SINAN’S ISTANBUL: ZAL MAHMUD PASHA MOSQUEOne of the late works of Sinan, the Zal Mahmud Pasha Mosque was commissioned by Zal Mahmud Pasha, a vizier in the Sultan Murad III (d. 1595) era, and his wife Şah Sultan.
After serving as the head gatekeeper (kapıcıbaşı) at the Topkapı Palace for some time, Mahmud Pasha, who was of Bosnian descent, gained popularity within the ruling elite upon becoming the governor of Budin, Aleppo, and Anatolia respectively. According to the reports written by the Venetian diplomats of the era, Zal Mahmud Pasha, a bulky man and also a wrestler, owed his rise at the Ottoman palace to his strength and recklessness, rather than his wit.
Zal Mahmud Pasha was attended as one of the viziers of Sultan Murad III in 1574, and in the same year he married Şah Sultan, Murad III’s sister. However, their happy marriage lasted only three years; in 1577, first Zal Mahmud Pasha and thirteen days later, Şah Sultan passed away. Upon their will, Şah Sultan’s mother and the most powerful woman of the empire at the period, Nurbanu Sultan undertook the construction process of the mosque and the management of the couple’s joint foundations, with which the construction expenses would be covered.
Stated near a slope alongside the Golden Horn, the Zal Mahmud Pasha Mosque is thought to be completed in 1580. The mosque sits on a square plan, covered with a central single dome, 12,5 meter in diameter. At Zal Mahmud Pasha Mosque, Sinan left the style he developed and perfected in his long career; that is, the pyramid-like arrangement of the exterior and interior, rising with domes and half domes. For some time, this seemingly sharp twist in the style led the architectural historians to speculate that the architect of the mosque might be one of the pupils of Sinan, yet there today it is accepted without a doubt that the Zal Mahmud Pasha Mosque is a work of Sinan.
Becoming ecstatic with the uniqueness of the mosque, the great Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi writes the following in his "Seyahatname" (travel book): "Nonetheless, the most eye-catching and perfect of them all is the Zal Pasha Mosque. Situated in a heavenly garden between two main roads, this luminous mosque is one of its kind among the vizier mosques. It would fill up a book if we are to describe the style, the manner and the shape of this mosque. Its minaret is artful and high. In this mosque, the Great Architect Sinan Aga explicitly shows his creative mastery."