Saruca Pasha Mosque in Edirne and its peculiar graveyard

GPS coordinates: 41.674998, 26.560952
Kara Mustafa Pasha's strangulation by a silk cord on 25 December 1683 [Public Domain]
Kara Mustafa Pasha's strangulation by a silk cord on 25 December 1683 [Public Domain]


Saruca Pasha Mosque in Edirne is another small neighbourhood mosque, situated very close to the historical heart of the city, on the street bearing the same name. The single minaret of the mosque stands at the northern end of the west façade. The entrance to the mosque is at the western end of the north façade, close to the corner with the minaret. The building was erected on the square plan, and it is covered with a single dome. It lost its original appearance after a recent restoration carried out between 2015 and 2017.

Similarly as is the case of Selçuk Hatun Mosque, the visual result of the restoration is less than satisfying, and the mosque now looks rather dull and uninspiring. Before the renovation, the carefully arranged layers of bricks in the mosque's exterior served as the illustration of the ornamental function of unglazed brick in the Ottoman architecture. However, the new exterior looks very similar to so many other small mosques of Edirne.

Saruca Pasha who gave the mosque its name was an experienced commander, vizier, and advisor of the sultans, especially Mehmed II, the future conqueror of Constantinople. His most prominent memorial is one of the towers of Rumeli Hisari, the fortress Sultan Mehmed II had built on the European shore of the Bosphorus, to cut off Constantinople from the Black Sea. The other two main towers of this fortress bear the names of the Sultan's two other Viziers, Çandarlı Halil Pasha and Zaganos Pasha.

The mosque he erected in Edirne was constructed most probably much earlier, during the reign of Murad II. In this period Saruca Pasha was appointed to the position of the beylerbey of Rumelia, around 1434-1435, but this date is uncertain. The much later year of 1459 is sometimes mentioned as the construction date of the mosque, for example in the founding inscription of the mosque, now in Edirne Archaeological Museum. However, even in 1435, Saruca Pasha was already an accomplished politician, a negotiator with Venice, Serbia and Byzantium.

Nothing is stunning about the building, and not much can be written about the structure. However, the small graveyard situated next to the mosque, on its north-eastern side, is quite another matter. We may begin by noting that the alternative name of the mosque is Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Mosque because of the person buried in the graveyard. In order to understand the importance of this grave, it is necessary to move forward in time, from the era of Mehmed II to the end of the 17th century, when the Ottoman Empire made the last attempts at expansion into Central and Eastern Europe.

Kara Mustafa was born around 1634 to Albanian parents, in Merzifon, near Amasya, in the Black Sea region; therefore he became known as Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa. His career political and military was launched when he married into the powerful Köprülü family. A series of promotions led him to the position of the governor of Silistria, and then he became the deputy for the grand vizier Köprülü Fazıl Ahmed Pasha, his brother-in-law. Among his greatest achievements was a beneficial settlement with the King of Poland, John III Sobieski, signed in 1676. It added the province of Podolia to the Ottoman Empire, thus transforming the regions of southern Ukraine into a protectorate. In the same year, Kara Mustafa succeeded Fazıl Ahmed Pasha as the Grand Vizier.

Even in the early years of his political career, Kara Mustafa quickly became a controversial figure, as it is apparent from the emotionally charged descriptions provided by his European contemporaries. Merlijn Olnon has recently analysed these changing perceptions in the publication "A most agreeable and pleasant creature". Thus, let us take a closer look at the person who almost managed to take Vienna from the Austrians. However, this fearsome commander had been initially appraised in the very positive manner, and with time, the opinions declined until he was immortalised as "this grievous oppressor of all Christendom", as John Finch, English ambassador in Istanbul described him around 1680.

The fascinating illustration of changing perceptions concerning Kara Mustafa was provided in the correspondence of Justinus Colyer, a Dutch diplomat and envoy to the Ottoman Empire from 1668 to 1682. The first time he saw Kara Mustafa was in Edirne in 1668 when Mustafa held the position of the deputy grand vizier. On this occasion, Kara Mustafa demonstrated great courtesy and granted all of Colyer's wishes that were related to the trade affairs. Not surprisingly, the first impression that Kara Mustafa made was extremally positive as "of great intellect and eloquence; a most agreeable and pleasant creature." Moreover, the charming personality of Kara Mustafa was also confirmed by other experienced European diplomats such as the English consul Paul Rycaut and French ambassador Marquis de Nointel.

This initial positive assessment of Kara Mustafa did not last, and eleven years after the first Edirne meeting, Colyer referred to the grand vizier as "extremely avid and intransigent in all his dealings". Other diplomats followed suit and added that Mustafa was "a griffin with ravenous claws" (Jacob van Dam, Dutch consul in Izmir) or "a person of violence, rapine, pride, covetousness, false, perfidious, bloody, and without reason or justices" (again Paul Rycaut, drastically changing his earlier opinion). This very harsh judgement of Kara Mustafa was not questioned by modern era historians, but they saw him in the light of the later Vienna campaign. However, as Merlijn Olnon astutely observed, the opinions had changed long before the final war of Kara Mustafa, and thus something must have gone wrong in his diplomatic relations with the Europeans much earlier than that.

Merlijn Olnon also traced the careful analysis of Kara Mustafa's career and timing of the moment when the opinions of the foreign diplomats drastically changed. The basic conclusion was not surprising when one thinks about it: when Kara Mustafa, as the deputy grand vizier started commandeering Dutch, French, and English vessels for the needed of the Ottoman campaign on Crete, the diplomats' opinions express their apparent dismay. However, this story has a surprising twist, as the diplomats were angered not by the fact of a forced lease of the ships but by Kara Mustafa's attitude when he refused to accept bribes to stop this procedure. This conclusion sheds more positive light of the deputy grand vizier who fulfilled his duties and was incorruptible.

In 1676, when Kara Mustafa was finally promoted to the highest post of the Ottoman Empire, the grand vizier, he spent the first months in Edirne. He devoted much of his energy to clean the situation of the city, where he found out that the bostancıbaşı of the city (i.e. the member of the imperial guard) was involved in the embezzlement of construction funds. Kara Mustafa only returned to Istanbul in April of 1677, in a festive atmosphere and with the feeling of fulfilment of his duties in the old capital. The negative comments he later received from the French and English diplomats resulted from their breaching the Ottoman court protocol in the presence of the grand vizier and not from Kara Mustafa's "proverbial arrogance and avidity of the Turks". In the case of the Dutch envoy, Justinus Colyer, the final change of heart concerning the grand vizier was related to the ferman - i.e. a legal act that requested the list of all foreign merchants married to the Ottoman wives. Kara Mustafa intended to undermine their fiscal privileges and treat them as the regular subjects of the sultan. In this situation, Kara Mustafa again proved to be unmovable and incorruptible, upkeeping the law and refusing all the bribes.

The higher you climb, the quicker you fall, or at least it was the truth for Kara Mustafa. In the autumn of 1682, a massive Ottoman army gathered in Edirne where it spent the winter. According to documents later found in Kara Mustafa's tent, the initial strength of this army at the start of the campaign was 170,000 men. The march northwards began on the 1st of April 1883, and after 105 days the Ottomans reached the walls of Vienna where the siege began.

The city was only relieved after two months when the relief force under the command of King John III Sobieski defeated the Turks in the grand battle. Kara Mustafa fled, leaving his tent behind, and even though he later tried to put up some resistance against the Christian army, he was executed in Belgrade, on the 25th of December 1683. He was strangulated with a green silk cord, the approved method of capital punishment for high-ranking officials in the Ottoman Empire, and then beheaded, apparently for good measure.

The head of Kara Mustafa Pasha was later buried in the graveyard of Sarıca Pasha Mosque, and thus he at least partly returned to the starting point of his failed campaign. The modern opinions concerning Kara Mustafa's skills is a mixed one, and various historians talk of him either as a capable tactician or reckless commander. His grave in Edirne remains a place of pilgrimage for the inhabitants of his hometown, Merzifon.

Some controversy concerning the skull of Kara Mustafa has existed for a long time. Despite the widespread belief that his skull is buried in Edirne, shared by Turkish historians, there was another skull on display in Vienna. The history behind this object is rather obscure, but it follows the reasoning that Kara Mustafa's body remained in Belgrade. In 1688, the Habsburg army reconquered Belgrade, if only for two years. During this short interval, the alleged Kara Mustafa's skull was acquired by grave-robbers and traded to cardinal Leopold Karl von Kollonitsch. He brought the grisly object to Vienna Civic Armoury where it remained till the whole collection was moved to Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, now known simply as Wien Museum. It was on display to 1976, was later hidden in storage, and finally buried in Central Cemetery of Vienna in 2006.

The possibility that it was the real head of Kara Mustafa is very low as we may almost certainly assume that it was transported to the Ottoman Empire so that Sultan Mehmed IV himself could be confident that his orders of Kara Mustafa's execution were carried out. Sultan Mehmed IV, known as the Hunter, frequently resided in Edirne where he enjoyed extensive hunting grounds. Thus the head of the grand vizier was brought in a velvet bag to the city by a certain Kazaz Ahmed. It was exhibited at the Seng-i İbret (Warning Stone) in front of the Justice Pavilion in Sarayiçi Island in Edirne.

The headless body of the unfortunate grand vizier was transferred to Istanbul and buried in the Kara Mustafa Pasha Medrese. Why the head was buried separately, and in another city, remains a mystery. The sultan who ordered the vizier's execution was overthrown by the army only four years later in the aftershocks of the failed Vienna campaign. He was first imprisoned in Topkapı Palace, but he then was permitted to retire to his beloved Edirne where he devoted much time hunting and where he died in Edirne Palace in 1693.

The Wien Museum may no longer have the alleged Kara Mustafa's skull in its collections, but it still can boast the famous painting depicting this vizier by an unknown artist. There are not many portraits of Kara Mustafa, and among them, the one from Wien Museum is probably the most-commonly reproduced. However, it was painted more than a decade after the death of the Ottoman commander. It depicts him in civilian clothes and a plumed turban. The grand vizier looks somewhat melancholic than threatening here and inspires compassion for his fate.

The portrait was donated to the museum by Count Hans Wilczek in 1883, on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Vienna. He was the son of a well-off noble family of Polish roots with a wide area of interests that included not only archaeology and art history but also natural sciences. He is best known as an arctic explorer and the sponsor of the Austro-Hungarian North Pole Expedition in the years 1872 - 1874.

It is high time to refocus on Saruca Pasha Mosque in Edirne. There is another grave of high interest in its yard, and it belongs to Melek Ibrahim Pasha, a contemporary of Kara Mustafa Pasha. Born in Divriği around 1595, Ibrahim Pasha arrived in Istanbul as a youth, under the patronage of his countryman Seyyid Mustafa Pasha. Initially, he was employed in the financial services, and soon gained the nickname Şeytan (Satan), because of his wit and rudeness. He was later promoted to the post of the governor of Egypt which he held for three years in relative peace. However, he was dismissed and temporarily arrested under the suspicions of some financial irregularities.

His next appointments were related to a completely different region, as he was sent to the front of the Russo-Turkish War that began in 1676. The main task of Ibrahim Pasha was the capture of Chyhyryn Fortress in Turkish known as Çehrin) on the Dnieper River, now in the central part of Ukraine. In July 1677, the Sultan ordered his army of 45 thousand men, under the command of Ibrahim Pasha, to advance towards Chyhyryn. However, the commandant failed in this commision as Muscovite and Ukrainian cavalry overwhelmed the Turkish camp, inflicting heavy casualties. Ibrahim Pasha lost 20 thousand men and was imprisoned for fifty-three days in Yedikule Fortress upon his return to Constantinople. His excuse was that the castle of Chyhyryn was small but very strong. The person who proved him wrong was our old acquaintance, Kara Mustafa Pasha. The next year, in 1678, he started a new campaign and took Chyhyryn in August.

Ibrahim Pasha returned to the great game of Ottoman war on the death of Kara Mehmed Pasha when he was appointed the governor of Budin, the region that the Ottoman Empire conquered from the medieval Kingdom of Hungary and Serbian Despotate. The capital of the Budin Province was Budin, now Buda, a part of Hungarian capital city of Budapest. Ibrahim Pasha quickly fortified the Castle of Budin and held it for months against the Austrian army. After several attacks, the Austrians were still unable to capture the fortress and withdrew in October 1684. The Ottoman commander was rewarded by the sultan and gained a new nickname - the Angel (Melek). However, his increased reputation and the favour of the sultan also brought jealousy, especially from the person of Kara Ibrahim Pasha, the grand vizier of the period.

The luck quickly changed for Melek Ibrahim Pasha, as his 80,000-strong army was defeated by 15 thousands of Austrian soldiers, in a failed attempt to save the Uyvar Castle and conquer Esztergom. Uyvar was the capital of the freshly established Ottoman province in the region of today's Slovakia. Its loss was an insult to the sultan. Melek Ibrahim Pasha's situation was discussed in the presence of Sultan Mehmed IV. The conclusions were harsh: he failed to take Estergon Fortress with a huge army, he left Uyvar Castle without help and caused the loss of much ammunition. Ibrahim Pasha did not attend the meeting under the pretext of illness, but he disagreed with the conclusions. Yet, the verdict was reached and Melek was executed in Belgrade. His body was buried in Edirne, next to the head of Kara Mustafa.


Image gallery: 

Kara Mustafa Pasha's anonymous portrait from Vienna Museum [Public Domain]
Kara Mustafa Pasha's anonymous portrait from Vienna Museum [Public Domain]