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Mimar Sinan was perhaps the greatest and most famous architect in Turkish History. He was born at the end of the 1400s and lived nearly 100 years. His style essentially defined Ottoman architectural aesthetics during the 1500s-(especially during the rule of Suleiman The Magnificent), though his architectural legacy is still visible into the present-day.

It is known that Mimar Sinan was a Janissary and had joined the Janissary Corps in 1512 at around the age of 22-23 and in turn, converted to Islam. It is also known as Sinan was born and raised in Cappadocia-(or Central Turkey). During Sinan's time, the region of Cappadocia had three populations: Turks, Armenians and Greeks. The Cappadocia Turkish population were comprised of centuries old Christian converts to Islam, as well as a smaller percentage of Central Asian Turks who arrived in this region 800 years ago and also converted to Islam. Despite some Christian conversions to Islam, there were still Christian communities who retained their faith while living in Ottoman Cappadocia. However, was Mimar Sinan part of the Christian convert population within Cappadocia and more specifically, was he originally of a Greek Christian background?

If one looks at many of Sinan's most famous buildings, particularly the Mosques he designed, you clearly see the Byzantine Christian architectural influence-(though they are bereft of iconography and instead, have intricately designed geometric patterns). Nevertheless, the Byzantine Christian architectural influence is quite visible. Does this Byzantine influence and orientation, which was central to many of Mimar Sinan's architectural works, ultimately prove, that Mimar Sinan was originally of Greek Christian descent? Or is making such a connection an exaggeration, a stretch of the historical imagination and lacking a credible and legitimate historical foundation?

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    There are plenty of references in his wikipedia article which argue one way or another for his apparent Greek, Armenian, Albanian or Turkish origins. The fact that Byzantine architecture influenced his designs does not give credence to Greek origins. Any person growing up in central anatolia would take on those designs since they were the only ones present to take inspiration from – Notaras Dec 17 '17 at 22:52
  • Good point; and I am somewhat familiar with the Wikipedia article you're referencing. However, with regard to the Albanians, I am not entirely sure Central Anatolia had an Albanian Diaspora community-(perhaps, though I have my doubts). It is possible that Mimar Sinan may have been of Armenian ethnic descent, due to the centuries old and sizable presence of Armenians in and around Central Anatolia. Though the Hellenic presence in Central Anatolia was just as sizable and historically rooted as the Armenian presence; Moreover, the Armenian Ecclesiastical Architecture, though Eastern, is not..... – user26763 Dec 18 '17 at 0:11
  • specifically Byzantine. If one looks at Armenian Churches, they generally do not reflect the Byzantine and subsequently Sinan' s architectural style. I agree with you that just because Sinan was influenced by the Byzantine architectural style does not automatically mean he was of Greek descent; though at the same time it does not automatically exclude him from being of Greek descent either. – user26763 Dec 18 '17 at 0:14
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    You're familiar with the wikipedia article so you know then that there is no clear proof of his ethnic origins. Either way, few poor peasants in that part of the empire had any sense of ethnic identity anyway. You where either Christian or Muslim. According to the wikipedia article his father's name was Χρηστο – Notaras Dec 18 '17 at 0:39
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    the early 1500's and that he converted to Islam....most likely from Christianity, which probably meant that he was either of a Greek or Armenian Christian background. – user26763 Dec 18 '17 at 1:32
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The Mimar (architect) Sinan was born to a Christian family:

The son of Greek or Armenian Christian parents, Sinan entered his father’s trade as a stone mason and carpenter. In 1512, however, he was drafted into the Janissary corps. Sinan, whose Christian name was Joseph, converted to Islam, and he began a lifelong service to the Ottoman royal house and to the great sultan Süleyman I (reigned 1520–66) in particular. Following a period of schooling and rigorous training, Sinan became a construction officer in the Ottoman army, eventually rising to chief of the artillery.

How do we know his Christian heritage? For one, he himself asserts that in his autobiography.

The autobiographical memoirs of the Ottoman chief architect Sinan (d. 1588), narrated shortly before his death to the poet-painter Mustafa Sa{i Çelebi (d. 1595– 96), have come down to us in five versions.

Written in the second half of the 1580s, these five texts on Sinan’s life and works are unique sources without any equivalent in the history of Islamic architecture. Each of them includes a brief biographical section, outlining Sinan’s recruitment as a Christian boy from a village of Kayseri under Sultan Selim I (r. 1512–20) and his initial training in carpentry as a novice in Istanbul, followed by his promotion through the ranks of the Janissaries during the reign of Sultan Süleyman I (r. 1520–66), whom he arduously accompanies to “many a ghaza” (war on behalf of Islam) as a foot soldier, building several bridges and war ships along the way.

–– Howard Crane & Esra Akin: "Sinan’s Autobiographies. Five Sixteenth-Century Texts. Introductory Notes, Critical Editions, And Translations", Studies and Sources in Islamic Art and Architecture. Supplements to Muqarnas, Volume 11, Brill: Leiden, Boston, 2006. ()

It might be possible that being drafted at such an old age – ca 22, details on date of birth being murky – he had retained a bit of Christian 'esprit', knowledge and aesthetic values, despite the Janissary training, which in modern descriptions appears like a thorough rinse of brain washing. Sort of ingrained spiritual heritage?

That is of course mere speculation. And an essentialist attribution, naturally, with dubious plausibility.

What is at hand are sources, like biographies or

Gülru Necipoğlu examines completely afresh the centrality of Sinan, chief imperial Ottoman architect between 1538 and 1588, in the creation of what she calls “architectural culture.” Based on a wide variety of primary sources—including some not previously considered from the point of view of architectural history—this is the first exhaustive study offering a wealth of insights into Sinan’s architecture within the context of its own intellectual, political, and religious milieus.

The Age of Sinan is a fundamental reconstruction and analysis of Ottoman cultural history focusing on religious architecture, which was integral to and profoundly altered by the unprecedented social, political, and aesthetic reforms during the reign of Süleyman I (r. 1526–66), and on the role of Sinan in the implementation and accomplishments of these reforms through his stylistic codification of the congregational and Friday mosque. Necipoğlu argues that Sinan “developed a stratified system of architectural representation, which relied on a standardised vocabulary of repetitive canonical forms to express the status hierarchies of his patrons and cultural prestige of the empire’s centre over its provinces” (20). Its concern is therefore with distinguishing the different typological schemes developed by Sinan for his monumental mosques with centralised domed baldachins. These are commonly divided by architectural historians into three main categories according to the ways in which their domes sit—i.e., on square, hexagonal, or octagonal support systems—a classification that is considerably expanded by Necipoğlu to give a fuller account of Sinan’s stylistic dexterity. The author traces the transitions from one type to another in order thereby to reflect systematically on the nature of sixteenth-century Ottoman imperialism, architectural patronage, and on the unwritten rules of “decorum.” The term decorum here refers to a concept of visual distinction, which aims to demonstrate how the typological differences among Sinan’s mosques came to represent social distances between his patrons.

–– Nebahat Avcioğlu review of –– Gülru Necipoglu: "The Age of Sinan: Architectural Culture in the Ottoman Empire", Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

As such it is neither Christian rudimentary, nationally Ottoman or Turkish nor fundamentally Islamic. It is a Eastern renaissance, Rumi-style. Building a fusion on a foundation that has been fed from all sides. That makes his birth place or 'native' religion quite secondary to other influences on his style, soaking all in whatever was available and 'good'. And the remixing it to style.

In contrast to the essentialist speculation, earlier Ottoman buildings were more Christian in style than Sinan's:

In similar fashion, TM confidently asserts that the Mosque of Øehzade Mehmed in Istanbul (the chief architect’s first royal commission from Sultan Süleyman) surpasses in artistic refinement early Ottoman sultanic mosques awkwardly constructed in the “style of Hagia Sophia” and thereby constitutes a preliminary “experiment” further elaborated in the Süleymaniye.
–– Crane & Akin

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  • Pretty much all Janissaries in that era were involuntarily recruited Christians, so if we are sure he was a Janissary, we can be fairly certain of his Christian heritage on that basis alone. – C Monsour Jul 9 '19 at 12:15
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Mimar Sinan was born in the village of Ağırnas in Kayseri in the 1490s.

İsmail Hakkı Konyalı, who was Turkish history researcher and inscription specialist, has determined the Christian Turkish names of the people living in Ağırnas in tax book dated 1584 as follows: Evren, Pervane, Bahadır, Karagöz, Aydoğdu, Aslan, Yağmur, Kumru, Sefer, Hüsrev, Arslan, Kaplan, Hüdayahşi, Kılmaz, Uğurlu, Oğuzlu, Tatar, Paşabey, Timur, Kutlubey, Sarı, Hüdaverdi, Kalender, Bayram, Borhan, Kalanlı, Karaca, Sultanşah, Urumşah, Paşa, Şadi, Karayağdı, Çakır, Bayramlı, Şemsiye, Nurullah, Yürür, Asilbey, Kutluşah, Seylanşah, Keçi, Sarıaş, Atmaca, Kademşah, Tursun, Seferşah, Murad, Emirşah, Hızırşah, Kuru, Karakoç.

So it is understood that a significant part of the Christians living in Ağırnas had Turkish names. And this research shows us that Mimar Sinan is a Christian Turk

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    I can't see how the final sentence follows from the previous paragraph. – Steve Bird Feb 6 '19 at 15:50
  • I think it is not complicated. Mimar Sinan was born in Ağırnas. Ağırnas had Christian population. And christians had Turkish names. So Mimar Sinan most probably is a Christian Turk. – Harun Oğuzorhan Feb 6 '19 at 16:23
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    The tax book information is dated almost a hundred years after Sinan was born in the place so isn't necessarily representative of the population in his time. Also without knowing the village's total population, it's impossible to determine if these 51 names represent a "significant part" of anything. – Steve Bird Feb 6 '19 at 17:07
  • According to tax books and archive documents, there were 53 christian house and 3 muslim house in this village. Each of the 51 names had family(one person from each family paid taxes) so it can represent "significant part", i think. – Harun Oğuzorhan Feb 6 '19 at 19:15
  • For more detailed information, please review archive documents. You can check out Turkish history researchers and inscription specialists' books. For example; İsmail Hakkı Konyalı, Halil İnalcık and Erhan Afyoncu – Harun Oğuzorhan Feb 6 '19 at 19:29

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