Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO
Province of Istanbul, district of Fatih
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Located to the east of the Covered (Grand) Bazaar, Fatih district in İstanbul, the Nuruosmaniye Complex consists of a mosque, madrasa, imaret (soup-kitchen), tomb, library and sebil (water fountain) enclosed in an irregular walled-in precinct, and a han and some stores built in the vicinity. The construction of the Nuruosmaniye Complex began in 1749 during the rule of Sultan Mahmud I (1730-1754) and was completed by his brother and successor Sultan Osman III (1754-1757) in 1755. The name of Nuruosmaniye, the Light of Osman, refers to a verse from Koran "God is the light of the heavens and the earth", which is inscribed inside the dome of the mosque. Although there is some dispute about the identity of architect, it is agreed that the architect was Simeon Kalfa who was of Greek origin. The construction of the complex is documented in detail in a treatise (Risâle) entitled Tarih-i Cami-i Serif-i Nur-i Osmani (History of the Blessed Nuruosmânîye Mosque), written by Bina Kâtibi Ahmed Efendi, the secretary of the building. This is a rare document on the specifics of the building and gives a detailed account of the organization of construction and information on the building process.
The complex is surrounded by a huge external courtyard with two entrances from the Grand Bazaar and Cagaloglu. The western gate, called Carsikapisi or bazaar gate opens into the covered bazaar with the sebil adjoining it. The mosque, oriented along the northwest-southeast axis, occupies the northwest corner of the precinct, which is raised above street level on a tall basement. Beside it, at the northeast corner, are the library and the tomb. The madrasa and the soup kitchen are housed in a single structure that projects beyond the southern precinct wall.
The exchange of artistic and technical models between the Ottoman cultural era and the rest of the world increased rapidly and extensively at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In the previous centuries, the Ottomans had been open to many aspects of European influence, but it was only after the 18th century that European architecture became overpowering. Besides the diplomatic relationships, the cultural activities of artists and travelers also played an important role in the expansion Western lifestyle. It was during this period that certain Neoclassical, Baroque, and Rococo forms gradually infiltrated the architectural landscape of Istanbul. European baroque and rococo forms penetrated the Ottoman architectural and decorative vocabulary mostly through ornamentation and façade compositions of a large number of secular buildings, such as palaces, pavilions, libraries, and especially public fountains built all over the capital. The Nuruosmaniye Complex is distinguished from its precedents with its most explicitly adoption of baroque design and decorative elements in a royal religious building.
A brief description of the major components of the complex is as follows:
The mosque consists of a single domed prayer hall, preceded by a courtyard of comparable size to the northwest. The courtyard is entered through a main portal to the northwest and two side portals. It has a unique semi-elliptical shape created with the use of wedge-segments placed between nine domed bays. The elliptical horse-shoe shaped courtyard is a unique attempt of form to introduce the baroque into Ottoman architecture and a complete break with the traditional rectangular form. It is therefore considered to symbolize the building’s relationship with the European baroque. This space consists of a tall five domed portico and a revak of nine low domes except those over the north doors, into the court and into the mosque. The outside of the court does not have a perfect curvilinear form; the portico which surrounds the courtyard from the inside has a polygonal plan, starting from the entrance door. Slender columns with plain capitals and round arches create a rhythm and movement that is also closely related to the dynamic spirit of the baroque. The five-bay mosque portico completes the courtyard arcade and leads into the prayer hall through a central portal. The prayer hall is square with a semicircular mihrab apse and is crowned with a large dome. The dome over pendentives measures 25 meters in diameter rising 43.5 meters from the floor. It is supported by four slightly pointed tympana arches spanning between the corners and reinforced by weight towers.
With its domed square prayer hall and arcaded courtyard, the mosque was built in traditional mosque structure. However, the interior of the monument below the level of the cornice separating the dome and the lower structure is closer to European baroque palaces than to an Islamic house of God. The most striking spatial features of the mosque are the curved (horse-shoe shaped) courtyard and the placing of the mihrab in a polygonal niche.
There are wide galleries within the interior space of the mosque. The entrance and the two corners flanking the qibla wall and the galleries are widened to form balconies that project into the prayer hall carried on columns. The three-storey building on the eastern side of the mosque is the lodge of the sultan (Hünkâr Kasrı) through which the ruler had access to the Hünkâr Mahfili inside the main building. The Hünkâr Kasrı was used as a place of rest and relaxation. It is accessed primarily by a ramp outside the mosque that allowed the sultan to ascend to his quarters on his horse. The tympana of the grand arches, equal in height to the galleries, are braced with smaller concentric arches that help strengthen the structure. At the qibla wall, the small arch is joined with the semi-dome that covers the mihrab apse. The building is generously fenestrated with elliptical windows in contrast to the rather introverted earlier mosque types. Sixteen windows in each tympanum light up the interior, in addition to the numerous casement windows at the ground and gallery levels. There are twenty-eight more windows at the base of the dome. With the exception of the casements, windows are made of interlacing pieces of colored and plain glass. The interior of the mosque is covered with gray marble panels up to the galleries where a thick structural cornice, inscribed with the Sura of Al-Fath. Below the gallery, calligraphic medallions crown each casement window. Inscriptions of the mosque were written by at least six different calligraphers. The extensive display of Koranic texts in the interior of the building is significant. The two fluted minarets each have double balconies that are supported on superposed circular rings and not on stalactite cornices.
The madrasa is adjoined to the imâret (soup-kitchen) and the two buildings stand on the other side of the street, isolated from the first courtyard. The madrasa is built on a traditional plan. It has twenty domed rooms and a large classroom enveloping an arcaded courtyard. The arasta consists of seventy five shops that are built under the terraces because of the slope of land where the complex is located.
Imaret (the soup-kitchen)
The soup-kitchen adjoins madrasa to the west and is about half the size of the madrasa. Entered through a domed entryway to the north, the soup-kitchen is organized around an inner courtyard that gives access to the kitchens to the south and a dining room to the west, with the madrasa wall bounding it to the east.
The library is a single-story building located in the second courtyard at the north-eastern corner built on a platform (fevkâni), and is accessible by means of radiating staircases. It has a cross-plan with widely rounded corners and consists of an elliptical reading room enveloped by an arcade made of fourteen columns. The main room has a polygonal exterior shape and an elliptical interior surrounded by half domes and smaller domes that are supported by slender columns. The inside of the building is very elegant, brightly illuminated by a total of thirty windows at two levels, and furnished with rare and exquisite desks and seats for the readers. An additional storage room projects between the two staircases to the west; there is also a full basement. The reading room is covered by a dome flanked by two semi-domes, and the arcade spaces have cross vaults. Thirty windows, placed at two levels, illuminate the interior. The bulbous footprint of the library is enhanced on the exterior with the play of pilasters and moldings. It is a branch of the Süleymaniye Library today and contains personal collections of Mahmud I and Osman III with a total of 7600 volumes of which 5052 are manuscripts. The library as an individual building is also a novelty from the classical külliye configuration.
The tomb is located slightly to the south of the library. Although originally intended for Mahmud I, none of the two patrons was buried here and the building contains the body of Şehsuvar Sultan, mother of Osman III 168, and some crown princes since there are eleven tombs in the main room. The tomb is a single domed room, preceded by a three-bay domed portico to the west. Its exterior appearance is marked by the curved outline of the portico and the large weight turrets that flank the dome at its four corners.
The sebil has a noticeable architecture with its incredibly rich and organic shaped cornice profiles, the cartouches with their three dimensional design and inscriptions. Three concave massive marble blocks stand between the shallow pilasters of the skirt wall.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The increased diplomatic, cultural and economic relations between the Ottomans and Europe in the 18th century brought about a more intense diffusion of Neoclassical, Baroque, and Rococo forms into the architectural environment of Istanbul. During this period, Ottoman architectural vocabulary was a hybrid style displaying a co-existence of experimental attempts along with traditional tendencies. The so-called “Ottoman Baroque” is characterized by the use of S and C curves in plans and architectural elements and by rococo ornamentation with leaf forms, scallops and volutes. Founded by Mahmud I in 1749 and completed by his successor Osman III in 1755, the Nurosmaniye Complex is the finest example of this so- called “Ottoman Baroque” and displays a unique synthesis between classical Ottoman and contemporary western styles. The mosque of the complex is the first Ottoman religious building to exhibit European Baroque and Neoclassical details like scrolls, shells, cable and round moldings, undulating and heavily molded cornices, concave and convex facades, round arches, engaged pillars, and fluted capitals. In addition to incorporating such elements, it was also the first mosque in Istanbul to introduce abundantly fenestrated facades, a horseshoe-shaped court-yard, and an imposing royal ramp and loggia.
Criterion (ii): Nuruosmaniye Complex displays exchange of artistic and technical models between the Ottoman world and Western Europe and the cultural fusion and local adaptation of European styles of architecture, art, and landscape design. The complex exhibits hybrid style displaying a co-existence of experimental attempts along with traditional tendencies. After Nuruosmaniye, baroque motifs are not only found in the decoration of public fountains, but in monumental buildings and mosques built in the 18th and 19th century Ottoman world.
Criterion (iii): Nuruosmaniye Complex represents an exceptional testimony to political, social, cultural and artistic developments of the late eighteenth century Ottoman State. The introduction of a new style in the complex has been considered as the aesthetic and architectural apogee of the period and a flourishing endeavor that mirrored the socio-cultural transformations of the period. The Nuruosmaniye Complex is the apogee of these stylistic transformations that began with the fountain of Ahmed III (1728) at the Bâb-ı Hűmâyûn.
Criterion (iv): The property is the first royal mosque built most explicitly in the hybrid vocabulary, and thus the most authentic example of so-called “Ottoman Baroque” style displaying the features like undulating cornices, scrolls, shells, foliage, cartouches, pilasters, columns with fluted capitals, and perfectly round arches instead of pointed ones. The mosque’s courtyard is the first and unique example of semi-elliptical plan in Ottoman architecture. Its marble facades give it its unique appearance, which also distinguishes it from the former ones.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrityNuruosmaniye Complex contains all the key attributes with its structural integrity and authenticity that convey its outstanding universal value. The settlement, architectural layout, form of buildings has reached to today without any change. None of the attributes within the property are under threat. The area has been protected by the Turkish Legislation for Preservation of Cultural and Natural Property, Law No.: 2863 amended, as a “monumental building” declared by the Regional Council of Preservation of Cultural Heritage. The property is also under the protection and inspection of the Regional Directorate of Foundations as a foundational work in accordance with the Law of Foundations dated 2008 and numbered 5737. The property has recently undergone an extensive cleaning and conservation works under the supervision of a scientific advisory board established by the Directorate of Foundations. All conservation activities carried out have paid due respect to authenticity of material, design and workmanship.
Comparison with other similar properties
The increased diplomatic, economic, and cultural relations between the Ottomans and Europe in the 18th century and the growing interest in and exposure to western material culture brought about a more intense diffusion of Neoclassical, Baroque, and Rococo forms into the architectural environment of Istanbul. Within this context, the first baroque interior was created in the so-called Fruit Room of the Topkapi Palace, built for Sultan Ahmed III in 1705 with its various flowers in vases and fruits in baskets painted in false niches on wood paneled walls. The public fountains constructed by Sultans and his officials are the first architectural unit displaying the Western forms of Baroque. The fountain of Sultan Ahmed III (1728) outside the Royal Gate of the Topkapi Palace, for example is an example of the creation of baroque urban space for public assembly.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, although some mosques were modeled after the Nuruosmaniye and some of its features inspired later buildings, none of them displayed such a wide range of innovative details in its entirety. The Ayazma Mosque (1757-1760) in Üsküdar that was modeled on the Nuruosmaniye is smaller in scale and displays a simpler decorative program. The Laleli Mosque (1759- 1763) is similar in plan to the Ayazma, the domed square enlarged by a vaulted narthex and the apse. The arches inside the building are slightly pointed and the windows are back to the circular form. The Laleli is also generously fenestrated like the Nuruosmaniye but much smaller in dome (12.50 meters in diameter) and height (24.50 meters). The courtyard is rectangular and the medrese and imâret are closely-knit like in the Nuruosmaniye, yet smaller in size.
Located on the shores of the Bosporus in Ortaköy and Dolmabahçe Mosques are two important later period examples designed in Baroque style. Ortaköy Mosque was built in 1853 by the royal architect Nikogos Balyan, during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid, and named as Büyük Mecidiye mosque. Construction of the Dolmabahçe Mosque began at the behest of Sultan Abdülmecid's mother, Bezmialem Valide Sultan and was completed in 1855, and the architect was Karabet Balyan. It is one of the highly decorated Baroque-style mosques. Being part of the palace complex, the mosque contains a front section in which the sovereign and state officials could worship and a two-storey section for the sovereign suitable for the public procession of the Sultan to the mosque on Fridays. The circular arrangement of the windows, which resembles a peacock's tail, is an unusual sight relatively unknown among the architects of mosques.
Baroque aesthetic forms in the Ottoman capital were also reproduced in the provinces through the circulation of builders and artisans. However, the Baroque style of the Nuruosmaniye Complex is more pronounced than that of other small mosques built later in the second half of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Although the new style was first seen on the architectural details; such as capitals, columns, cornices etc.; European influence the Nuruosmaniye Complex can be traced even in the plans. The Library of Nuruosmaniye (1749-1755) can be compared with Church of S. Carlo alla Quattro Fontane in Rome (1634–1682). Designed by the architect Francesco Borromini, it is an iconic masterpiece of Baroque architecture, built as part of a complex of monastic buildings on the Quirinal Hill for the Spanish Trinitarians. The plan of the refectory of Nuruosmaniye, on the other hand, resembles to the plan of Hotel Lambert in Paris (1640-1644). Built between 1640 and 1644, the building is considered one of the finest examples of mid-17th-century domestic architecture and decorative painting in France.
Within the international context, there are several examples that exhibit the interchanges of architectural and decorative features of western Baroque style and local traditions. However, these buildings are often palace or other civil architectural examples. For example, the Golestan Palace (Iran, 2013) is a masterpiece of the Qajar era, displays the successful integration of earlier Persian crafts and architecture with the Western influences. Built around a garden featuring the pools and planted areas, its rich ornaments date from the 19th century. Historic Center of Berat (Albania, 2005) also retains an 18th century mosque that features some ornamentation reminiscent of Baroque style. Ensemble of the Novodevichy Convent (Russia, 2004) built in the 16th and 17th centuries, is one of the most outstanding examples of the so-called Moscow Baroque style. Jesuit Block and Entancias of Cordoba (Argentina, 2000) contains 17th and 18th century religious and secular buildings are examples of the fusion of European and indigenous values and cultures in South America. However, as it is stated before, the architectural and artistic fusion of western European Baroque influences are often seen in the civil architectural examples. The basic difference of Nururosmaniye is that it displays an endeavor to implement western decorative arts in a Sultanic religious building.