A civil engineer working in the construction company that undertook the restoration work of the Şehzade Mosque narrated the following on a TV interview during 1990s:
“Along the lines of the restoration plan, we had to replace some of the stone blocks in the archways on the retaining walls surrounding the courtyard, because they had partial decomposition. We had the theory and textbook knowledge on how those archways were constructed, however we lacked the know-how of building stone archways. We held a meeting with the masons to decide about our action plan. Consequently it was decided that a wooden cast would be suspended under the arch while we would carefully remove the blocks one by one and at the same time take notes about the method of construction to emulate it in restoration.
We removed the cast and started fragmenting the arch beginning first from the keystone. When we removed it, we were surprised to find a glass bottle which was placed in a cylindrical gap at the junction point of the two stone blocks.
There was a white paper rolled into the glass bottle. We opened it and went through the paper. It was in Ottoman Turkish. We rushed to find an expert to have it interpreted.
It was a letter, and it was penned by Mimar Sinan. The letter read as follows:
‘The stone blocks constituting this archway are to last for approximately 400 years. In and about this time span you would wish to replace the decomposing stone blocks. Most probably you would not know how to do that by your new techniques. I therefore write this letter to you to tell you how you could reconstruct the archways.’
Having started his letter with these lines, the great Mimar Sinan went on to explain in detail the origins and features of the stones used in the archways, how they hauled them from the quarries across Anatolia, the way they were shaped into their proper sizes, and how they were placed and assembled into the archways.
This letter is an example from the life of a master who showed a phenomenal endeavour to make his work last for centuries. The splendour of this letter lies in Mimar Sinan’s superior expertise of knowing how long a stone block would last, his vision of approximating the future developments in construction techniques, and writing his letter in an ink and on a paper that would last more than 400 years. Undoubtedly, such superior knowledge and dexterity are the distinctive and inimitable features of the Architect Sinan. However, what really inimitable are not only his intellect and talent, but his sense of responsibility that provides solutions for more than 400 years into the history.
(1)Mimar Sinan (15 April 1489 - 17 July 1588) was the chief ArmenianOttoman architect and civil engineer for sultans Suleiman I, Selim II, and Murad III.