Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Mosque as new Building Type

The Mosque as new building type

Macedonia preserves a surprising number of historic mosques, some well restored, others crumbling, particulary the rural mosques in the Eastern part of the country. Skopje but also Bitola, to name just two towns can be proud of their Ottoman heritage.
As everybody knows, the place of worship for Muslims is called a mosque. The evolution of mosque architecture started in the early times of Islam with small dark chambers, finding inspiration later on in Sassanian Architecture, Sel├žuk Mosques and finally in the enormous influence of Byzantine Architecture with the overwhelming model of the Church of Hagia Sophia, long before Constantinople was conquered. The Ottoman builders absorbed elements from all these currents but found their own unique style, largely thanks to its main architect Mimar Sinan. This classic prototype of Ottoman mosque signified by a cubic prayer hall and covered by a dome is well represented in Haydar Kadi Mosque in Bitola ( see image) as well as numerous other mosques all over the country.

Each mosque has certain features, common to all, as for instance the qibla wall opposite the entrance with the mihrab, an artistically decorated niche from which the imam leads the five daily prayers. Another characteristic element is the minaret, a slender tower next to the mosque from which the muezzin calls the faithful to prayer. Ottoman minarets stand out with their elegant pencil shape. A porch in front of the entrance, most often finished with high quality materials and techniques, allows for late-comers. For the obligatory ablution before prayer each mosque has a shadirvan or ablution fountain, sometimes with its own aestetic value.

Alaca or Painted Mosque in Tetovo
One of the most resplendent monuments of Ottoman Architecture in Macedonia is Alaca Mosque in the small town of Tetovo. Originally this prayer house has been built in the 15th century, but after its destruction by fire the local rulers decided to rebuild it at the end of the 18th century. At this period, the central government, already in decadence, could no longer provide guidance to the province since the Ottoman civilization itself was in decay. Instead, the hitherto standardized architecture of the Ottoman School was supplanted by the local patron's fancy as an expression of his personal taste.

The builders opted for a spacious rectangular prayer hall covered with a flat interior dome. A wide colonnaded porch with two mihrab niches allows for late-comers. On the right side of the front wall rises a slender minaret, preserved from the original mosque. Equally preserved from the 15th century mosque is a beautiful mausoleum in front of the mosque. It contains the rests of the two sisters Mensure and Hurshide who were the patrons of the original mosque. A stone fountain next to it completes the complex that is surrounded by a large yard and protected by a stone wall.

What converts this mosque in the most extraordinary one in all Macedonia is its stunning decoration with fresco paintings, both at its exterior  as at its interior. These painted decorations in Ottoman Baroque Style express the builder's and the artisans' taste. According to legend 30.000 eggs were used for the realisation of this decoration that literally cover the building outside and inside, including the shallow dome. The motives of three of the exterior walls are unique in its kind. Rectangular fields with either circular or star-like design are lined up in an alternate manner achieving a most admirable effect. Contrastingly, the porch and the mosque's interior are covered with countless stylized floral ornaments, arabesques and landscapes showing the then fashionable West-European influences.

If this unique mosque rises your curiosity enough to see images of other mosques click the preceding "mosque" and choose Macedonia and then Skopje. For an overall information on all Ottoman monuments in Macedonia my illustrated book is now available:
Teresa Waltenberger, Architecture in Macedonia: The Ottoman Heritage, Skopje 2014 
Publisher: Logos-A