Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque: Eclectic architecture in Istanbul

In his book “Le Spleen de Paris,” Charles Baudelaire, one of the most important French poets of the 19th century, says: “It doesn’t matter where! As long as it’s out of this world!” Maybe he, with this line, wanted to tell readers about the depressions and troubles of the 19th century in which he lived. Until this century, societies had perhaps never felt unrest so deeply before.

Indeed, change is inevitable for societies. While any change is taking place, every area that change spreads to in society is affected. Therefore, social events that took place after the Industrial Revolution, which occurred from the 18th to 19th centuries, brought about great changes. As a result, art, music, design and architecture were naturally affected and new trends emerged.

A general view of the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque, Aksaray, Istanbul, March 9, 2011. (Photo by Hasan Ay)
A general view of the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque, Aksaray, Istanbul, March 9, 2011. (Photo by Hasan Ay)

This wind of change, which started in Europe, also influenced the Ottoman Empire and inevitably affected every field, from art to architecture. New styles, for example, began to be observed in architecture. One of them was “eclectic architecture.”


Eclecticism is the collection of different architectural styles in a single structure. This architectural style, which dominated the period in the 19th and 20th centuries, especially in Europe and America, actually emerged from the need for innovation.

In fact, there is no clear feature that we can use to define this architectural trend. The most important thing about it is the use of two or more architectural styles together. Eclectic architecture also bears touches of different movements in the decorations. It fully reflects the characteristics of the period in which it emerged.

Of the structures built with this architectural trend in the Ottoman Empire, one of the best examples is the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque.

A painting of the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque. (Wikimedia)
A painting of the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque. (Wikimedia)

History of the mosque

The Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque was commissioned between 1869 and 1871 by Pertevniyal Sultan, the wife of Sultan Mahmud II and the mother of Sultan Abdülaziz. The valide sultan (mother sultan) attached great importance to the construction of the mosque and had it designed as a complex consisting of a school, a tomb, a muvakkithane (a place where prayer times are calculated), a fountain and a mosque.

According to some sources, the müneccimbaşı (the title given to the chief court astrologer in the Ottoman Empire) determined the propitious moment for the foundation of the mosque as Jan. 4, 1869. Therefore, all preparations were made for the foundation of the mosque to be laid on this day at 4:15 p.m.

While notables of the state, religious scholars and teachers attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the mosque, it is said that Pertevniyal Sultan watched the event from the window of a house that can see the square. The construction of the mosque took three years.

The Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque is located in the Aksaray district of Istanbul. Aksaray has been an important trade and transportation center for many civilizations since ancient times. It has been one of the central locations of Istanbul, from the Roman Era to the Ottoman Empire. Some magnificent structures from the Ottoman Empire still stand here. The Ottoman imperial mosque is one of the works in the area that best reflects the period it was built.

Architectural features

There is no clear information about the architect of the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque. Different sources name different architects. While some sources, for instance, write that the Italian painter and designer Pietro Montani was the architect of the historical mosque, according to other sources, Sarkis and Agop Balyan from the Balyan family, who were among the Ottoman palace architects, were the names behind this beautiful architecture. There are also sources that say the architect of it was Montani, while Sarkis drew the plans and Agop helped.

Researcher and writer Pars Tuğlacı names Sarkis and Agop Balyan as the architects of the mosque in her book titled “The Role of the Balian Family in Ottoman Architecture.” Professor Afife Batur shows Agop Balyan as the architect of the mosque, based on the plans and documents found in the Presidency Archives and “Istanbul Encyclopedia from Past to Present.” These three names mentioned were important and architecturally influential figures of the 19th century.

It is said that when the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque was built, Pertevniyal Sultan ordered that it should be as big as the Ortaköy mosque. For this reason, the mosque’s harim (the place of worship) was built as large as the Ortaköy mosque’s harim, but its courtyard was kept wider.

The mosque is architecturally quite different from classical mosques with its neo-gothic design. Built in an eclectic style, it combines classical Ottoman, Moorish, Turkish, gothic and renaissance styles. The mosque has four large arches, which have been placed on four legs, and a single dome. This single dome of the mosque is high but small. There is intense stonework on the facades of the mosque. Likewise, hand-drawn decorations dominated by blue polished with gold gilding extend throughout the interior of the mosque.

The courtyard of the mosque can be entered through three doors in the east, west and north. The door in the courtyard of the mosque overlooking Aksaray square is one of the most beautiful examples of Ottoman stone masonry. The library of the mosque was moved to the Süleymaniye Library. In the square arrangement made in Aksaray square between 1956-59, some elements of the mosque were removed or their location was changed.

How to get there

Aksaray is one of the central districts of Istanbul. Therefore, you can easily get there from many parts of the city. You can come from many places by connecting to the T1 tram, which has a stop right in front of the mosque.

After you visit the mosque, you can also take a unique tour of Istanbul in the historical peninsula where you will observe important historical buildings and places.

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