19 Temmuz 2007 Perşembe

Architectural Patronage of Royal Ottoman Women

From the beginning of the dynasty, the rulers and members of the elite class built private palaces and public buildings such as mosques, madrasas, hospitals, and caravanserais with waqfs to endow their projects. By providing public spaces for the people of their empire, the elite not only demonstrated their political and social status; they often also expressed religious commitment and drew attention to significant locations in the empire. Architectural patronage was viewed as an important pious act that would earn patrons rewards in heaven. Female patronage began shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, under the rule of Mehmed I. Female patrons were sometimes sultans' wives, princesses, and most principally, the valide sultans. A unifying characteristic of these female patrons was motherhood; aside from Hurrem Sultan, Suleyman's wife, who was in the midst of her childbearing years when she became an architectural patron, women generally had to be finished with childbearing and rearing to have the seniority status that enabled them to build. Here, we will provide information about a few of the most notable royal women architectural patrons and their projects, but it is important to recognize that there were many more throughout the Ottoman Empire.

Hurrem Sultan (d. 1558)
Hurrem Sultan was the first especially powerful woman of the Ottoman dynasty. She rose to prominence after becoming the first concubine to legally marry a Sultan and move with her family and the harem into the Topkapi Palace in 1534. The extent of her architectural patronage is great, including new buildings as well as restorations. While there were female patrons before Hurrem, none made contributions as extensive and central to the empire; in fact, she was the first female to patronize works in Istanbul, as opposed to solely the provincial towns. Her most significant architectural contribution is known as the Haseki Hurrem Kulliye in Istanbul (1540). Large and centrally located, it was comprised of various religious and social structures: originally, a mosque, madrasa, Quran school (mekteb), and soup kitchen (imaret). In the 1550's she added a hospital for women and a double bathhouse (hammam). This complex helps illustrate that, overall, Hurrem Sultan's significance as a patron lies primarily in the fact that the extent of her visual display of status and power was unprecedented from a woman in the Ottoman dynasty.

Haseki Hurrem Hammam, Istanbul

Mihrimah Sultan (d. 1578)
The daughter of Hurrem and Suleyman, Princess Mihrimah Sultan, was along with her mother, probably the most notable female architectural patron of the Ottoman Empire. Various mosques and charitable foundations in Istanbul were provided by Mihrimah, who devoted a majority of her wealth to architectural patronage. Her mosque (circa 1562-65) at the entrance to Edirne was designed by the most prominent architect of the Empire, Sinan, and is renowned for its architectural innovation. Like Hurrem's complex, it consists not only of a mosque, but also a double hammam, imaret, and madrasa, as well as extensive courtyards and gardens. However, its unique, challenging position on the top of a hill and its unprecedented spaciousness and luminosity make it architecturally remarkable. That such a significant work was patronized by a woman supports the belief that royal women clearly enjoyed some position of authority and opportunity in society. In fact, women's structures were often more innovative than the typically monumental but conservative works by men.

Above: Exterior view, Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, Istanbul

Right: Interior view of qibla wall

Safiye Sultan and the later Valide Sultans
During the reign of her son, Mehmed III (r. 1595-1603), Safiye's great power as valide sultan marked the beginning of the "Reign of Women" in the Ottoman Dynasty, a period of almost 100 years during which women were arguably the most powerful members of the royal palace. In 1598, she initiated the building of what is known as the Yeni Valide Mosque (or, the New Mosque of the Valide Sultans) in Istanbul, but when Mehmed III died in

Exterior View of Yeni Valide Mosque, Istanbul
1603, Ahmed I took over the throne, sending her off, and the project was left unfinished. Kosem Maypeyker Sultan, Ahmed I's widow, was the next valide sultan to resume the construction of the complex during her son's reign, which began in 1623. Building was again disrupted when she was killed by her daughter-in-law, Hatice Turhan Sultan, who then came to power and continued the project through to its completion in 1665. Like the kulliye of Haseki Hurrem, this significant complex was large and centrally located, made up of various buildings with both religious and social functions. Most interesting about this work, however, is its assymetrical, and thus atypical, layout. Not only was this plan innovative, well-suited to and expressive of the patrons' lifestyles, but the pavilion of the valide sultan (the Hunkar Kasri), and the ramp leading to it, speak of her powerful status and authority. From this building, the layout of the Yeni Valide Mosque gave the valide sultan the power of the gaze; in other words, while as a woman she did not have physical access to all of the surrounding areas, this complex privileged her with visual access, putting her in a more powerful position than her community from whom she was concealed. Therefore, the Yeni Valide Mosque asserts the power that was held by the valide sultans during this period of the Ottoman reign.

Below: The courtyard of the
Yeni Valide Mosque

Above: The sight lines from the Hunkar Kasri extend out in various directions, over the surrounding areas. This illustrates how the complex gave the valide sultan visual access to places that were physically inaccessible.

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