He was selected for the elite Janissaries and served in several military campaigns, where he became a noted engineer building bridges and other structures.
He served as the major architect for sultans Suleiman I the Magnificent and Selim II (the sot) and became the empire’s chief architect (mimbar bashi). During his long and productive life, Sinan designed more known buildings than any other architect in history.
He built mosques, hammams, mausoleums, aqueducts, and palaces. Building on ideas from earlier Byzantine designs, particularly the Aya Sopia in Istanbul, Sinan struggled to surpass the grandeur and size of the dome in that great Byzantine church.
Sinan’s Suleimaniya complex in Istanbul has a mosque with a huge central dome supported by two half-domes giving the appearance of soaring in the air; the mosque, with tall needle shaped minarets, opens onto a courtyard with a portico, a style much favored in Ottoman architecture. The vast complex, with over 400 domes in total, also includes schools, a hospice, a soup kitchen, and commercial shops to support the social work of the complex.
Sinan also built the elaborately decorated Rustem Pasha mosque for the grand vizier as well as the tombs for Suleiman’s son Mehmed and Suleiman’s beloved wife, Hurrem Sultan (Roxelana); these are adorned with brightly colored Iznik tiles in deep blues and reds. In his autobiography, Sinan rated the Selimya mosque in Edirne, outside Istanbul, as his masterpiece owing to its huge central dome, which seems to float over a vast open interior space.
Sinan died in 1574 at the age of 99 and is buried in a simple tomb close to one of his greatest accomplishments, the Suleimaniya complex.