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Mehmed III Tomb | © Mogadir/Wikimedia Commons
Mehmed III Tomb | © Mogadir/Wikimedia Commons

A Brief History of the Hagia Sophia Tombs

Picture of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Updated: 10 February 2017

Everyone is familiar with Istanbul’s stunning Hagia Sophia Museum. The Sultan Tombs, which are part of the Hagia Sophia complex, are not as well-known, yet they possess some of the best of Ottoman tile work and calligraphy.

In a structure that’s part of the Aya Sofya complex, with an entrance on the Babıhümayun Caddesi, five 16th and 17th century Ottoman sultans rest in their tombs. Mehmet III, Selim II, Murat III, İbrahim I and Mustafa I are buried here. It is also here that visitors can see some of the finest examples of Ottoman tile work, decorative paintwork, and calligraphy that fill the entire space with a regal atmosphere. Among all the beauty is also the rather dire fact that both Mehmet II and Selim II are buried together with their sons. Murat’s five children died in a plague epidemic, while the five sons of Selim II were murdered to ensure the succession of the oldest son Murat III, a common practice that was later replaced with the confinement of younger siblings of succeeding sultans in the kafes (cage) in Topkapı Palace.

Mehmed III Tomb | © Mogadir/Wikimedia Commons | Murad III Tomb | © Arild Vågen/Wikimedia Commons | Murad III Tomb | © Mogadir/Wikimedia Commons

Mehmed III Tomb | © Mogadir/Wikimedia Commons | Murad III Tomb | © Arild Vågen/Wikimedia Commons | Murad III Tomb | © Mogadir/Wikimedia Commons

Sultan Selim II

The tomb of Sultan Selim II is one of the 18 tombs built by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. Surely one of the most beautiful tombs to be found in Istanbul, the sultan ordered that his final resting place be beside the Hagia Sophia. The structure is octagonal in shape with an outer façade covered entirely with marble. The ceramic panels, which decorate the entrance with purple, red, green and blue flower motifs, are some of the most beautiful examples of 16th century ceramic art. While one half of the ceramic panel is authentic, the other half is an imitation, since the original is currently on display at The Louvre Museum in Paris. The main entrance displays beautiful examples of kündekari, a form of carpentry that consists of interlocking wooden tongue-and-groove elements, including the use of mother of pearl. The other 42 sarcophaguses include Nurbanu, the mother of Selim’s child, as well as his many sons and daughters.

Sultan Murad III

The tomb of Sultan Murad III dates back to 1599 and was built by the architect Davud Agha and his assistant Dalgıç Ahmet Agha. One of the largest Ottoman tombs, it has a hexagonal layout with two domes, a marble façade, and an arcade in the front. Simple from the outside, the tomb is ornately decorated inside with some of the most beautiful examples of coral red İznik ceramics from the 16th century and hand drawn decorative paintwork. Another standout is the belt of polished thuluth (a script variety of Islamic calligraphy) with white on a dark blue background. Alongside Murad’s tomb there are 54 more sarcophaguses belonging to his wife Safiye, his daughters, women of the court, and princes.

Sultanahmet Mh., Ayasofya Meydanı, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey