This day in 1566 marks the end of the life of longest reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, acclaimed lawmaker, statesman, and patron of the arts, Suleiman the Lawgiver, or as he is known in the West, Suleiman the Magnificent.
Suleiman was born in 1494 and during his years of rule, from 1520 to 1566, the Ottoman Empire reached its apogee. Led by Suleiman’s victorious military campaigns, the empire dominated the critical bridge between Asia, Europe and Africa, its frontiers ranging from Iran to Austria and its control over the Mediterranean complete with its navy in all the important ports of North Africa. From his seat in the Topkapi Palace, in the capital Istanbul, Suleiman oversaw and sponsored an unprecedented flowering of the arts, resulting in a Golden Age.
It was Ottoman tradition that every sultan was skilled in a trade and Suleiman was a goldsmith. Under his patronage, the capital became host to an incredible array of craftsmen and artists who worked their way up through the Ehl-i Hiref, or Community of the Talented. Apprenticeships were granted and skills rewarded in this system and it thus attracted the greatest talent in the empire.
Suleiman was known to personally inspect the works of his empire’s great talent. During his reign, thanks in much part to the highly organized Ehl-i Hiref, a wide array of arts flourished. In particular the output during this period of calligraphers, textile artists, ceramicists and manuscript painters are highly regarded. Also during Suleiman’s reign a number of notable architectural structures were built including the great Süleymaniye Mosque designed by Sinan Pasha.
Like his father, Suleiman also composed poetry writing under the pseudonym Muhhibi, meaning lover. He wrote poems on a great variety of subjects, but one of his better known works is an ode to Roxelena, a concubine he fell madly in love with and even married. He refers to her in one poem as ‘the most beautiful among the beautiful’ and lovingly compares her to everything from flora to the great capital cities of the time. Upon her death she was buried in a beautifully decorated mausoleum adjacent to the Süleymaniye Mosque where Suleiman himself now lies.
Suleiman died of natural causes on 6 September 1566 in Transylvania during a military campaign advancing on Vienna. The battle being fought during the time of his death, the Battle of Szigetvár, was, as befitted the great Suleiman, won by the Ottomans and, moreover, inspired an epic poem, the Siege of Sziget, and the opera Nikola Šubi Zrinski.
Caption: A portrait of Suleiman I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.