In their homeland in Central Asia, Turks lived in dome-like tents appropriate to their natural surroundings, and they were nomads. These tents later influenced Turkish architecture and ornamental arts.
At the time when the Seljuk Turks first came to Iran, they encountered an architecture based on old traditions. Integrating this with elements from their own traditions, the Seljuks produced new types of structures. The most important type of structure they formulated was the "medrese". The first medresses (Muslim theological schools) were constructed in the 11th century by the famous minister Nizamülmülk, during the time of Alparslan and Melik Shah. The most important ones are the three government medresses in Nisabur, Tus and Baghdad and the Hargerd Medresse in Horasan.
Another area in which the Seljuks contributed to architecture is that of tomb monuments. These can be divided into two types: vaults and big dome-like mausoleums. The Ribati- Serif and the Ribati Anasirvan are examples of surviving 12th century Seljuk caravanserais, where travelers would stop over for the night. In Seljuk buildings, brick was generally used, while the inner and outer walls were decorated in a material made by mixing marble, powder, lime and plaster. In typical buildings of the Anatolian Seljuk period, the major construction material was wood, laid horizontally except along windows and doors, where columns were considered more decorative.
Turkish architecture reached its peak during the Ottoman period. Ottoman architecture, influenced by Seljuk, Byzantine and Arab architecture, came to develop a style all of its own. The years 1300-1453 constitute the early or first Ottoman period, when Ottoman art was in search of new ideas. During this period we encounter three types of mosque: tiered single-domed and sub line-angled mosques. The Junior Haci Ozbek Mosque (1333) in Iznik, the first important center of Ottoman art, is the first example of Ottoman single-domed mosques.
The architectural style which was to take on classical form after the conquest of Istanbul, was born in Bursa and in Edirne. The Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) in Bursa was the first Seljuk mosque to be converted into a domed one. Edirne was the last Ottoman capital before Istanbul, and it is here that we witness the final stages in the architectural development that culminated in the construction of the great mosques of Istanbul. The buildings constructed in Istanbul between the capture of the city and the construction of the mosque of Sultan Bayezit are also considered works of the early period. Among these are the mosques of Fatih (1470), the mosque of Mahmutpasa, Tiled Pavilion and Topkapi Palace. In Ottoman times the mosque did not exist by itself. It was looked on by society as being very much interconnected with city planning and communal life. Beside the mosque there were soup kitchens, theological schools, hospitals, Turkish baths and tombs.
During the classical period mosque plans changed to include an inner and outer courtyard. The inner courtyard and the mosque were inseparable. The master architect of the classical period, Mimar Sinan, was born in 1492 in Kayseri and died in Istanbul in the year 1588. Sinan started a new era in world architecture, creating 334 buildings in various cities. His style was to have a considerable influence on future epochs. Mimar Sinan's first important work was the Sehzade Mosque completed in 1548. His second significant work was the Süleymaniye Mosque and surrounding complex, built for Kanuni Sultan Süleyman. The Selimiye mosque in Edirne was built during the years 1568-74, when Sinan was in his prime as an architect. The Rüstempasa, Mihrimah Sultan, Ibrahimpasa, and Sinan mosques and the Shehzade, Kanuni Sultan Süleyman, Hürrem Sultan and Selim II mausoleums are among Sinan's most renowned works. Examples of Ottoman architecture of the classical period, aside from Istanbul and Edirne, can also be seen in Egypt, Tunisia, Algiers, the Balkans and Hungary, where mosques, bridges, fountains and schools were built.
During the years 1720-1890, Ottoman art deviated from the principles of classical times. In the 18th century, during the Lale (Tulip) period, Ottoman art came under the influence of the excessive decorations of the west; Baroque, Rococo, Ampir and other styles intermingled with Ottoman art. Fountains became the characteristic structures of this period. An eclecticism set in. The Aksaray Valide mosque in Istanbul is an example of the mixture of Turkish art and Gothic style.
In Turkish architecture, the years 1890-1930 are looked upon as the neoclassical period. In this period, Turkish architects looked to the religious and classical buildings of former times for inspiration in their attempts to construct a national architecture. Nationalism, developing strongly after the second Ottoman constitutional period, freed Ottoman architecture from the influence of western art, and thereby brought about a new style based on classic Ottoman architecture. The Gazi Institute of Education by architect Kemalettin, the Foundation Apartments and architect Vedat's old parliament buildings are all works of the new classical school.
These notable works were followed by a new approach directed towards contemporary architecture. The Ismet Pasa Girls' Institute, the Ankara Faculty of Letters, the Saracoglu district, the Grand Theater and the Istanbul Hilton paved the way for recognition of contemporary architecture. During this period, Sedat Hakki Eldem built the Istanbul Science-Literature Faculty and Emin Onat designed Atatürk's Mausoleum in Ankara.
After 1950, the trend in constructing buildings came to depend more on their purpose, the requirements of the age, awareness of town planning and the practicality of construction materials. The National Library designed by Sevki Vanli , The Turkish Historical Society building by Turgut Cansever, The Istanbul Anatolian Club, Behruz Çinici's Erzurum Atatürk University, Ankara's Middle East Technical University, the Oren and Bodrum coastal strips, the Houses of Parliament, the Kayseri Surgical Clinic designed by Affan Kirimli, the Adana Social Security Headquarters and the Ankara Medical Faculty Hospitals are all examples of Republican architecture.
By the 1970's, restoration work on old buildings notable for their architecture had been carried out to convert them into hotels and restaurants for public use. Also during this period there was a return to classical Turkish architectural styles, blended with contemporary techniques in search of new syntheses.