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Studies on the Ottoman Architecture of the Balkans pdf

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 Studies On The Ottoman Architecture Of The Balkans
  • Book Author:
Machiel Kiel
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Studies on the Ottoman Architecture of the Balkans by Machiel Kiel


Book Introduction

For half a millennium much of Southeast Europe was an integral part of the Islamic world and shared fully in its political economic and cultural life.

Balkan cities were among the largest of the Muslim Empire, and some of the most important owe their very existence to the active urbanisation policy of that state: the Empire of the Ottoman Turks.

As examples there are Sarajevo the capital city of Bosnia, and its two other largest cities, Banja Luka and Mostar, or Tirana, capital of Albania, or Elbasan and Korça, not to mention many smaller towns in Bulgaria. Places which today are hardly known, such as Didymoteichon and Giannitsa in Greece, were in the past eminent centres of Islamic learning.

Numerous are the cities which developed from a minor walled town or castle into a large commercial and cultural centre after the Ottoman conquest had brought unity and lasting peace: Plovdiv, Shoumen, Sofia and Jambol in present-day Bulgaria, Kavalla and Komotini in Greece are examples, and there are scores of smaller towns.

In the new towns of the Ottoman Balkans, as well as in the developing older ones, a new kind of Islamic architecture evolved, differing greatly from what had gone before.

 This new style visibly bore the mark of its Islamic past, especially the experience of the Seljuks of Asia Minor, from where the first architects were recruited. The local Byzantine­ Slavic styles of the Balkans had their influence too.

Yet the result differs from all others in its simple and surveyable forms, with decorative elements concentrated in a few places and the dominating importance of the dome.

 In a way Ottoman architecture mirrors the pragmatic outlook of the Ottoman state, as well as its centralised, hierarchic nature.

Ottoman architecture came into being in a land with no tradition of Islamic culture. Buildings such as mosques, baths or khans were virtually unknown in the Balkans; the institution of khans in towns or caravanserais along the main roads was a novelty, not to speak of the Bedesten or the Zaviye-Mosque (T-Plan), which are typical Ottoman creations.

 After the southern Balkans had been incorporated into the emerging empire in the second half of the 14th century, Muslim-Turkish administrators, soldiers and civilians settled in and alongside the old walled towns, and masses of peasants and Yi.iri.ik cattle breeders came over from Anatolia to settle the land where ever there was room.

There was then a sudden need for Islamic buildings in large numbers; and this took place at a time when Ottoman architecture had not yet crystallised.

 This sudden need revolutionised Ottoman building and was, in my opinion, a powerful factor in shaping Ottoman art.

What was required was an architecture with simple but monumental forms, systematic in plan and easy to build. Exquisitely decorated buildings in the tradition of the Anatolian Seljuks remained a rarety.

In the formation of this new style, the Balkans played a great role. The new style was soon to evolve its own code of aesthetics and reached full maturity in the first half of the 15th century.

The great buildings in Edirne, Skopje or Plovdiv bear ample witness to that.

In the Balkan countries monumental examples of all phases of Ottoman architecture can still be found, beginning with the mosque and hospice (imaret) of Ghazi Evrenos in Komotini and his khan in Ihca/ Loutro Trajanopolis, built in the 1370s, with the oldest part of the Old Mosque of Jambol, a decade later, and with the Imaret of Mihaloglu in Ihtiman in Bulgaria and the hamams of Didymoteichon and Giannitsa, both from the 1390s, and ending with the government buildings, schools and hospitals of the early 20th century.

Ottoman architecture in the Balkans comprises a great number of types: mosques, schools and hot baths play an important role, as is understandable in so thoroughly an Islamic state as was that of the Ottoman Turks.

Yet it is noticeable that utilitarian buildings are often much larger in size than buildings with a religious function; e. g., stone-built market halls (bedesten), covered shopping streets (w·asta), monumental bridges, aqueducts, or huge caravanserais.

These utilitarian buildings are an eloquent witness to the pragmatic spirit of the Ottomans, combining, as they did, beauty with usefulness.

There is one aspect which should never be forgotten in an evaluation of the Ottoman architecture of the Balkans: the capital cities of the Empire were situated somewhere else.

 Setting aside Edirne, which is technically in the Balkans but usually counted as in Turkey proper, there are no imperial buildings comparable with those in the capital cities of Bursa or Istanbul.

 In the Balkans, no equivalent of the Alhambra of Granada or the Taj Mahal of Agra was ever produced.

What we find is good provincial architecture, with specific features of its own in the first phase but dominated by the art of the capital cities in the classical phase.

The only really imperial buildings were the road-stations on the Istanbul-Belgrade highway, such as in Uzunca-Ova, Harmanh or Tatar Pazarctk, all in Bulgaria (and all disappeared), the Siileymanic aqueduct of Kavalla, or bridges such as that over the Drina in Bosnia.

Hence, no enormous mosques should be expected in the Balkans, because there was no imperial city, no need for grand representative structures and no great mass of Muslims needing such buildings.

Yet the total architectural production of the Ottomans in the Balkans was enormous.

Ekrem Hakkt Ayverdi collected information on almost 20,000 buildings of all sizes, suited to the needs of the widely dispersed Muslim communities, and often, in spite of their relatively small size, of great monumentality and artistic value.

The importance of Turkish Islamic architecture in the Balkans of today is evaluated very differently in the various successor states of the Empire.

This is closely related to the manner in which the particular state came into being and with present-day politics and economic conditions.

In countries which have not yet accepted and digested their past as it was, countries still in search for their own identity, with the process of ‘GeschichtsbewiHtigung’ unfinished, Ottoman architecture is often interpreted as being the product of their own creative genius: thus, in fact as the work of Albanian, Bulgarian or Greek architects and master builders.

In other countries, where the past has been digested, the imperial character of this art, radiating from Bursa, Edirne and Istanbul is stressed: thus an art transplanted from East to West, without however, forgetting the local component.

Yugoslav research (Andrej Andrejevic) has even stressed the point that in the 16th and 17th centuries Ottoman-Turkish elements, decorative as well as structural, deeply influenced the Serbian-Orthodox architecture of some districts.

Elsewhere such points are denied and late 18th- and 19th-century realities (where Christian masters indeed carried out most Ottoman construction work) are simply projected back into the 15th and 16th century.

In the last twenty years the Ottoman archives have yielded important and previously wholly unknown sources on the technical organisation of Ottoman architecture.

The accounts of the greatest of all Ottoman building projects, the Suleymaniye compound, composed of eleven monumental structures, have been published by Barkan in two bulky volumes: SiUeymaniye Cami ve Imareti in�aatt, 2 vols (Ankara, 1972, 1979).

 I, myself have found dozens of accounts of smaller building projects in the Balkans, basically 15th- and 16th-century but also from the 17th and early 18th century. From these sources it becomes very clear that the planning, design and day-to-day organisation was firmly in Ottoman hands.

Architects and workleaders, trained in the capital, were dispatched to the province. Models of what to build were sent with them.

Clear-cut cases are those of the big Zincirli Kule in Thessaloniki (1537-39), of the mosque of Hasseki Sultan in Svilengrad (1558), or of the new castle of Navarino (1573).

No model has survived, it seems, but we find them well depicted in the miniatures of the Book of Festivities, when guild processions took place at the occasion of the circumcision of the sons of Sultan Murad III (1582).

With the help of these models the individual patrons, or the state commission, could decide what kind of mosque or fortress they wanted.

Detailed plans and elevations, such as for the medieval cathedrals of Western Europe (Cologne or Strasbourg, for example) have not yet been found in the Ottoman archives and I doubt whether they were ever made.

At state building projects a government official kept the accounts and the local Cadi scrutinised them before they were sent to Istanbul for approval.

The money usually came from provincial taxes, part of which was not remitted to Istanbul but used on the spot.

In the case of private buildings, as the bulk of the great projects in the provinces were paid for locally, by the local governors and high ranking members of the military or the administration, that money likewise did not need to be transferred.

In contrast to building projects in medieval Europe, where it could take ages before the necessary amount of money was brought together, Ottoman building projects were finished within a few years because money and labour were directly at hand. The labourforce was recruited locally.

 The central government dispatched orders to the Cadis of the districts adjacent to the site of the project, ordering them to assemble such and such a number of stone cutters, carpenters, chalk­ burners, bricklayers, etc. , to give them money for the journey and have their names inscribed in two registers, and then to send them off to the building site.

 One register remained in the Cadi’s office, the other was sent to the site. To make sure that the men really arrived, they each had to provide a guarantor before they were actually paid. The only things the patrons were interested in were “experienced, well-trained masters, experts in their craft”.

At the site the men were paid daily, and lists of their names, the number of days they had worked (there was a considerable amount of part-time work), and the money they got were noted day by day. All the accounts are kept in the difficult administrative script used in the Ottoman bureaucracy, the Siyakat script, with the numbers often coded and many special signs and abbreviations used.

The language of the accounts is more often than not Persian, mixed with Arabic and Turkish words, as well as some specifically local Greek or Slavic technical terms.

These accounts testify to the high professional standards of the Ottoman bureaucracy at its prime.

Through these detailed sources we can easily see who in fact constructed Ottoman buildings.

For the Suleymaniye it appears that of the 1122 stone cutters engaged, 89 per cent were Muslims, sons of Muslims; of the 367 carpenters, 77 per cent were Muslims. In fact the two groups ‘make’ the building.

The role of the bricklayer is subordinate. Disregarding the workers who came from Istanbul itself, the largest single groups of stone cutters came from the old Seljuk

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