by John Pitts
The Ottomans were among the greatest rulers in the history of the Middle East. As we are told by Sheila Blair in her book The Art and Architecture of Islam (1250- 1800), "The Ottomans came to power as Warriors on the Byzantine frontier northwest of Anatolia." The Ottomans were a very powerful and courageous dynasty reigning from 1281 to 1924. Although they were great warriors, they were at least as well known for their great architecture and their elaborate art.
One of the first and most important accomplishments of the Ottomans was their reforming of the mosque. Globe Book Company in the book The Middle East and North Africa and the Regional Studies Series describes a mosque as follows. "In Islam the place of ritual prayer is a religious building called a Mosque." Under Ottoman rule, the architecture of the mosques and the mosque layout changed. The interior of the mosques and the intricate designs told of the love for religion in the Ottoman community. Although the Ottoman mosques were based on the traditional ones, by the joining the designs of different regions of the present-day Middle East, the Ottomans developed their own unique style in the building and the structure of the buildings. This is demonstrated in the mosques that were built or churches that were reformed into mosques during the reign of the Ottomans, such as The Mosques of Haci Ozbec, The Mosque of Suleymaniye, and The Mosque of Murad.
In the Mosques, the Ottomans employed very decorative and elaborate detail, which they enjoyed often as they visited the mosque five times a day for religious prayer. As Sheila Blair writes in her book The Art and Architecture of Islam (1250 1800), "Architecture was more experimental on the western frontier as architects encountered new ideas, particularly features of the Byzantine architecture and a trove of ancient and medieval materials." The Ottomans decided to make the conventional mosque prettier by adding a richly carved main facade consisting of a portal flanked by a minaret. A minaret is a high tower where a man would call to the town that it was time for prayer. In the interior of the mosque were forty-eight columns with muquarnas capitals (the tops of the column) to create seven aisles perpendicular to the quibla. The quibla was the wall in which the mirab was laid. The Mirab was the nitch in the wall that pointed to Mecca. Mecca was the holy city in the Islamic religion. The center aisle leading to the mirab was wider and higher than in the old mosques, and the mirab was decorated with mosaic tiles of light blue and dark blue. A raised platform near the center of the mosque was the special place of prayer at that time. The rafters and brackets were all painted.
The Mosque of Haci Ozbek
The Mosque of Haci Ozbek was built in 1333 by the Ottomans in the Byzantine region that the Ottomans conquered. Orhan, the Ottoman ruler at that time, not only built The Mosque of Haci Ozbek, but also went on to build others mosques and convert churches that were dispersed throughout the Ottoman empire. The Mosque of Haci Ozbek was a church that was converted into a traditional mosque. It is made up of a room 7.92 meters square, and is covered by a hemispheric dome that rests on an octagon as the wall of the building. The original entrance to the mosque entrance was destroyed by the widening of the roads. A glass porch now replaces the entrance. There is no minaret at this particular mosque. The building has courses of stone ashlars, separated by two to four courses of bricks laid in common blood. Within the ashlar course a soldier brick separates each stone. The dome is covered with terracotta tile that is molded to fit the dome. (Blair, The Art and Architecture of Islam).
The Suleymaniye Mosque
The Suleymaniye Mosque is considered to be one of the most elegant mosques in the world, let alone the greatest mosque in the Ottoman Empire. The Suleymaniye Mosque was built by a man named Master Sinan along with his pupils. The Suleymaniye Mosque is much grander and larger that most conventional mosques. The mosque is also very highly decorated so as to impress God. With marble columns and towering minarets, hand painted and glazed tiles, beautiful Arabic letters, and a zinc roof, this mosque truly stands out in the Ottoman world. The amazing garden and landscape, the high minarets, and the overall size of The Suleymaniye Mosque set this mosque apart from any other. (Turkish Ministry of Culture)( Link to Ministry of Culture Web Page)
The Mosque of Murad
Like the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Mosque of Murad is also a great and splendid mosque. The Mosque of Murad was built in 1385 and sits on a hill top a little west of Bursa. The mosque was built using the Byzantine layout. The mosque looked much more like a building with not so rounded sides, and the ground floor had a large porch to view the road. The mosque had stairs inside, which was very uncommon for a conventional mosque. The actual dome of the mosque was almost hidden, and you had to take a small narrow hallway to get to the dome room. At the top, the dome itself is small. The one minaret that was built for the mosque was attached to the side of the building to give enough space to the building beside it. Because of these features, the mosque is considered to be one of the most unique built by the Ottomans, and it differed greatly from the traditional way that mosques were designed. (Blair, The Art and Architecture of Islam).
The Mosque at Haci Ozbec, The Suleumaniye Mosque, and The Murad Mosque were all exceptions to the coventional way of building mosques, and they are examples of the unique architecture for which the Ottomans were so famous and well known. While there were many things that distinguished the Ottomans and contributed to their long and powerful rule, people today will always associate them most with the unique structures they left behind. The daring ideas and dreams of the Ottomans reflected in their mosques will live on forever.
Simon, Goldsttein, and Wasserstein, The Middle East and North Africa Globe Book Company, New Jersey 1993.
Blair, Sheila. The Art and Archetecture of Islam (1250-1800) Libaray of Congress Cataloging and Pulblication. 1994.
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