Monday, July 14, 2014

The Konak as New Building Type

The Konak

       Rich traders or members of the Ottoman aristocracy often built large houses or mansions for family use, particularly during the 19th century. The traditional examples of konaks followed the general practice of house-building using for instance the wide spread timber frame technique. The second floor, often protruding over the ground floor, was supported by beams. Windows were frequently shuttered so that women could enjoy the views onto the street below without being seen. The interior space conception most often consisted of a spacious hall (the sofa) in the centre of the building, for common use. Adjoining rooms (eyvans) for multi-purpose use were more intimate, with bedding and sanitary facilities hidden behind cupboard doors. Another distuishing features of an Ottoman konak and even of a saray (palace) is that their exterior was not intended to impress the onlooker, in contrast to West European palaces. Their luxury was restricted rather to the interior.

      Next to this residential building called konak, the same term also refers to local governmental buildings, the architectural response to administrative reforms along the 19th century. Their architecture is not any longer inspired by the traditional West-Anatolian-Balkan-Type house but reflects the new West European tendencies.

Bey's House in Tetovo
        Located in the neighborhood of the beautiful Aladza Mosque, that I presented at an earlier post, the so-called Bey's House in reality is only one part of the original huge konak built by the ruling local Bey in the 19th century. Back then it was composed of a selamlak (the building reserved for men), a haremlak (the equivalent for women and children) and a number of adjoining outbuildings, all surrounded by a massive stone wall. Only the haremlak has been restored recently yet this single building provides useful information of the characteristics of a konak. Its characteristic features, common with most Ottoman dwellings, can be observed here. A huge wood-panelled portico opening to the courtyard is topped by a wide terrace supported by wooden columns. Characteristically, the windows at the lower level are kept small for mayor privacy while the ones on the upper floor are big and numerous, assuring good sights at the surrounding nature. Ottoman Baroque-shaped windows and a four-sided roof with wide eaves contribute to the harmonious façades while the many high chimneys confer an extra dimension to the building.

Vilayet Konak in Skopje
      The Tanzimat Period in the 19th century, that is a long lasting reform process forced on the Sultan by the European powers, brought about some administrative reforms and with it the need for adequate buildings. One of these reforms modified the administrative units of the Empire, dividing the remaining Empire in vilayets. The local governor with seat in Skopje therefore built the Vilayet Konak (in front of the fortress) as government building responding to this new requirement.
      Corresponding with the West-European-inspired reforms  the style of the building itself is strongly reminiscent of Neo-Classic buildings in Western Europe. The spacious double-winged building has two floors with a specially emphasized portal. Pilasters framing this huge arched entrance and a triangular pediment on top of the second floor highlight this central part. All windows, rectangular at the ground floor and arched at the upper floor are framed in white stucco.

       If you want to know more about Ottoman Heritage in Macedonia please consult my recently published book:
Teresa Waltenberger, Architecture in Macedonia: The Ottoman Heritage, Skopje 2014

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