The Suleymaniye Complex, consisting of a large number of courtyards and a caravansarai, was constructed starting on June 13, 1550 through October 15, 1557 by Architect Sinan (the grand old master of Ottoman architecture). A total of 3,523 workers were employed during the construction of the complex. There were 1,713 Muslim employees. According to the historian Peçevi, a grand total of 96.360 filoris (gold coins) and 82.900 akçe (silver coins) was spent during the construction of the complex. Stones and columns of the complex were brought from different regions of the Ottoman Empire: Bozcaada, İzmit, Mut, Ezine, Gazze Lebanon, etc. In addition, other building materials were brought from different regions of the Ottoman Empire to be used in the complex. The Süleymaniye Complex is composed of 15 sections :
- Rabi Madrasah (High School)
- Salis Madrasah (Intermediate School)
- Evvel Madrasah (Elementary School)
- Sani Madrasah (Secondary School)
- Tıp Madrasah (Medical School)
- The Tomb of Suleiman the Magnificent
- The Tomb of the Hürrem Sultan (Roxelana, wife of the Suleiman the Magnificent )
- Türbedar (caretaker) Room
- Bimarhane (hospital)
- Darüzziyafe (Restaurant, previously a soup kitchen in the 16th century)
- Darülhadis Madrasah (school of traditions of the Prophet)
- Tabhane (the hostel attached to a mosque where travelers usually dervishes and mystics) could live free for three days)
- The Tomb of the Architect Sinan
The most charming section of the Süleymaniye Complex is naturally the mosque itself. It is similar to the other works of the architect Sinan in that he refused to make concessions away from simplicity, but converted simplicity into glory. The decoration and ornamentation in the mosque are primarily inscriptions, and the architectural geometry is recognized as an aesthetic wonder unto itself.
Windows with stained glass on the wall of the mihrab (niche in a mosque wall indicating the direction of Mecca) and frames on both sides of the mihrab are works of a master named Sarhoş Ibrahim. There is a huge dome in the mosque, having a diameter of 26.5 meters; it was constructed on four large rose-colored columns. The depth of the dome is double the diameter of the dome and is 53 meters high. In order for the dome to be built easily, special bricks were manufactured and used in the construction of the dome. In addition, stones of the mosque are attached one another by fasteners of internal iron clamps, and then melted lead is poured over the iron clamps.
The mosque was lighted with 128 windows and a great number of candles. In order to prevent the pollution of the walls with soot that came from the candles a soot room was constructed above main entrance. Ink was produced from the collected soot. It has four minarets rising at the four corners of the inner court which are constructed from white marble called “Beyaz Harem” (White Harem). Two of them have three shrefes (minaret balcony) each and the other two have two shrefes for a total of ten. The four minarets of the Mosque symbolize Suleiman the Magnificent becoming the fourth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire after the conquest of Istanbul. The ten shrefes symbolize his becoming the 10th sultan in Ottoman history. In addition, there is a fountain in the middle of the inner court consisting of a rectangular-shaped pool with two fountains with a decorative plant motif.
The central buildings adjacent to the mosque are considered to be part of the mosque. The other buildings in the complex are arranged around this central area.
There are six madrasahs of the complex with the Medical School. Those madrasahs toward the direction of Bayezit are Evvel Madrasah (Elementary School) and Sani Madrasah (Secondary School) which are used as the Suleymaniye Library. A part of the medical school located alongside of these two madrasahs collapsed during the road opening work and the rest of it was turned into a hospital. The building located on the right side of the Medical School and the crossband of the courtyard of the mosque was used as an insane asylum during the Ottoman Empire era.
Darüzziyafe (Restaurant, previously a soup kitchen in the 16th century), tabhane (the hostel attached to a mosque where travelers (usually dervishes and mystics) could live free for three days) are located on the road toward the northwest part of the complex and over against the courtyard. Turning right at the end of this road, there is an outstanding and modest, triangular-shaped tomb belonging to the Architect Sinan. Salis Madrasahs (Intermediate School) and Rabi Madrasahs ((High School) are located 100 meters ahead of the wall of the mosque and is fairly high on the road. Külliye Hamamı (Bathhouse) is located on the cross road of the right hand side of the Rabi Madrasah ((High School). Darulhadith Madrasah (school of traditions of the Prophet) is located a little forward on the road.
There are two tombs in the complex, one of them belonging to Suleiman the Magnificent, and the other one belonging to Hürrem Sultan (Roxelana, a Russian slave girl). They were constructed on an octagonal plan with a dome. Ceramic tiles with decorative plant motif are used in the tombs and have artistic value. Other notable people of that period were buried in the graveyard of the complex.