Five Ottoman Sultans call Hagia Sophia their final resting place. The tombs are located in a small area on the southeast corner of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Admission is free of charge, but visitors must dress appropriately and remove their shoes before entering each tomb (just like visiting a mosque). The sarcophagi of the sultans and şehzadeler (princes) are marked with turbans.
The first tomb belongs to Mehmet III (b. 1566, Manisa – d. 1603, Constantinople), the 13th Ottoman Sultan (r. 1595-1603). He was mostly known for having 19 of his siblings and over 20 half-siblings strangled to keep the throne. Mehmet III was very overweight and very unhealthy, but was the first Ottoman Sultan to personally command the army since his great-grandfather, Süleyman I. His third son converted to Christianity and promised to return Constantinople to a Christian city, but his fourth son, Ahmet I (of Blue Mosque fame), succeeded him instead.
Mehmet III’s tomb was built by architect Dalgıç Ahmet Ağa. There are a total of 26 sarcophagi in the tomb, including Handan Sultan (mother of Ahmet I); his daughter Ayşe Sultan; children of Ahmet I; and several other children. Click here for a virtual tour.
The next tomb belongs to Selim II (b. 1524, Constantinople – d. 1574, Constantinople). He was the 11th Ottoman Sultan (r. 1566-1574). His nicknames were Sarhoş (Drunk) Selim and Sarı (Yellow) Selim.
As a ruler, Selim II wasn’t very successful. He could never live up to his father, Süleyman I, although he was well-liked because of his generosity and sensitivity. He was the first sultan who wasn’t interested in military matters or governing. His Grand Vizier, Sokollu Mehmet Paşa, was pretty much in charge. He died after slipping on a wet floor while drunk.
Selim II was responsible for the second minaret constructed at Hagia Sophia. His tomb was commissioned before his death, designed by Mimar Sinan, and completed in 1577. It’s considered one of the most beautiful tombs in Istanbul. There are 42 sarcophagi in all, including his wife and the mother of Murat III, Nurbanu Sultan; his daughters Gevherhan Sultan, Esmehan Sultan, and Fatma Sultan; his sons Süleyman, Osman, Cihangir, Mustafa, and Abdullah (all murdered by Murat III); and several children of Murat III. Click here for a virtual tour.
The third tomb is that of Murat III (b. 1546, Manisa – d. 1595, Constantinople), the 12th Ottoman Sultan (r. 1574-1595). He ascended to the throne by having his five younger brothers strangled. His reign was marked by long wars, high inflation, and a period of economic decline for the Ottoman Empire. He was close with Elizabeth I of England and pursued closer military ties with her, but they never panned out. He was also responsible for the construction of the final two minarets of Hagia Sophia and for transporting two alabaster vases from Pergamon to be placed in the prayer hall.
Murat III was paranoid of his Janissaries and believed they would overthrow him if he left Topkapı Sarayı, so in the last few years of his reign, he never left the palace. It’s said that he had a voracious sexual appetite and may have fathered over 100 children by the time he died of natural causes. His tomb was designed by Davut Ağa and his assistant, Dalgıç Ahmet Ağa. Buried with him are 53 other individuals, including his wife Safiye Sultan, several of his children, and women of his court. Click here for a virtual tour.
The small tomb next to Murat III’s belongs to four of his sons and one of his daughters. They died very young of plague. It’s believed that the tomb was originally built by Mimar Sinan for Nurbanu Sultan (Murat III’s mother). The tomb is very plain on the inside. For a virtual tour, click here.
The final tomb is a structure original to the Byzantines and was once used as a baptistry. The baptismal font is on display in a small area just outside the exit to Hagia Sophia. After Ottoman conquest in 1453, it was used to store oil for lamps until 1639. Two of the worst yet most intriguing rulers of the Ottoman Empire are now entombed there. There stories are like something out of Hollywood.
Mustafa I (b. 1591, Manisa – d. 1639, Constantinople) was the 15th Ottoman Sultan (r. 1617-1618, 1622-1623). His nickname was Mustafa I Deli (Mustafa the Mad). The younger brother of Ahmet I, he was mentally ill yet reigned twice. He took the throne in 1617 in the first case of a sultan being succeeded by his brother rather than his son. His mental condition a great concern, Mustafa I was deposed in 1618 in favor of his nephew, Osman II.
After Osman II was executed in 1622 by his Janissaries, Mustafa I was restored as a puppet ruler controlled by his mother, Halime Sultan, and his Grand Vizier, Kara Davut Paşa. He spent the year wandering around the palace knocking on doors and calling out Osman II’s name to relieve him of the throne. A revolt took place, Kara Davut Paşa was executed, and Mustafa I’s mother agreed on his deposition in return for sparing his life. 11-year-old Murat IV took the throne, and Mustafa I died imprisoned at Topkapı Sarayı 16 years later.
The other sultan entombed in the former baptistry is İbrahim (b. 1615, Constantinople – d. 1648, Constantinople), the 18th Ottoman Sultan (r. 1640-1648). Like Mustafa I, he was mentally unstable. His nickname was Deli İbrahim (İbrahim the Mad) and he was the son of Ahmet I. He was terrified of being executed like four of his brothers at the hands of his other brother, Murat IV. It was believed that Murat IV gave orders on his deathbed to execute İbrahim I, meaning the end of the Ottoman line, but the orders were never carried out.
İbrahim refused to believe that Murat IV was dead and thought it was part of a plot to kill him. He wouldn’t take the throne until he personally examined his brother’s dead body. He also had an obsession for obese women. His subjects tracked down a 330 lb. woman from Georgia to quench the obsession.
İbrahim was concerned with his duties as sultan and would often wander around the city in disguise, but his lavish spending almost singlehandedly destroyed the empire. After getting caught up in a long war with Venice, which created scarcities and high taxes, he was deposed and executed with the consent of his mother, Kösem Sultan. He was replaced with his six-year-old son, Mehmet IV. 10 days before he was deposed, a rumor circulated that he drowned 280 members of his Harem in the Bosporus, but it was only spread to further destroy his image.