Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, was the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. The Bosphorus straits divides the city into a part that sits on the European continent, and a larger part on the continent of Asia. The militarily and economically strategic position of the city, on the western portion of the Silk Road, and on the shipping route between the Aegean and Black Seas, has kept it cosmopolitan and prosperous since its foundation 660 BCE, when it was called Byzantium. In 330 it became Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, named for Emperor Constantine the Great. The Ottomans conquered the city in 1453/857 AH and renamed the city Istanbul. It served as their capital until Ankara became the capital of the modern nation of Turkey.
Rüstem Pasa Medresesi is located in the Cagaloglu neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey. Its construction was completed in 1550 by order of the Grand Vizier Rüstem Pasa to the architect Sinan, as documented in a four-line inscription in Persian. The madrasa constitutes the first in a series of edifices designed by Sinan at the request of the Grand Vizier, followed by the Rüstem Pasa Mosque in Tekirdag in 1553 and Rüstem Pasa Mosque in Tahtakale in 1561.
The madrasa comprises an octagonal courtyard within in a square-shaped structure. The main entrance is located on the eastern elevation and leads to the courtyard through an octagonal domed portico with drop arches based on piers with capitals on the corner and a set of two intervening columns. Seven paths paved in stone lead to the octagonal ablution fountain with a pyramidal roof in the middle of the courtyard. The twenty-two rooms of the square structure are organized in units of three occupying each side of the octagonal and covered with domes slightly elevated on octagonal drums. Each room is equipped with a furnace, indicated by the square-shaped chimneys with hipped roofs located between the domes over the rooms. Iwans, placed on the diagonal axis of the square structure, offer access to the triangular spaces of the corners. The triangular spaces of the northern elevation are organized in triples of domed rooms, while the ones on the southern elevation constitute empty triangular spaces; on the southwest is an open space, and the southeast is topped with domes. An octagonal pool is placed on the center of the octagonal open court. The domed lecture hall (dershane) rises in the middle of the north elevation and projects towards the north. The load of the central dome is transferred to the ground through semi-domes situated on the diagonals of the square-shaped plan.
Even though the schema of the madrasa is unique, Sinan uses the fundamental elements constituting the traditional madrasa in the same configuration: an open courtyard enclosed by cells and surrounded by porticoes, with an ablution fountain in the center. Rüstem Pasa Madrasa constitutes the sole example where Sinan employed an octagonal configuration for the design of a madrasa.
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