seas, if you are so powerful, build your mosque on the water! I won’t give you an iota of space on dry land!” To which Kılıç Ali Paşa replied: “You are right, Your Majesty. My place and home is on the high seas, so it is only fitting that my mosque should be erected there as well.” And the complex, which still stands today, went up on land reclaimed from the sea under the direction of architect Mimar Sinan.

Promising that it would emulate the Hagia Sophia, which he had been studying for years, but would incorporate elements of Turkish architecture as well, master architect Sinan said of Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque: “God willing, this temple will stand until Doomsday even if the sea rage and rough waves wash over its dome!” Blackened by years of dark smoke rising from the smokestacks of buildings and ferries, Kılıç Ali Pasha is a virtual mini-model of its pink-hued counterpart, the Hagia Sophia. Surrounding the mosque complex is a large courtyard with four entrances in its symmetrical walls. In the center of the courtyard stands a very attractive pool covered by a delicate dome.

Passing from the courtyard with the pool into the inner courtyard which is set off by an iron railing, one comes to two sanctuaries, one with five domes and six columns, the other covered with a wooden canopy exhibiting refined examples of wood carving and wood workmanship.

On the whole this mosque exhibits more decorative elements than Sinan’s other works. Colorful ornamental tiles with floral motifs echoing the taste of the 16th century stand out in both the outer and inner sanctuaries. Kılıç Ali Pasha Mosque is rich in calligraphy as well. The splendid panels of the wooden doors that complement the mosque’s majestic entrance exhibit fine woodwork inlaid with ivory, ebony and apple wood as well as intricate reliefs and metal rosettes. One of the first sights that strikes the eye in the inner sanctuary are the bands of calligraphic writing outlined in white on dark blue on the fine tiles that encircle the upper walls. The mosque has a total of 147 windows counting the 24 in its large dome. And when sunlight hits the colorful patterns and motifs of the wide curving stained glass windows and falls on the floor below, the effect is one of outstanding visual richness and harmony. 

But surely one of the most prominent reflections of Ottoman architectural taste in the mosque is its Baroque-style mihrab (prayer niche), which is covered with a jutting semi-dome while its pedestal is encased in marble and its entire surface covered with fine Iznik floral tiles. All the arched windows surmounted by decorative tiles in the section of the kıbla wall (wall facing Mecca) facing the mosque’s central space are set with delicate stained glass so that the light seeping in turns this into the focal point of the temple through the simple splendor created by its harmonious decor. Meanwhile to the right of the mihrab, the minber (pulpit), which is set rather high, is made entirely of worked marble. Its delicate conical cover adds further splendor to the harmony of the mosque interior.

While this great temple dazzles with its exterior, the harmony and splendor of its interior warm hearts as well. The bath, another component of the complex, is an architectural masterpiece bearing all the hallmarks of Sinan’s genius. With its broad porticoes and pools, its private chambers and various recessed and protruding cells and shower rooms, its large massage tables, its countless basins whose gentle plashing resounds up to the resplendent dome overhead, and its calidariums, tepidariums and frigidariums, it exhibits certain differences with other historic baths. Boasting two tepidariums, it is at the same time one of Istanbul’s three largest domed baths. Restoration work is currently under way on the bath, which is expected to re-open in 2012. In the northwest corner of the courtyard is a sebil or public fountain with three porticoes facing the street. Inscribed on it during its construction is its builder’s purpose: “By the grace of God, free distribution of beverages of all kinds to quench the thirst of passersby, especially on holy days.”