Monday, August 11, 2014

Ghosts of Lebanese Summers Past

The Sursocks at Sofar and the Making of Modern Lebanon
guest contribution by Chris Gratien and Graham Pitts, Georgetown University

[1] Donna Maria Sursock Residence, 1909. Sofar, Lebanon. Photo by Chris Gratien, 2014.

[2] Photograph of Sofar, c. 1900. To the left is the
Sofar railway station, and to the right the Sofar
Grand Hotel. Source: discoverlebanon.com
Among the verdant hills overlooking the sprawl of Beirut sits a breezy mountain retreat, the vestige of a brief and former efflorescence. [Fig 1] Sofar, now a small town of a few thousand inhabitants on the Beirut-Damascus road, was once the premier summer getaway for the region’s elite. The rail line between Beirut and Damascus made Sofar an accessible destination for summer tourists looking to beat the heat and humidity of the Mediterranean lowlands. [Fig 2] As it did in so many other places at the time, rail transport suddenly allowed well-to-do city folk the opportunity of leisurely excursions into the countryside. [Figs 3 & 4] The longstanding practice of seasonal migration in the Mediterranean littoral was becoming established in a modern, fin de siècle iteration. The Sofar Grand Hotel (built in 1890), fully equipped with one of Lebanon's first casinos, had once been a meeting place for aristocrats, diplomats, businessmen and the political elite of the Ottoman Levant. Today, the hotel as well as a nearby villa owned by its original proprietors, the Sursock family, lie dormant. The two buildings' Beaux-Arts facades stand as a testament to the rapid rise of a bourgeois social class during the late Ottoman period that continued unimpeded into the French Mandate and beyond, playing a critical role in the making of modern Lebanon. Yet, when the Civil War moved into Mount Lebanon during the 1970s, the hotel and villa became sites of military occupation, bearing witness to decades of violence that tore down much of what had been built by over a century of capitalist activity.


[3] Visitors arriving at Ain Sofar station, c. 1909. Source: Atatürk Kitaplığı, İstanbul.


[4] Muleteer with suitcases in Sofar, c. 1909. Source: Atatürk Kitaplığı, İstanbul.


[5] Entrance to Sofar villa.
Photo by Chris Gratien, 2014.
The Sursock villa in Sofar, constructed in the early twentieth century by Alfred Sursock for his wife Donna Maria Theresa Serra di Cassano, the daughter of an Italian duke, is no longer in use, although the grounds are available for weddings and formal occasions. [Fig 5] The archway leading to the grounds, however, still bears original foundation inscriptions that proclaim the wealth of these merchants turned aristocrats, who, through lucrative business ventures, savvy political maneuvering, and strategic marriages, embarked on what Leila Fawaz has called “the most spectacular social climb in the nineteenth century.” [Fig 6] The entrance inscription records the names of three brothers, Alfred, Musa, and Dimitri, the heirs of Musa Sursock, a wealthy landowner who held lands stretching along the Mediterranean coast form Palestine in the south to Mersin and the Çukurova plain in Southern Anatolia. Though this Greek Orthodox family of dragomans and foreign proteges often adopted the style and manners of French and European aristocracy, the Arabic inscription bears neither cross nor family seal but in fact a star and crescent, one of the few visible traces of an Ottoman lineage to be found in this peaceful mountain town. On the reverse side of the entrance, we find two lines of classical Arabic poetry attributed to Abu'l-fath, a statesman from a line of viziers to the Buyid dynasty, reading: “People inhabited this world before us / They departed from it and left it to us / And we descended upon it just as they had descended / And we leave it to a people after us”. 


[6] From right to left: Exterior inscription of villa entrance / detail of gate interior / interior poetic inscription. Photos by Chris Gratien, 2014.

The means by which this Ottoman family came into possession of such palatial real estate were multiple. As a long line of tax farmers, the Sursocks were able to  mobilize their finances and capital using connections to American, Russian, German and French consuls over the decades to achieve economic and political connections. As Fawaz notes, their financial successes in Egypt illustrate “how successful entrepreneurs secured the support of local rulers as well as European protection” in the Ottoman Mediterranean. The Sursocks are also known for having held vast stretches of property, which they acquired at bargain prices with generous tax exemptions from the Ottoman government on account of the land being considered “vacant” or mevat areas of lowland swamps. Some of these properties would eventually be sold to become sites of early Zionist settlement in Palestine.

[7] Rear corner of Sofar villa. 
Photo by Chris Gratien, 2014.
Alfred Sursock had married Donna Maria while serving as a secretary in the Ottoman Embassy in Paris during the early twentieth century. He built the villa near the Sofar Grand Hotel owned by his uncle Ibrahim as a summer palace for the family in 1909. Its structure reflects a nineteenth-century interpretation of neo-Classical styles. Built in emulation of Italian villas, its numerous arches and cast cement elements are designed to exhibit an acquaintance with aristocratic tastes of the period. [Fig 7] In a time as rising commerce, the new elite of Ottoman port cities such as Salonica, Izmir, Beirut, and Alexandria built many such country getaways. Tucked away from the road and surrounded by a perimeter wall, the back of the villa commands a complete view of the Hammana Valley. During the year’s hottest months, Sofar became a base of operations for the Sursocks. There, politicians and foreign diplomats joined in the emerging fashion of bourgeois summer repose.   The villa continued to be used by the family until 1975, when the fighting rendered Sofar no longer safe for Beirut aristocrats.

Decades before the Lebanese Civil War, however, Sofar had also played an important role in another conflict: the First World War. Its strategic position and favorable summer climate made Sofar an important position for Ottoman military commanders and administrators. Enver Pasha and Cemal Pasha, along with German and Austrian military attaches, had been hosted at a spectacular ceremony in Sofar by Ali Munif Bey—the first Muslim governor of Mount Lebanon since 1861. At times, Cemal Pasha used Sofar as a base of operation during the war and a site for storing critical wheat supplies. Sofar and the Sursocks were therefore far removed from the misery and starvation occurring elsewhere in the mountain, where the conditions of the conflict had sliced the once prosperous region’s connections to critical imports of grain. The Sursocks thus maintained their level of comfort, and in fact prospered through their close ties to Cemal Pasha, who tasked them with handling the wheat imports to Mount Lebanon and Beirut. During the height of the famine, the Sursocks were able to find money to construct Qasr es-Snobar—the Pine Residence—a handsome mansion in the Beirut forest. It was here that, after the colonial government had acquired the residence, the French Mandate of Lebanon was declared in September 1920. [Fig 8]


[8] Proclamation of the French Mandate at Qasr es-Snobar, Sep 1920. Source: wikipedia.

Today, the Sursock villa in Sofar still bears all the marks of damage and looting that occurred during the Civil War. Shattered tiles and faded murals are all that remain of the once glorious interior of Donna Maria’s summer home. [Fig 9] Some of the Sursock properties in Beirut have been restored or transformed into museums. Alfred and Donna Maria’s daughter Lady Cochrane still resides in one of these homes, and as living matriarch of the Sursock family presides over numerous properties in downtown Beirut, in addition to various philanthropic activities supporting the arts and the restoration of Lebanon’s architectural heritage. She has set her sights on the villa in Sofar for restoration; while the exterior has been evidently cleaned up, the war’s impacts remain readily visible on the inside of the building.




[9] From left to right: detail of interior arch / villa interior / broken tiles of villa floor (photographs by Chris Gratien)

Although the Sursocks have shaped Lebanon’s history from the late Ottoman period to present, their names have seldom featured prominently in the historiography of the region. The financial families that prevailed in one of the most commercialized regions of the Ottoman Empire have been lost among the names of Ottoman officials, prominent clergy, and Arab politicians. As Jens Hanssen has shown, the Sursocks and other prominent families of Beirut played a quiet but important role in shaping the emergence of the province by lobbying to foreign and Ottoman officials and serving on the local governing councils. Indeed, the choice of Beirut as a provincial capital was in no small part the result of their entreaties to the Porte. For these reasons, the family papers of the Sursocks, which have recently been deposited at an emerging research center at Université Saint-Esprit de Kaslik (USEK) in Jounieh, may be as critical as any state archives for understanding Lebanon’s transition from Ottoman province to French colony to nation-state. (Click here to listen to an interview with the staff at USEK)

FAWAZ, Leila Terazi. Merchants and Migrants in Nineteenth-Century Beirut. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1983.
HANSSEN, Jens. Fin de Siècle Beirut: The Making of an Ottoman Provincial Capital. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Little Mosques on the Prairie

guest contribution by Michael Połczyński, Georgetown University

[1] Kruszyniany’s 18th-century wooden mosque, with its characteristic square towers. 
Kruszyniany, Poland. Photograph by the author.
[2] Bohoniki’s mosque, built in the mid-19th century.
Bohoniki, Poland. Photo by author.

Tucked in among the bison-infested forests, rolling fields of wheat and neatly ordered bowers of North East Poland are two tidy, little wooden mosques. [Figs 1 & 2] While the expansive skyline of this region (known as Podlasie) is broken mainly by storks’ nests and the onion domes of churches, these unassuming mosques in the small villages of Bohoniki and Kruszyniany are nevertheless well known throughout Poland and continue to serve a Muslim population that has existed in the region since the 13th century—the so-called Lipka Tatars. The relative religious tolerance of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which joined under the same monarch in 1386, kept its large Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communities from engaging in the religious wars that engulfed neighboring lands and led to the settlement of the largest Jewish population in early modern Europe. A lesser-known fact is that Poland and Lithuania was also home to one of the largest integrated, legally protected Muslim communities in Christian Europe following the “reconquista” of the Iberian Peninsula. Today, Bohoniki and Kruszyniany are host to the last surviving historical mosques in Poland, the rest of which were destroyed during the 19th and 20th centuries, or are now located in Belarus or Lithuania as a result of border changes following World War II. [Fig 3]


[3] Mosque in Novogrodek, Belarus. The lantern is a common feature
 in Lipka Tatar mosques. Photo by Holly Robertson.

[4] A Tatar. Part of a series on horsemen by
Flemish engraver Abraham de Bruyn, 1575.
The word “Lipka” appeared first in Arabic and Ottoman texts, and is thought to be derived from the name “Litva”, or Lithuania. Over time, the Muslims of Poland-Lithuania gradually ceased to speak their native Turkic dailect and adopted the local Slavic idiom. It is unclear why the Ottoman-Arabic term “Lipka” came into popular use during the 17th century, after this shift in language was largely complete. Alternatively, Ottoman documents also refer to the Muslims of Poland-Lithuania as Leh Tatarları, or Polish Tatars (“Leh” meant “Pole”, as “Lehistan” was the Ottoman and Persian name for all of Poland-Lithuania). [Fig 4] Muslim settlement in the lands of Poland and Lithuania began as early as the 13th century during events connected to the Mongol-led invasions of Rus’, Poland, and Hungary. Furthermore, internal strife within the neighboring lands of the Golden Horde, the Crimean Khanate, and the Ottoman Empire caused the flight and resettlement of Muslim exiles to Lithuania and Poland for centuries. Most were settled in contested borderlands as light cavalry and frontiersmen in the official service of the then-pagan Lithuanian Dukes. In the 15th century, Lithuanian patronage of Muslim refugees who fled the Golden Horde during wars of succession was instrumental to the rise of the Giray Khans of the Crimean Khanate. Hacı Giray Khan, the progenitor of the Chinggisid clan that ruled the Crimean Khanate until the end of the 18th century, was born in Trakai near the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, and may therefore be considered, in a sense, a Lipka Tatar. Units of Lipka Tatar soldiers were a constant presence in Polish armies until the Second World War.

 [5] Mosque from Slonim, Belarus, pre-WWII.
Its triple towers resemble those of
 local orthodox wooden churches.
Photo courtesy of Holly Robertson.
The result of centuries of settlement by notable Muslim renegades, exiles and prisoners of war was a sizable, legally protected Muslim population that resided mainly in the Lithuanian portion of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until the end of the 17th century. In 1679, King Jan III Sobieski (famous for defeating Kara Mustafa at the second siege of Vienna, in the process acquiring many Ottoman tents) awarded a number of his Muslim troops with land in Crown Polish territory, including the villages of Bohoniki and Kruszyniany. Today’s Lipka Tatar communities, whose roots can be found in the unique socio-political structure of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, are spread throughout Poland, Belarus, and Lithuania. Most found themselves in Lithuania and Belarus following World War II, though thousands of families have since emigrated to Poland. Several other mosques like those in Bohoniki and Kruszyniany can therefore still be found in rural communities in Belarus and Lithuania. Like those in Poland, many were destroyed in the conflagrations of the 19th and 20th centuries. [Fig 5] Some of these have been rebuilt in brick and concrete, preserving only the lanterns that surmounted the roofs of the original structures. [Fig 6]


[6] The mosque of Slonim today. The original structure was burned down during WWII. Photo by Holly Robertson.
There are over 30,000 Muslims living in Poland today. Many, however, are the descendants of recent non-Tatar émigrés. Lipka Tatars in Poland tend to self-identify as being ethnically Tatar, Polish nationals, and confessionally Muslim. Over the centuries, numerous Lipka Tatar families converted to Christianity (both Orthodox and Catholic) and some of these now-Christian families maintain a sense of their ethnic Tatar past. Establishing reliable population figures for Lipka Tatars is therefore difficult. Famous non-Muslims that have claimed Lipka ancestry include 19th century Polish novelist Henryk Siekiewicz, Poland’s current president Bronisław Komorowski, and American actor Charles Bronson. Today the villages of Bohoniki and Kruszyniany each have only a handful of Lipka Tatar families left. The mosque in Kruszyniany functions as a museum as well as a prayer space and lacks an imam, though the mosque and its grounds are often put to use by local Muslims. The imam of Bohoniki, Aleksander “Ali” Bazarewicz serves some 600 Lipka Tatars that are spread throughout the rural areas of North East Poland.


[7] The mosque at Kruszyniany as it appeared
in the interwar period (1929).
The unique historical religious practices of the Lipka Tatar community are reflected in the design of both of these mosques, which, though originally built in the 18th and 19th centuries, preserve characteristics of 16th- and 17th-century mosque construction in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Like the ubiquitous wooden churches that have served the rural Christian population of Podlasie for centuries, both mosques are of a modest, all-wooden construction. If it were not for the crescents surmounting the onion domes, the mosque's lanterns and steeple-like towers may otherwise cause them to be easily confused with local Christian religious structures. Recent renovations have replaced the wooden siding of their exteriors and altered some of the framing and woodwork. [Compare Fig 1 and Fig 7] However, the 18th- and 19th-century aesthetics of the structures have seemingly been preserved. By the early 20th century, both structures were painted a lurid green common to Lipka Tatar mosques throughout the region, though Bohoniki’s mosque has recently been stripped of its paint to reveal the natural wood of its construction. [See Fig 2]


[8] Kruszyniany mosque's mihrab and minbar. The decorations and fixtures are mostly modern, though original woodwork and panels of 19th century decoration are preserved.
Photo by the author.

The interiors of both mosques continue to display original mortise and tenon joint construction and a few wooden panels decorated with symbolic designs that are partly rooted in the shamanistic traditions that the local community brought with them from the Crimean Khanate and the Hordes. Each structure has two rooms with high ceilings and a gallery in the main prayer space facing the mihrab, which takes the form of a low wooden niche protruding from the main structure. [Fig 8] A solid wall with a high bank of windows separates the men’s and women’s prayer rooms. A single entrance with a hall running down one side of Bohoniki’s mosque gives access to both men’s and women’s prayer spaces. Kruszyniany has two separate external entrances separating the sexes. The minbars of both mosques are of an austere design and resemble cathedrae that appear in local Catholic sacral structures. Polish-Lithuanian cadastral records (lustracjas) document the presence of a mosque in Bohoniki as early as 1717, though the current structure, with its square footprint and high copula, dates to the 19th century. Kruszyniany’s mosque, which was likely built at the end of the 18th century and was refurbished in 1846, is rectangular in shape with two towers on the north end that resemble the bell towers of baroque Catholic churches. Both buildings lack minarets, as Lipka Tatars traditionally did not perform the ezan from high structures, most likely due to legal constraints dictated by the majority Christian Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. 


[9] Title page of the Risâle-i Tatar-i Leh,
 reprinted by Polish orientalist Antoni
Muchlinski in 1858.
A unique Ottoman document called the Risâle-i Tatar-i Leh (“Polish Tatar Account”) [Fig 9], composed in 1558 in the court of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent by three Muslims on hajj from Poland-Lithuania gives some insight into the form of these structures:


For one who has had the good fortune to see the magnificent temples of the Sublime Porte, it is a sad task to describe our sanctuaries of prayer… Instead of those magnificent mosques, whose vaults reach the heavens, minarets lost in the azure heavenly spheres, whose pillars, like burnished mirrors, reflect the most beautiful objects, whose cloisters and courtyards are orchards, their lawns painted with the most sumptuous patterns— Here our mosques are poor and lowly, built of wood, similar in form to some mosques in the villages of Rumelia, without minarets or imarets, though in every large city (in our land) there are mosques… Ezan is called in front of the mosque. In some places, strange in this regard, one of our community walks through the streets calling out that it is time for prayer… In these mosques there is a special place in the form of a chamber [reserved] for women, which is separated from the men, and where [the men] are not allowed to enter, so as not to violate the law that prohibits [men] from praying together with women… The creation of grander mosques is quite difficult here, for it is illegal to build new [mosques] without the approval of the government.


[10] An older section of the cemetery in Kruszyniany. The graves are simple, local unshaped granite with deeply carved inscriptions in various scripts. Photo by the author.
An expansive cemetery can be found behind the mosque in Kruszyniany, indicating that a prayer space likely existed in the village long before the current 19th-century mosque. [Fig 10] The oldest grave dates to 1699, and belongs to Samuel Mirza Krzeczowski, a commander of the Lipka Tatar cavalry unit that was originally settled there by Jan III Sobieski in 1679. The 16th-century authors of the Risâle-i Tatar-i Leh tell us that,
We have our graves before our mosques, just as it is in Istanbul, though our headstones do not boast such beautiful writing recalling the dead and attesting to the transience of this world. However, in these cemeteries wives and their relatives who are of different faiths are not buried together with Muslims, in accordance with our laws.
As time passed, the headstones of this community did become more ornate. The mixture of scripts and languages points to the complex political history of the region. Just as in the historical literature of the Lipka Tatars, many early inscriptions are written in Polish and Belorussian using Arabic script. Later periods saw the introduction of Russian following the partitioning and dissolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the end of the 18th century, alongside more defiant grave markers from the same period that continued to display Polish and Belorussian, which were forbidden at the time. Today the historical cemeteries of both mosques continue to grow, as Lipka Tatars throughout Poland seek burial in their ancestral land.

[11] This Brooklyn mosque was, until recently, the site
of the “The Islamic Center of Polish Tatars”.
Photo by Caitlin Kalinoski.
Despite a rocky period during the 17th century that saw the large-scale defection of Muslim soldiers from Poland-Lithuania to the Ottoman Empire, Lipka Tatars participated in nearly every major conflict against external forces since the turn of the 14th century, most recently against Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. The continued existence of the Lipka Tatar community has therefore become an important element within Polish national consciousness. As a result, the mosques of Bohoniki and Kruszyniany have both been awarded the official status of “pomnik historii” (historical monument) and are legally protected by the Polish government. A detailed study of the historical relationship between Polish-Lithuanian Muslim communities and the Ottoman Empire has yet to be undertaken. During periods of intense emigration of Poles in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lipka Tatars resettled with their countrymen all over the world, founding in one instance what in 1937 Time Magazine lauded as the “only full-fledged Moslem Mosque in the U.S… Its swart, thick-accented Imam, Sam Rafilowich, son of an Imam in a Polish village, is a Polish Tartar, who arrived in the U. S. 29 years ago. Most of his habitual worshippers are also Tartars, descendants of Tamerlane's hordes…” The mosque can still be found in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and boasts a lovely lantern on the peak of its roof reminiscent of those found in Bohoniki and Kruszyniany. [Fig 11]

The influence of Ottoman religious practice, especially through the mediation of the Crimean Khanate no doubt had influence on the religious practice of Lipka Tatars, as well as in the construction and decoration of their mosques. Polish scholars have been aware of the tantalizing historical relationship between the Polish-Lithuanian Muslim community with the most proximate and powerful Muslim polity, the Ottoman Empire, since the 19th century. Evident architectural connections between Lipka Tatar mosques and those constructed in Crimea and by Balkan Muslim populations have yet to be explored. The close resemblance that these Lipka Tatar mosques to local Christian churches indicates a unity of sacral architectural traditions that make the mosques of the former Polish-Lithuanian lands a stylistically cohesive and fascinating group of structures.


BORAWSKI, Piotr. “Z Dziejów Kolonizacji Tatarskiej w Wielkim Księstwei Litewskim I w Polsce (XIV-XVII w.).” Przegląd Orientalistyczny 104/4 (1977): 291-304.
DANECKI, Janusz. “Literature of the Polish Tatars” in Muslims in Poland and East Europe: widening the European discourse on Islam, ed. Katarzyna Górak-Sosnowska. Warsaw: Zakład Graficzny Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, 2001: 40-52.
KOPANSKI, Ataullah Bogdan. “Muslim Communities of the European North-Eastern Frontiers: Islam in they Former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth” in The Islamic World and the West: Managing Religious and Cultural Identities: 95.
---. “Znajomość Państwa Tureckiego i Jego Mieszkańców w Renesansowy Polsce.” Przegląd Orientalistyczny 103/3 (1977): 221-229.
MUCHLINSKI, Antoni. Zdanie Sprawy o Tatarach Litewskich przez Jednego z Tych Tataròw Złożone Sułtanow Sulejmanowi w Roku 1558. Vilnius: Teka Wileńska, 1858.
SZAPSZAL, Hadżi Saraja. “O zatraceniu języka ojczystego przez Tatarów w Polsce” in Rocznik Tatarski : czasopismo naukowe, literackie i społeczne, poświęcone historii, kulturze i życiu Tatarów w Polsce. Vilnius: 1932: Volume 1, 34-48.

***Also See: “Allah Akbar… God is Great…” Time Magazine 30/20 (Monday, Nov. 15, 1937).


Bohoniki Mosque: 53°23'26.22"N 23°35'29.40"E
Kruszyniany Mosque: 53°10'40.03"N 23°48'49.56"E
Brooklyn Lipka Tatar Mosque: 40°42'42.83"N 73°56'47.86"W



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Thursday, July 17, 2014

“A piece of the Orient on the Elbe”

guest contribution by Benjamin Anderson, Cornell University

[1] The Yenidze, Dresden (2011). Photo by author.

































In recent decades, the efforts of Muslim communities in central Europe to build minarets at their places of worship have frequently met with resistance. In 2009, a Swiss referendum forbidding the construction of new minarets attracted widespread coverage in the foreign press, and the measure eventually passed with 57.5% of the vote. In Germany, opposition to minarets has repeatedly emerged at the local level. Already in the early 1990s, the planned construction of a new minaret by the Muslim community of the town of Bobingen provoked a public controversy. More recently, a new mosque in Cologne led to a protracted battle between the patrons and their architects on one side, and planning boards and community groups on the other. The size and design of the minarets played a central role in this debate.

[2] The complex of Qaytbay, Cairo. 
Émile Prisse d’Avennes, L’art arabe (1869-77).
The first-time visitor to Dresden would be forgiven for thinking that the Saxon capital had overcome its minaret anxiety over a century ago. Along the banks of the Elbe, less than a kilometer from the city center in which Augustus the Strong once built a court that was the envy of Baroque Europe, a prominent four-tiered tower, executed in the alternating bands of red and white (“ablaq”) masonry typical of the medieval architecture of the Islamic Mediterranean, stands proudly beside a stained-glass art nouveau dome [Fig 1]. However, closer inspection will reveal that this is no minaret, but a (now de-commissioned) smoke-stack; and that the inscription at the base of the dome bears the name of a cigarette company.

The “Orientalische Tabak- und Cigarettenfabrik Yenidze” (Yenidze Oriental Tobacco and Cigarette Manufactory), founded in 1886, was named after the city of Yenice-i Vardar, today Giannitsa in northern Greece, where its tobacco was grown. The company’s leading brand, “Salem Aleikum” cigarettes, quickly garnered a large share of the German market, and in 1907 the firm’s owner, Carl Hugo Zietz, purchased a plot in Dresden for a new factory. For his architect, Zietz hired Martin Hammitzsch, who turned to the same publications that had been serving European designers in search of “oriental” themes since the previous century, and Émile Prisse d’Avennes’s L’art arabe (1869-77) was pilfered once more for its views of the Mamluk complexes of Cairo’s Northern Cemetery. The base of Hammitzsch’s dome, a beveled cube pierced by three portholes arranged in a triangle and a row of three narrow, arched windows, is a direct quotation from the fifteenth-century complex of Sultan Qaytbay [Fig 2]

[3] “Ein Stück Orient an der Elbe” (“A piece of the Orient on the Elbe”).
 Advertisement, Illustrirte Zeitung (Leipzig, 1916).

[4] Facade, the Yenidze, Dresden (2011).
Photo by author.
The factory was inaugurated in 1912 and immediately pressed into service as the company’s trademark. Consider a full-page advertisement from the pages of the Leipzig Illustrirte Zeitung of 1916, at the height of the First World War [Fig 3]. The factory, viewed from the prow of a ship cruising up the river, towers over the skyline of the Baroque city, whose spires are sketched in above the arches of the Marienbrücke. The text at lower right explains that this “piece of the Orient... captures the glance of every traveler, and makes him wonder if he has landed on the banks of the Elbe or those of the Bosporus.” The “proud building,” we are told, is built in the “strictly classical Oriental style.... With its richly ornamented facade, its colorful mosaic inlays, and its Moorish window arches, whose character emerges in a different form on each story [Fig 4], the building will enchant even the well-traveled gentleman.” 

[5] The Salonika Front, 1916.
Le Pays de France, 31. August 1916.
Although the mention of the Bosporus might be an oblique reference to the German-Ottoman military alliance in World War I, a different member of the Central Powers is featured in the military scene in the advertisement’s foreground. Underneath the red, white, and black of the German flag that flies from the rigging, we find the tricolor of the Kingdom of Bulgaria. To the right, a German soldier stands on the ship’s deck, his hands jauntily tucked into his pockets and a Salem Aleikum dangling from his lip beneath the signature Feldmütze. The jovial fellow seated beside him wears the red epaulettes of the Bulgarian army. In 1916, the Central Powers were pushing the Salonika front southwards, deep into the newly Greek heartlands of central Macedonia, and the advertisement may be anticipating the incorporation of Yenice-i Vardar into Greater Bulgaria [Fig 5].

[6] Fagus Werk, Alfeld, Germany.
Photo by Carsten Janssen, 2007 (Creative Commons).
In the end, of course, the Central Powers lost the war, and the town of Yenice stayed Greek. Hammitzch’s building was on the losing side of architectural history as well. His Qaytbay knockoff quickly came to seem a retardataire essay in historicism—25 years before, the complex had already inspired the “mosque” of the “Rue du Caire” constructed for the Universal Exposition in Paris. Industrial architecture was now expected to follow the functional, modernist lead of Walter Gropius’s Fagus Werk, completed in 1913 [Fig 6]. In 1929, a critic writing in the journal Der Industriebau singled out Yenidze as an exemplary failure: “this building, which can only be considered a piece of advertisement, does not have the slightest relationship to the operations that it houses.”   

[7] Section, the Yenidze, Dresden (1996).
After Richter, Industriearchitektur.
Hammitzsch became a convinced nationalist. In 1936, he married Hitler’s half-sister, and nine years later, as the Allies pounded Dresden with bombs, he committed suicide. While much of the city’s historical core was leveled, Yenidze suffered only minor damage, and the factory continued to crank out cigarettes during the first decades of the Communist German Democratic Republic. Fritz Löffler, a local art historian who led the drive to rebuild the city center, simultaneously campaigned to have the Yenidze torn down. This nearly happened in 1960, but the era of militant modernism was ending. By the beginning of 1980s, Yenidze was registered as a protected historical monument, and in 1996, six years after German reunification, a healthy sum was spent on its documentation and renovation [Fig 7]. Today, the Yenidze serves as an office building. The space under the dome, however, is rented by 1001 Märchen GmbH (The Thousand and One Fairy Tales, LLC), which uses it as a stage for such entertainments as Aladdin und die Wunderlampe (“Aladdin and the magic lamp”) and Neue, überraschende Abenteuer von Sindbad, dem Seefahrer (“The new and surprising adventures of Sindbad, the Sailor”).

 
[8] DITIB-Zentralmoschee, Cologne.
Photo by Pappnaas666, 2013 (Creative Commons).
At the height of the controversy over the Cologne Mosque, the architects and their clients appeased the local authorities by agreeing to build “more abstract and less traditional minarets” than originally planned. The resulting towers bear a certain resemblance to smoke-stacks [Fig 8]. In the meantime, the “strictly classical” minaret of Yenidze has become a vestigial beacon for a site of commerce and entertainment, as unabashedly Orientalist as ever. The modernists would be appalled, but the postmodern tourist will find plenty to ponder in this tale of form fighting against function.





LUPFER, Gilbert, Bernhard Sterra and Martin Wörner, eds., Architekturführer Dresden. Berlin: Reimer, 1997 (For Yenidze, see: 92-93).
RICHTER, Tilo. Industriearchitektur in Dresden. Leipzig: Kiepenheuer, 1997 (For Yenidze, see: 64-65).




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Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Lights of Ahmad

guest contributor Michael Talbot introduces the Al-Anwar Mosque in Acre

[1] Entrance portal to the al-Anwar Mosque, Acre. All photos by Michael Talbot. 

Acre is a picturesque port city on the northern tip of the Bay of Haifa, now in Israel, but once a prominent part of Ottoman Palestine. Indeed, the settlement served as the seat of a significant sub-province (sancak) in the Galilee region. To this day, Acre retains a number of significant architectural features that mark out various stages of its history, which, as with many of the urban centres of northern Palestine, saw struggles for authority between foreign invaders, local elites, and the Sublime State. 

[2] Hammam al-Basha, Steam Room
At Acre’s heart is the Old City, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its superbly preserved Crusader and Ottoman buildings and fortifications. The city has a complex history, particularly in the Ottoman period, but if Acre tourist board’s narrative  is anything to go by, the founding father of modern Acre was Ahmad Pasha (1720-1804), a Bosnian slave who rose to political prominence in Egypt and then Palestine. Perhaps better known by his nickname ‘al-Jazzar’, or ‘the butcher’, Ahmad Pasha is responsible for one of the most-frequented stops on the tourist trail in Acre’s old city: the Hammam al-Basha (originally the Hammam al-Jadid). Probably first built in the 1790s, the hammam continued to function right up until the 1950s, when it was turned into a museum. A large building, it contains several rooms, including the cloakroom and treatment rooms, that are very well-preserved. But the star of the show is the atmospheric sıcaklık (hot room), a hexagonal chamber lined with very nice examples of floral tilework on the walls, beautiful marble floors, and a  fountain at the centre of a marble slab used for massages and relaxation, all under an elegant dome dotted with pieces of glass that bathe the interior in sunlight. [Fig.2]

But before all this, upon entering the hamam, visitors are ushered into the large vaulted and domed room that once served as the bath’s entrance lobby, and are seated on rather precarious wooden stools to watch a film. Entitled Ha-Balan ha-Akharon / Al-Khadim al-Hammam al-Akhir (The Last Bath Attendant), the short film tells the story of Acre through the gossip of five generations of bath attendants, most notably (the fictional) al-Hajj Bashir who regales his clients with tales of the city as he lathers and slaps them. Above all, al-Hajj Bashir favours stories about Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar. In the film’s narrative, it is al-Jazzar who turned Acre into a great city, developed its infrastructure, and, most significantly, defeated the invading forces of Napoleon Bonaparte during the siege of the city in 1799. In the film, his reign also represented a period of peaceful coexistence between Jews and Arabs in Acre, and the heavy emphasis that the modern municipality places on the eighteenth century as a period of harmony is clearly rooted in their aspirations for the city today. This narrative is helped along by the fact that al-Jazzar’s chief advisor was a Jew called Khayim Farkhi. However, Farkhi’s story also emphasises a concurrent narrative surrounding Ahmad Pasha’s gruesome nickname. The story goes that one day, displeased with the advice Farkhi had given him, Ahmad Pasha ordered one of his eyes to be plucked out, and his ears and nose mutilated. This is not, then, the story of a just and progressive ruler, but of a violent despot. Whether or not al-Jazzar deserves any of his reputations is another matter, but his military prowess, colourful biography, and extensive patronage of monumental buildings makes him, if nothing else, a tourist board’s dream.

[3] Al-Anwar Mosque and complex
One legacy of Ahmad Pasha that continues to dominate the old city of Acre  is a large mosque, now known as the Al-Jazzar Mosque, but properly called Al-Anwar, built in or around 1781-82. [Fig. 3] The mosque’s distinctive green dome is visible across the city, but is by no means the mosque’s most notable feature. It also claims to possess a hair of the Prophet Muhammad’s beard, and purports to be the first mosque to have the women’s prayer area situated on a balcony above the main prayer hall, allegedly modelled on the layout of synagogues and evidence of the influence of Khayim Farkhi on the mosque’s design. What the building certainly does possess are some real gems of eighteenth century design.

[4] The Sebil
The first feature, the sebil (a water dispensary), greets you as you prepare to ascend the steps into the mosque complex. [Fig. 4] It was built, according to its inscription, in the hijri year 1208 (1793/1794), and constructed in the wonderful baroque sort of style found in architecture throughout the Ottoman Empire during this period. With slender columns topped with ornamented capitals, the sebil served as an elegant and functional welcome to the mosque and a sign of Ahmad Pasha’s wealth, generosity, and sophistication. As well as displaying words of piety, the inscription also reminds the reader of the ruler’s infrastructural innovations, notably the construction of water canals to bring water to Acre from the many springs near the village of Al-Kabri, some 8 miles (13 km) away.

The entrance gate to the mosque complex proper has an inscription, which sets the tone for other inscriptions and styles within. Describing the pious intentions of a certain vizier to build a mosque, it concludes by asking who was it that actually set construction in motion? The inscription replies to itself, ‘I say, “Vizier Ahmad al-Jazzar! By him I mean the most noble and exalted of men, the pouncing lion, the mighty lion in the heat of battle’ (قلت الوزير الاحمد الجزار أعني به النشهم المجلل في الورى ليث هزبر في الوغا كراز). This, at the peak of his political power in the nominally Ottoman realms of northern Palestine, was a clear statement of intent and legacy. We see Ahmad Pasha demonstrating his credentials as a ruler: caring for the welfare of his subjects as shown through the sebil, and certainly not afraid to use force. 

[5] The Sundial
Moving through the gate into the carefully maintained courtyard, one gets a true sense of the beauty of the Al-Anwar complex. It contains a number of interesting features, including the tomb of Ahmad Pasha and his son Süleyman, and a number of other türbes, including a very late Ottoman example, dated 1318 (1900/1901). It also houses rooms that hosted the courthouse, medreses (including one that is still used for that purpose), and libraries. Various other monuments dot the space. Looking up rather than down, I almost stumbled over a small marble disc inscribed with the tuğra of Abdülhamid II and the hijri date 1318, almost certainly placed there in commemoration of the Silver Jubilee of that sultan in 1900. The fact that the disc is also situated underneath a tree may indicate that the tree was also planted to celebrate that event. There is also an exquisite sundial, with the inscription dedicated to Ahmad Pasha and dated 1201 (1786/1787). [Fig. 5] The inscription declares that ‘this is the sundial for the communal mosque of the lights of Ahmad’ (هذا مزولة لجامع الانوار الاحمدية) and tells us that the sundial was made by one Ibrahim al-Faradi al-Kurdi.

[6] The Şadırvan
But the real star of the courtyard is the şadırvan, the fountain used for ablutions. [Fig. 6] The octagonal structure is in many ways typical of late eighteenth-century Ottoman architecture, notable for its thin, graceful marble columns headed with carved capitals, and a distinctive cupola. The aesthetic borrowings from eighteenth-century Istanbul are clear,  with design comparable to buildings such as the Zeynep Sultan or Laleli mosques,  which adds an extra architectural element to the political challenge Ahmad Pasha posed to the Ottoman authorities during his period of rule in Palestine. Yet it is also, in itself, an impressive piece of design and engineering.




[7] Façade of the Al-Anwar Mosque
The façade of the mosque itself is quite striking. [Fig. 7] Six columns of granite and coloured marble columns frame the front of the building, behind which there is a dazzling array of marble facings of different colours and grains. Given the quality and type of stone, it is almost certain that they have been taken from nearby ruined Roman towns, with Caesarea the most likely location.  Among the wondrous cacophony of coloured marble is an inscription above the main entrance, a poem in Arabic celebrating the dedication of the mosque in the hijri year 1196 (1781/1782). [Fig. 1] As well as expounding the virtues of visiting the mosque for prayer, it contains reference to Ahmad Pasha’s fearsome reputation, requesting that worshipers pray to God for the mosque’s benefactor, ‘that is, the noble vizier Ahmad who butchers the necks of the enemies as is proper’ (ذاك الوزير الشهم احمد من غدي جزارعناق العداة كما يجب). Once again, Ahmad Pasha does not mince his words when linking his religious patronage with his political authority. Yet here we see that his violence was not arbitrary: being violent, on occasion, was part of his duty as a ruler as a means of ensuring good governance.  

[8] Interior Arcade
The mosque’s interior is lined with more marble, as well as tile-work and Qur’anic verses, both of which the mosque’s custodian believed had been added after Ahmad Pasha’s time. However, as the verses seem to be primarily taken from Sura 48 (Al-Fath), they seem rather appropriate for a conquering hero like al-Jazzar. [Fig. 8] Regardless, the interior is opulent, with a beautifully carved minbar and ornate mihrab set against a backdrop of ancient marble. [Fig. 9] The space of the mosque is light and impressive, and doubtless made a great impression on worshipers when it was completed.

[9] Interior view of the mihrab and minbar. Adapted from a photo by MartinVMtl, Creative Commons License

The city of Acre today certainly seems to have bought into Ahmad al-Jazzar’s propaganda, portraying him as a colourful character prone to outbursts of extreme and arbitrary violence. In terms of his violent reputation, he evidently took great efforts to promote it himself, but always as reasonable violence for the good of societal order and harmony; violence ‘as is proper’, as his own inscription proclaimed.  It is difficult to separate the beautiful Al-Anwar mosque from the man whose name it now bears, or rather, from the reputation that has been built around him.   That said, because it is still a functioning mosque, it has largely escaped the touristification that has befallen Acre's Crusader and Ottoman sites. The mosque, more than the other buildings, perhaps gives us a more nuanced picture of a man whose escapades have become almost cartoonish through the telling and re-telling of his already hazy story. Although he is most celebrated for beating back the French, and to a lesser extent for building on the work of Zahir al-‘Umar in fortifying the urban centres of northern Palestine, this particular example of Ahmad Pasha’s monumental architecture gives us more of an insight into other features of his rule. Many of his buildings, as with those of al-‘Umar, focus on social and economic prosperity and enrichment. The sebil is not only notable because it is beautiful, but alsobecause it represents the end point of a major engineering project aimed at bringing water to the city. The courtyard houses the marble-fronted mosque boasting of the Pasha’s greatness, but it also contains the key social building-blocks of education and welfare provision. The mere achievement of the construction of the great mosque itself, built in part from the ancient ruins of the surrounding region, represented economic and political stability. Ahmad Pasha may have been a butcher, but through Al-Anwar he ultimately served up a nice roast dinner to the people of Acre.

[10] Exterior of the Mosque. Photo from the collection of the American Colony (Jerusalem), ca 1898-1914.
Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

MICHAEL TALBOT is currently a teaching fellow at the University of St. Andrews. 



**For more information, see:
--The entry for "Jami' al-Jazzar," at ARCHnet
--The official tourism website for Old Akko
--UNESCO World Heritage Description of the Old Ctiy of Acre


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