SİNAN’S İSTANBUL: KILIÇ ALİ PAŞA MOSQUERising on the shore of Tophane, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque has a special place among the works of Sinan. The mosque, which follows the footsteps of Haghia Sophia in terms of its plan and building features, was the subject of countless rumors both during the construction and after its completion.
Kılıç Ali Paşa was born in 1519 as Giovanni Dionigi Galeni, in the village of Le Castella, which is situated in the Calabria region of southern Italy. In 1536, when he was traveling to Naples to become a priest, he was captured by the Ottoman corsairs and was forced to work as a galley slave for a period. After converting to Islam, he was named Uluc Ali, and he joined the Ottoman navy as a ship captain in 1551.
In the Battle of Lepanto, which resulted in one of the heaviest defeats of the Ottoman naval history, Kılıç Ali Paşa, commanding the left wing of the navy, managed to save his ships with brilliant maneuvers. Upon returning to Istanbul, he was given the nickname "Kılıç" (sword) by Sultan Selim II, and was named the grand admiral (kaptan-ı derya), the highest rank in the Ottoman navy.
Architect Sinan was 90 years old when he completed the construction of the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque in 1580, which began in 1578. Despite the great architect’s old age, the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque, as a deliberate interpretation of Hagia Sofia, was full of architectural inventions. The famous Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi states that, in İstanbul this mosque "is one of a kind". In the larger complex, which includes the mosque, are also situated Kılıç Ali Paşa’s tomb, a children’s school, a hammam and a fountain.
In the rectangular-planned mosque, the dome, with its 12,70-meter diameter, rises on four columns, like in Hagia Sofia. In his seminal travel book, Evliya Çelebi praises the decoration of the mosque; its crystal windows, chandeliers, and especially tiles. The rich ornaments that combine many colored glass windows and Iznik tiles are found in the majestic mosaic-covered interior of Hagia Sophia.
It is reported that the Spanish writer Cervantes, who was taken captive by the Ottoman navy in the Battle of Lepanto, worked at the construction of Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque during his five-year slavery and then returned to Spain upon being freed. This story, whether true or not, reminds us once again of this basic truth: Great works summon great stories.