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How the Ottoman mosque got is dome

How the Ottoman mosque got is dome

Niki Gamm

Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque in Istanbul.

Muslims are enjoined to pray, but they are not required to go to a building dedicated to prayer. Architectural traditions, however, soon developed based on the first place where Muslims worshipped – in the courtyard of the Prophet Mohammed’s house in Medina, Saudi Arabia, in 622 A.D. The original place of worship reportedly had three entrances, a roof and a niche (mihrab) indicating the direction the worshipper should face (qibla) when praying. The pulpit (minbar), from which the Friday prayer was traditionally given next to the mihrab, was added later.

Domes weren’t anything new in the Middle East at the time of the Prophet, but they were not a dominant part of the religious architectural landscape in the southwestern Arabian Peninsula. However, domes in the Ukraine area, for example, have been documented as far back as 20,000 years ago, and various civilizations throughout the Middle East used them.

Religious architecture

As Islam expanded, the Arabs found many domed churches and either would have shared them or confiscated them for Muslim use. When they desired their own places of worship, they used a flat roof or employed local people who knew how to construct buildings with domes, the most popular characteristic style of Byzantine religious architecture in the sixth century A.D. One of the earliest prototypes is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, built in 692 A.D., followed by the Great Mosque of Damascus that was completed in 715 A.D. Yet the great mosque in Diyarbakir that originated in the seventh century had a flat roof.

By the time nomadic Turkish tribes entered the Middle East, the dome was an integral element of mosque architecture, but flat-roofed structures continued to be built alongside. The Selçuk Turks brought the form of a domed mosque with them following their conquests in the Middle East and principally used stone and local building methods instead of brick and wood. Domes were placed then above the mihrab or were centered and left open above a fountain so as to capture any precipitation.

Faced with colder and wetter weather, the need for greater enclosed space was felt, but the difficulty in placing a round dome over a square building limits its size. At Divriği, Sinop, Amasya and Niğde, the great mosques built in the 13th and 14th centuries had domes of varying sizes and placements.

Example for the later Ottoman Mosque

The late architectural historian, Aptullah Kuran, believed that the Gök Medrese Mosque with its three domes may have served as an example for the later Ottoman mosque with its multiple domes. He also thought that the nomadic Turkish tribes used tents propped up with wooden pillars as their places of worship after their conversion to Islam; this in turn gave rise to the use of wooden pillars in Anatolia.

If the Gök Medrese Mosque served as one of the prototypes of the Ottoman mosque, another such example is the Davgandos Mosque in Karaman. The latter has a square interior with a large dome and a portico in front with domes for latecomers. The building and the lack of extravagant decoration, for example, reminded architectural historian Behçet Ünsal of the pure and simple style of the Ottoman mosque.

The architectural style of the mosques in Bursa, the first major capital of the Ottoman Turks, is often referred to as the Bursa School – even though the mosque might be in Edirne or even Istanbul. The roofs on the mosques were either shaped of coordinated domes or were single-domed during the 14th century and early 15th century. For example, the Firuz Ağa Mosque in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet neighborhood remains an excellent example of the single-domed mosque, with a latecomers’ portico covered with three much smaller domes.

Another early mosque dominates Edirne, the Üç Şerefeli Mosque, which was built in the second quarter of the 15th century. Its main area is covered by a large single mosque with four smaller domes, two on either side of the main dome.

Great imperial Ottoman mosques are the outstanding features of Istanbul’s skyline. From the first one, built by Mehmed the Conqueror after the conquest of the city in the 15th century, up to the last, the Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque in the 19th century, the dome was the crowning glory.

The Byzantines spread the use of the dome in religious architecture throughout the Middle East, but the Turks refined it and made it bigger and better.