Semsi Ahmed Pasa Complex

The complex on the coast of Üsküdar was commissioned by Semsi Ahmed Pasa (d.1580), an officer in the court of Ottoman Sultan Süleyman I (1520-1566) who later served as the governor of Anatolia and Rumelia. It was built by court architect Sinan near the Semsi Pasha's palace and, according to the inscription over the mosque portal, construction was completed in 1580. In 1940, an extensive restoration project was undertaken by the General Directorate of Religious Endowments, supervised by architect Süreyya Yücel.
Variant Names Semsi Ahmet Pasa Külliyesi, Sems Camisi, Kuskonmaz Camisi, Shemsi Pasha Mosque
Street Address Üsküdar district
Location Istanbul, Turkey
Architect/Planner Sinan
Client (retired) Governor-General Semsi Ahmed Pasa
Date 1580-81
Style/Period Ottoman
Century 16th
Building Types educational, funerary, religious
Building Usage madrasa, mausoleum, mosque

The complex stands on a roughly rectangular site aligned east-west with the Bosporus shoreline. The square, single domed mosque abuts the coast at an angle, with the adjoining tomb of the donor projecting towards the waterfront. Its precinct is enclosed by an L-shaped madrasa to the west and south, and a seawall with grill-windows to the north. A walled cemetery occupies the eastern precinct, behind the mosque's qibla wall.

A gate along the seawall opens into the precinct courtyard, which is shared by the mosque and the madrasa. A secondary gate along the cemetery wall to the east also leads to this courtyard via a narrow passage. The mosque portico, which envelops the prayer hall to the northwest and southwest, is faced across the courtyard with the madrasa arcade, at a smaller scale. Both the portico and arcade are covered by shed roofs and have pointed arches carried on columns with diamond-cut capitals. The mosque portico was rebuilt during the 1940 restoration. A single minaret with a single balcony rises above it, adjoining the southwest corner of the prayer hall.

Entered through a marble portal on its northwest wall, the prayer hall is surmounted by a single dome, which measures about eight meters in diameter. The transition to the dome is achieved with four squinches over an octagonal drum pierced with four arched windows. The prayer hall has nine casement windows -- two on each wall with an additional window on the southeast wall. Each casement is topped by an arched window with a different colored glass composition, and a circular window is placed above the mihrab. The simple marble mihrab has a muqarnas hood. Muqarnas carvings were also used to highlight the springing of the squinch arches. The wooden minbar is a modern replacement.

The tomb chamber, which measures about four meters by four and a half meters, is attached to the prayer hall. It is entered from the outside from northwest, but opens into the prayer hall with a grilled archway. The chamber is crowned by a mirror vault at the height of the prayer hall drum. It has three casement windows facing the Bosporus and nine upper windows on three walls, adorned with colored glass. Decoration is limited to the stalactite carvings of the portal and painted floral and geometrical motifs on the mirror vault. Although its portal inscription was lost, inscriptive plaques over the archway in the prayer hall were preserved. The tomb, like the mosque, is made of cut stone.

The L-shaped madrasa has twelve domed cells and a large classroom, all fronted by an arcade whose shed roof is carried by nineteen columns. Cells are placed all in a row except at the northern end, where a single cell encloses the arcade before the seawall. The classroom, which is seven meters square, occupies the center of the western wing of and projects beyond the madrasa wall. It is surmounted by a dome carried on squinches and raised on an octagonal drum. There are six windows on three of the classroom's walls, leaving the western wall for a furnace and two shelving niches. Each madrasa cell has two windows, a furnace and one or two shelving niches. The arcade was enlarged following the restoration and the madrasa was refurnished to house a library in 1953 with the classroom use as the reading room. An additional room with privy cells is attached at the end of the southern wing.

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