Glazed tiles, calligraphy enfold cenotaph of Sultan Mehmed I

It is well known that it is the direction of prayer, but it is also the axis along which graves are oriented.

Yesil Turbe, the Green Mausoleum, in this respect resembles many other tombs. Opposite the entrance, on the wall facing Mecca, is a large mihrab, a recess in the wall indicating the qibla. The graves within are arranged perpendicular to this line.

The cenotaph of Sultan Mehmed I, the fifth Ottoman sultan, lies at the very center, raised on a rostrum, fully covered in glazed tiles and flowing Arabic calligraphy — typical of Selcuk-era mausoleums, but unusual for an Ottoman sultan. One end is slightly higher and topped by a turban, indicating the side to which the sultan’s head lies. Below the turban is the following supplication: “O God, forgive us and have mercy on us, by Your grace O Generous One.”

Down the length of the cenotaph is short praise of the sultan, followed by his date of death: “This resting place is the illuminated bed and fragrant grave of the great sultan, the generous ruler, the pride of the rulers of the world, the helper of the servants [the people] and the builder of the cities, and the banisher of evil and corruption.”

The second half states: “The hero, the warrior, Sultan Mehmed, the son of the sultan, the forgiven [by God] Bayezid, son of Murad. May God be pleased with him and house him in the gardens of heaven. He died in the month of Jumadi el-Ula in the year 824.”

Yesil Turbe is the burial site of not only Sultan Mehmed I but also three of his sons and four of his daughters, as well as his nurse.

To the left and right of Sultan Mehmed I lie Sehzade Mustafa, Sehzade Mahmut and Sehzade Yusuf. Their grave markers are not covered in tiles but painted dark green.

The cenotaphs of his daughters Sitti Hatun (Safiye), Ayse Hatun and Hafsa Hatun and that of his nurse Daya Hatun, however, are covered in hexagonal tiles of varying shades of blue or green, with some use of white tiles to form rudimentary geometric patterns.

Breaking this mold is the cenotaph of Selcuk Hatun, which stands apart as it is entirely covered in Arabic calligraphy that has been carved into stone. Once again, one end is slightly higher. Written on the pentagon formed by the base and sides on the top (head) end of this grave marker is the following: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. / God Most High said: Every soul shall taste death. [Quran 21:35]” This is a well-known verse of the Quran seen prominently written in mausoleums.

Selcuk Hatun’s cenotaph also features another verse of the Quran, split along the two top halves: “God — there is no deity except Him, the Ever-Living, the Sustainer of [all] existence. Neither drowsiness overtakes Him nor sleep. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. Who is it that can intercede with him except by His permission? He knows what is [presently] before them and what will be after them, and they encompass not a thing of His knowledge except for what He wills. His Throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and their preservation tires Him not. And He is the Most High, the Most Great. [Quran 2:255]”

The section below this verse (facing the entrance) reads: “And the Prophet [Muhammed], peace be upon him, said: If you are confused in matters [of life], turn to the people of the graves for help” — meaning death puts into perspective the trivialities of life.

The bottom end reads: “May God forgive and may God illuminate [this] grave. / [died] on Monday, 25 Shewwal in the year 890.” The Prophet, describing what happens after death, has said that God illuminates the graves of the pious.

Shewwal is the 10th month of the Islamic calendar. 890 corresponds to the year 1485.

The bottom section of the length of the grave marker facing the mihrab reads as follows: “The deceased, the forgiven [by God], the empress, Her Highness Selcuk Hatun, daughter of the great sultan, the generous emperor, Sultan Mehmed, the son of Sultan Bayezid, the Thunderbolt, the hero.”

But it should be noted that these are all symbolic graves. Below this level accessible to the public lies a room, and it is below the ground here that the real graves of the sultan and his family are found.

*This article is part two in a series focusing on the Arabic calligraphy used to decorate Yesil Turbe, the mausoleum of Sultan Mehmed I, in Bursa.


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