Photo Essay: The Unique Ottoman Gravestones of Istanbul, Turkey

19 Jan

Walking around any old cemetery has always turned out to be a lesson for me – in terms of local customs, tombstones, designs, local history, culture, genealogy and design. With shortage of space and paucity of time, most modern cemeteries are built to to be completely utilitarian, but in many older cities you still stumble upon ancient cemeteries that were definitely more than just graveyards to bury the death. And on our recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey we came across the Ottoman culture of cemetery and tombstone design.

Ottoman tombstones at the Sulemaniye Mosue, Istanbul, Turkey

At the entrance to the Süleymaniye Mosque we saw these unique vertical tombstones with a lot of design at the top and beautiful calligraphy and carvings in the body. We didn’t have a guide with us and didn’t know much about this place but were intrigued enough to research on it once we were back. Online research and articles, explained that in the Ottoman culture, tombstones were were an art form and a reminder about importance of life to people. These tombs were built in the middle of neighbourhoods or at the entrance to the mosque to remind people about the realty of death and to celebrate life.

Ottoman tombstones at the Sulemaniye Mosue, Istanbul, Turkey. Notice the different headgear across headstones.

Beautiful calligraphy and carving, Ottoman tombstones at the Sulemaniye Mosue, Istanbul, Turkey.

For the Ottomans, each tombstone was unique in its own way as it represented the biography of the person buried under it. Each grave typically had two tombstones – a small vertical footstone and a large vertical headstone with Arabic writing on both sides. The headstone was topped with the representation of the headdress of the deceased and described the sex and station of the deceased. The footstone was dedicated to their show of faith. Interestingly the tombstones of the men were topped with large stone turbans, in a range of the Ottoman civil, military and religious hierarchies and there were turbans of a paşa, a Sufi dervish (different head gear for different orders), a soldier / janissary or a eunuch. Headstones of women’s graves were decorated with flowers and topped with oriental hats or draped with simple scarves. Many of the graves had beautiful carvings and elaborates obituary inscriptions which we didn’t understand but read online that some were poetic, some touching while some just amusing and even irreverent.

Close up of an Ottoman tombstones at the Sulemaniye Mosue, Istanbul, Turkey

We kept seeing these concrete tombstones until we saw one which was green in colour with gold gilding. This turned out to be the headstones of the grave of Sultan Süleyman II, who built this mosque. It seems green was the colour used for the graves of intellectuals or scholars. 

Notice the green coloured tombstone in the left, Ottoman tombstones at the Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. Also notice the design of the Sufi hat in the one next to the green tombstone. Each Sufi order was represented bu their unique hat. 

Another beautiful grave here was one that belonged to a young woman Fatma Müşerref Hanım from Thessaloniki. She died when she was 17 years old and was engaged but not married, hence her headstone has a bride’s veil to symbolise that she died before she got married and the written part explained how she died. On the foot stone was carved a broken rosebud symbolising death at an early age. so poignant.

A beautiful gravestone of. a young woman Fatma Müşerref Hanım from Thessaloniki, Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Ottoman sultans and their families didn’t have gravestones, but their own tombs or türbes with elaborate tile work in the interiors. The turban or fes they wore were put on the top of their graves.

Interiors of a tomb / türbe of a Sultan, Suleymaniye mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. The white turban in the window is at the top of the grave. 

This cemetery was in a beautiful setting and we could have walked around here for hours. I so wish I had known about these tombstones while I was there as I would have loved to explore these in more detail. But anyways, look forward to adding this for my next trip to Istanbul 🙂


48 Responses to “Photo Essay: The Unique Ottoman Gravestones of Istanbul, Turkey”

  1. Bon Repos Gites January 19, 2020 at 21:03 #

    What a really interesting post! I’ll have to remember to seek this place out!


  2. easterntrekker January 19, 2020 at 21:19 #

    Amazing !


  3. oustandingadventures January 19, 2020 at 21:28 #

    Awesome pictures!


  4. Passport Overused January 19, 2020 at 22:00 #

    😍😍😍 so beautiful#


  5. oldbirdtravels January 19, 2020 at 23:06 #

    I end up in burial grounds everywhere! Loving your blog


    • getsetandgo January 20, 2020 at 11:50 #

      Thanks so much… Interestingly I have found so many of them and each unique in its own way…

      Liked by 1 person

      • oldbirdtravels January 20, 2020 at 13:37 #

        Love it. Cemeteries are always on my list when I travel if I have the time

        Liked by 1 person

  6. January 20, 2020 at 08:07 #

    Loved this post, as all of yours.


    • getsetandgo January 20, 2020 at 12:07 #

      Thanks so much for all the kind words and support always 🙂


  7. sudhindra srinivas January 20, 2020 at 13:02 #

    Turkey seems to be a traveller’s paradise. So much to see and soak in.


    • getsetandgo January 20, 2020 at 13:47 #

      Agree with you there.. And to add to that awesome people and amazing food 🙂


  8. maryannniemczura January 20, 2020 at 20:54 #

    A very culturally interesting post about the cemetery. We toured one in Prague which was equally intriguing, both in headstones and shapes. Musicians, composers and conductors had music notes and baton included. One can only imagine all the stories of the deceased. Thank you for the post.


    • getsetandgo January 21, 2020 at 10:51 #

      Thanks for the kind words.. Do you remember the name of the cemetery in Prague? I have been there twice and somehow missed this.. Would love to see it whenever I am there next..


      • maryannniemczura January 21, 2020 at 20:21 #

        My pleasure. The cemetery name in Prague?
        Vyšehrad Cemetery was established in 1869 and serves as the final resting place for various Czech cultural figures, including artists, composers, writers, and sculptors. Best of luck next visit there.


      • getsetandgo January 22, 2020 at 12:46 #

        Thanks and will add this to my next to visit list for Prague 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • maryannniemczura January 22, 2020 at 21:12 #

        My pleasure. This cemetery won’t disappoint. It even has a site map to find specific graves. We sang Dvorak’s Stabat Mater at the Zofin Palace last August and visited the elaborate grave for Dvorak. Happy travels.


      • getsetandgo January 23, 2020 at 15:03 #

        Now I also have a “TO Do” when I visit this cemetery… Additionally, I now understand there is a book only devoted to must visit cemeteries…

        Liked by 1 person

      • maryannniemczura January 23, 2020 at 22:13 #

        Probably many such books. History fascinates and is important to know and learn. Best wishes.


      • getsetandgo January 24, 2020 at 10:36 #

        So true 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • maryannniemczura January 24, 2020 at 20:50 #

        Enjoy the weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Chris Karas January 21, 2020 at 08:15 #

    I love the symbolism incorporated with these tombs. This is an informative read that actually sparks an interest in Turkey.


    • getsetandgo January 21, 2020 at 10:53 #

      Thanks you and we loved Turkey and are recommending it to everyone for a visit 🙂


  10. Virginia Duran January 21, 2020 at 20:59 #

    Such wonderful pictures 😍 it looks like a fun trip!


  11. Flowerpoet January 22, 2020 at 04:50 #

    Fascinating!!! Thank you.


  12. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) January 22, 2020 at 20:24 #

    I love visiting cemeteries when I travel, but I’ve never to been to an Islamic or Ottoman cemetery before! It looks really lovely!


    • getsetandgo January 23, 2020 at 15:02 #

      I have seen some Islamic cemeteries but saw this Ottoman tradition for the first time.. It is unique and a definite must visit… I now understand there is apparently a book only devoted to must visit cemeteries…

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Ace Vision Nepal February 2, 2020 at 20:42 #

    Thank you for Sharing your Great Post,Pictures are Amazing.


  14. Gabriel k Jones February 4, 2020 at 16:52 #

    Well done with this photo. We became fascinated with the Ottoman history after reading 1453, Roger Crowely’s holy war for Constantinople. A great read, in our opinion.


    • getsetandgo February 4, 2020 at 22:28 #

      Thanks for the recommendation.. I have not read it but will definitely look this up 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. SLMR February 4, 2020 at 18:14 #


    Liked by 1 person

  16. Ruchi February 6, 2020 at 12:41 #

    Wow. What detailed description. And reading this post, I can’t help wishing that I had read this post earlier. We just passed by these tombstones. So symbolic and detailed.


    • getsetandgo February 6, 2020 at 14:32 #

      Hi Ruchi,I know the feeling… Pretty much felt the same way when we visited Istanbul.. I was so surprised that this is not more widely written about in all the travel materials on Istanbul..

      Liked by 1 person

  17. poppytumpno4 February 8, 2020 at 19:29 #

    A wealth of detail in your post ..writing and photographic detail ! So different to any cemeteries I might have ever visited. Fascinating 🙂


    • getsetandgo February 9, 2020 at 10:07 #

      Thanks so much for the kind words 🙂 It is quite a unique place..


  18. Bharat Taxi February 16, 2020 at 11:43 #

    Such a great blog it is! You have written well informative with various beautiful lines. Very interesting. Thanks.


  19. beachah February 16, 2020 at 21:02 #

    Wonderful photo blog! I love going through old cemeteries. They always have a thousand stories to tell.


  20. NicholeS February 20, 2020 at 06:01 #

    Very beautiful! Thanks for sharing these.


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