Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Atatürk's Coffee Cup

And Other Mementos from the Father of the Republic
Emily Neumeier

[1] Inscription in Turkish reads, "When Ataürk came to the halkevi (community center) he drank coffee from this cup." AR magazine, December 1938.

This past weekend, the people of Turkey remembered Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the nation's first president, who passed away on November 10, 1938, eighty years ago. At 9:05 in the morning, the exact time of Atatürk's death, the hustle of daily life around the country ground to a halt to observe one minute of silence

[2] Waterfront view of the Dolmabahçe Palace (now a museum) from the Bosphorus. Image under Creative Commons License.

[3] These days, every clock found at the
Dolmabahce Palace has been intentionally 

"frozen" at 9:05 am, the precise time of 
Atatürk's passing. Photo by the author.
A short anecdote: the first year I was living in Istanbul, on November 10, which happened to fall on a weekday, I boarded the commuter ferry in Üsküdar--on the Asian side of the Bosphorus--to go to work. All of a sudden, the captain of the ferry began to blast his horn, and most people on the crowded boat quietly rose and turned to face west. Somewhat startled, it took me a few seconds to realize that they had oriented themselves to look directly across the water, where the Dolmabahçe Palace--the place where Mustafa Kemal passed--is situated.

Every so often, I come back to this moment, because it got me thinking: the way Atatürk is commemorated in Turkey, with a minute of silence, works to unite people from all around the country in a single act at the same point in time. At least in theory, school children, bus drivers, factory workers, foreign Ph.D. students...everyone is supposed to stop what they are doing and sit in contemplation. Yet, on that ferry boat in Üsküdar, the specific context of having direct visual access to the Dolmabahçe from across the water added a unique spatial contour to the ritual, prompting the commuters to engage not only their minds and hearts but also their bodies, and most importantly their faculty of sight, to physically witness the place where Mustafa Kemal drew his final breath.

[4] Masthead for the Turkish arts and culture magazine AR

On this occasion, let's now turn to an unusual historical source that also features this concept of "embodied" commemoration. Among the many tributes to Atatürk shortly after his passing, the arts and culture magazine AR published a special dedicatory insert in their December 1938 issue, so just about a month after the event.

[5] Painting reproduced for the December
1938 issues of AR magazine: Cemal Tollu,
"Villagers Reading the Alphabet" ["Alfabe 
okuyan köylüler"], 1933.
As one might expect, the editors of the magazine included several modern paintings showing nationalist themes (like Cemal Tollu's "Villagers Reading the Alphabet") as well as short essays that testified to Mustafa Kemal's impact on the arts in Turkey, especially painting, sculpture, literature, and music. 

That being said, the editors also made the somewhat unusual decision to include a final section of photographs, with the purpose of showing "a few mementos [hatıra] belonging to Atatürk at the Ankara community center [halkevi]." These images, including the coffee cup above and a number that are reproduced below, form a strange archive of still-life photography, a collection of portraits dedicated to objects that are utterly unremarkable, save for the fact that they were all at one point or another used by Mustafa Kemal. 

Within a number of religious traditions like Christianity or Islam, the concept of a relic--an object that gains significance because it has at one point come into physical contact with a holy figure--is quite familiar. What this collection of photographs does is remind us that even in the most secular of contexts, the power of the embodied object still holds purchase in moments of mourning, contemplation, and commemoration.

[6] "In the rooms of the Ankara halkevi Atatürk was always sitting in the corner of the table marked with an x." (It is difficult to see, but the magazine editors marked Mustafa Kemal's favored seat in the photograph with a white x, on the fourth chair from the left.)
[7] "Atatürk's box" at the center's theater
[8] "Oftentimes when Atatürk came to the halkevi he would sit on this couch, having conversations with young people."
[9] "Atatürk would sit in this seat at the halkevi's theater"

***Issues of AR magazine can be found in the special collections of the National Library in Ankara and the Atatürk Library in Istanbul.

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Reckoning with the Past in Present-Day Trieste

contribution by Jeremy F. Walton
[1] View of the bar at Caffé San Marco in Trieste. Photo by author. 

Throughout the globe, cities are discovering that their pasts resonate with increasing potency and vibrancy in the present. This has been especially true in the Mediterranean basin, where the erstwhile modes of social, linguistic, religious, and ethnic plurality that defined daily life in port cities and entrepots speak to the contemporary longing for more capacious, flexible forms of cosmopolitan citizenship. Nostalgia is also a big business—tourists longing for the aromas and textures of bygone times find them surprisingly available as commodified consumer culture in the “historic” districts of urban cores from Istanbul to Tangier, from Palermo to Dubrovnik. Yet it would be archly dismissive to reduce recent urban exhumations of the past to bald material or political instrumentalism. Urban pasts can also function as a spur to incisive, urgently-needed critiques of forms of urban inequality and erasure in the present.

[2] The special issue of the journal Edinost on 
display at Caffé San Marco. Photo by author.
On April 22nd of this year, the “Empires of Memory” Max Planck Research Group, based at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, had the unique opportunity to contribute to a public discussion of these questions in Trieste’s exquisite Caffé San Marco. [Fig 1] We gathered to launch a special issue of the journal Edinost, titled “Finding Place(s) for the Past in Trieste”. [Fig 2] 

[3] Alessio Mazzaro, artist and
curator of Edinost.
Edinost was originally a publication devoted to Trieste’s Slavic communities during the late Habsburg era prior to World War I; it was shuttered by the Italian Fascist government in the 1920s. In recent years, Triestine artist Alessio Mazzaro [Fig 3] has revived the journal as a forum to reflect publicly on the city’s multiethnic and multi-religious past. Our special issue, co-edited by Empires of Memory members Giulia Carabelli, Annika Kirbis, and Jeremy F. Walton, [Figs 4 & 5] curated a series of articles on the ambivalences and effects of Trieste’s public monuments, especially those dating from Habsburg times. The conversation in Caffé San Marco—once a haunt of both Italian Irredentists and James Joyce—was lively, clearly only one moment in a longer reckoning with the past that animates Trieste today. Above all, the launch constituted a unique moment of synthesis between scholarship and its objects: our discussion of public space, memory, and plurality was itself one moment in the long history of a space that entails these very questions. 

[4] Giulia Carabelli (left) and Annika Kirbis (right), co-editors of 
the recent issue of Edinost, at the launch event in Trieste.

[5] Jeremy Walton says a few words at the meeting in
Caffé San Marco.

***The English version of the special issue of Edinost can be found here.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Losing the House of Nazife Hanım

Competing Ideologies Converge in Salonica's Urban Landscape
contribution by Sotiris Dimitriadis
[1] The burnt shell of the house of Nazife Hanım after the arson attack on January 14, 2018. Photograph by the author.

[2] Mass demonstration on the waterfront of Thessaloniki
over the "Macedonian Naming Dispute,"
January 14, 2018. Photo from ERT.
About two weeks ago in Thessaloniki, a group of extreme nationalists firebombed an old Ottoman mansion, emblematic of the town’s heyday as one of the great fin-de-siècle port-cities on the Mediterranean. [Fig. 1] Before the attack, the arsonists had been attending a massive demonstration that took up a long stretch of the city's downtown waterfront. [Fig. 2] The protest had been organized in response to the latest round of negotiations aimed at solving the “Macedonian naming dispute”—long forgotten by the rest of the world but still exciting great passions in this part of the world. As speaker after speaker warned the Greek government against handing over the name Macedonia to the “Skopjans” (i.e. the people whom the rest of the world calls Macedonians), a group of suspected neo-nazis broke off from the crowd and set the mansion, located just a few blocks away, on fire.

[3] Historic view of the Nazife Hanım House, "Mansion at Stratou 19, on the corner of Sarantaporou Street," by Kostas Gounaris, Undated. Image from Parallaxi Magazine.

A prime example of the eclecticist style that prevailed in Thessaloniki at the time, the mansion was built in 1906 in what was still Ottoman Selânik for Nazife Hanım, the wife of prosecutor Mehmed Şükrü Bey. [Fig. 3] Nazife had been born in 1873. With her three marriages and her personal background (she was born out of a mixed marriage, her mother having converted to Islam from Judaism), Nazife embodied the modern and cosmopolitan world of fın-de-siécle Thessaloniki, and she bore witness to the dramatic events that radically transformed the city and the region in the first half of the 20th century.

[4] The House of Nazife Hanım under the occupation of
the anarchist collective Libertatia. Photo from 105FM.
After the collapse of Ottoman rule in the Balkans and the division of the region of Macedonia between Bulgaria, Serbia, and Greece, Thessaloniki ended up within the borders of the latter. Thessaloniki’s once vibrant Muslim community was deported to Turkey in 1924 as part of the population exchange between the two countries. Nazife had become a Serbian subject thanks to her third husband, so she escaped that fate, but she remained alone in a city that was leaving her quickly behind. To support herself, she divided her house into separate rooms and rented them out to Jewish families, many left homeless by the city’s great fire of 1917, and the Christian refugees from Anatolia. She died in 1941, and, in the absence of legal heirs, the house passed to public ownership. Two years later, its Jewish tenants, Nazife’s maternal relatives, and almost the entire Jewish population of the city, 45,000 persons in total, were sent to the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Less than 2,000 survivors returned to Thessaloniki after the end of the war. Nazife Hanım’s house lay empty and gradually turned to ruin. It was declared listed as a historical monument, but was never renovated. In the last few years, the anarchist collective named “Libertatia” set up a squat inside the mansion and performed some basic restoration works. [Fig. 4]

It is doubtful that the nationalist arsonist of January 14 knew the history of the building they set on fire, and even if they had known, they probably would not have cared much. Their understanding of the history of the region begins with the greatness of ancient Macedon and Alexander the Great, stops at Byzantium and Orthodox Christianity, and, with a five-hundred-year leap over Ottoman rule (the “Tourkokratia”), ends with the restitution of Macedonia to the Greek nation in 1912. Greek Macedonian nationalism was shaped during the first half of the twentieth century, a period of violent competition between Greece and her neighbors for the fate of Macedonia. A long process of nation-building followed the end of WWI, with the settlement in the area of hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees, their homelands in Anatolia and the Black Sea lost. This in turn caused friction with the local Slavic speaking inhabitants (regardless of whether the considered themselves Greeks or ethnic Macedonians). The rise of the antifascist resistance against the German occupation threatened political arrangements in Macedonia, but the sidelining of the resistance and its eventual military defeat in the Greek Civil War (1947-49) made nationalism the only acceptable discourse in the region. Its development occurred in parallel, and helped conceal, some very specific practices: The appropriation of the properties of Jewish Holocaust victims and Slavic Macedonians “encouraged” to immigrate in the 1930s and deported after the end of the Civil War, the reinvestment of this capital into mainly the construction sector, and the subsequent transformation of the region’s urban centers through the destruction of much of their late Ottoman urban fabric—a fate the house of Nazife Hanım escaped, as it was public property.

[5] Side door at the House of Nazife Hanım.
Photo by the author.
Greek Macedonian nationalism got a second wind in 1991-1992, when Socialist Yugoslavia dissolved, and the former Socialist Federal Republic of Macedonia became independent. Against the backdrop of the Yugoslav Civil War, Greeks saw nationalism and intransigence against their neighbors as means to forge a secure place for their country in a rapidly changing international environment. As the consensus moved sharply to the right and hundreds of thousands demonstrated that “Macedonia is Greek,” a political and academic fringe sought to undermine this nationalist discourse. Architects and archaeologists sought to save the last remnants of Ottoman architectural heritage in Greek Macedonia from demolition and hand them back to the public. [Fig. 5] Historians expanded their scope to incorporate the stories of the region’s Others—the Jews that made up more than half of Thessaloniki’s population until the arrival of the Anatolian refugees, the five hundred years of Ottoman rule over the region and its surviving architectural and cultural heritage, and the Muslim and Macedonian Slav communities in the hinterland—that had been hitherto censored. Anarchist groups took over old Ottoman houses like Nazife Hanım’s, set up solidarity kitchens for migrants and collectively read Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities.

As the nationalist wave of the early 1990s lost its steam, a younger generation of historians both in Greece and abroad continued the project of exploring histories that had before been erased or silenced. In the case of Thessaloniki, no one proved more influential than Mark Mazower and his book Salonica, City of Ghosts, published in 2004 and translated into Greek two years later. The volume helped expand awareness of the impact of Ottoman rule in the region beyond the academic and professional milieus to the wider public. The image of a cosmopolitan city conjured by Mazower, of a commercial center of global significance and renown, resonated with the readers in a city increasingly hit by deindustrialization and investor flight to the Balkans. Thessaloniki adopted its own sense of imperial nostalgia, and the appreciation of a past once inaccessible to Thessaloniki became mainstream.

Yannis Boutaris, a winemaker with roots in the Greek Macedonian town of Naoussa, took it upon himself to express that mentality change in local politics. He was elected mayor of Thessaloniki in 2010 by offering a new direction for the city through the adoption of a more open and inclusive approach to its history. For Boutaris, the reacquaintance of Thessaloniki with its rich Ottoman and cosmopolitan legacy, and an honest discussion about the erasure and destruction of much of that legacy in the years following the city’s annexation by Greece (including the assumption of responsibility for the inaction of the local authorities and institutions, and the Christian majority of the city in the dark days of the Holocaust) was first and foremost a moral obligation. It also made good business sense, by allowing for the accumulation of cultural capital and putting it on the map of prospective tourist and investment destinations. Taking a page out of Richard Florida’s playbook, Boutaris sought to transplant the creative cities model in the post-Ottoman urban environment. Only, in this case, the city didn’t build bike lanes but opened old mosques to visitors. And the “creative classes” courted here turned out to be Turkish and Israeli heritage tourists. That approach seemed to have been working, with the increase in tourism shielding Thessaloniki from the worse parts of the ongoing economic crisis, and the city’s liberal stance discouraging the eruptions of racist violence experienced in Athens and elsewhere.

Even before recent events, however, the limits of liberal cosmopolitanism had been clear. Accommodating for the historical presence of Jews and Muslims in the city did not necessarily extend to the multicultural realities of the contemporary city and its migrant communities from the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. A proposal to rename a local square in honor of the Albanian sister-city of Durres proved controversial, and the plans of Thessaloniki and neighboring municipalities to rehouse Syrian refugees met with stiff resistance. The large scale of the recent demonstration on Thessaloniki’s waterfront and the brazen arson of an architectural monument in the city showed the ongoing appeal of Greek Macedonian nationalism. Boutaris himself seems aware of the threats to the model of inclusive historicity that he has pursued. In a speech he made this past week commemorating the Day of Remembrance for the Holocaust, he concluded thus:
Many ask us why the belated interest in the history and the memory of the Salonican Jews? The desecration of the Holocaust memorial and the arson attack on the house of a Jewish and Muslim Salonican should have been enough as an answer.
[6] Upper stories of the House of Nazife Hanım, showing the damage after the fire on January 14, 2018. Photo by the author.
The fire that ravaged the house of Nazife Hanım destroyed its roof and floors, but thankfully left its stone walls largely unscathed. [Fig. 6] Restoration is both possible and urgently needed. Until then, its burnt shell will stand as a reminder of the precarity of the building of cosmopolitan politics in the urban fabric in our times.

***The Greek version of this essay will be published in the Sunday edition of the newspaper Avgi, February 11, 2018.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Provincially Ottoman

Defining Ottoman-Balkan Architecture at the Mehmet Ali House, Kavala, Greece
contribution by Bridget Halstead

This post is part of our new series Stambouline in the Classroom
[1] Sign for "Mohamet Ali Street" in Greek and Latin letters, Kavala. Photo by Emily Neumeier.
The phrase “Ottoman architecture” poses potential complications to the study of buildings in Ottoman lands.  A distinctive stylistic category of “Ottoman Architecture” is particularly difficult to define within the eighteenth-century empire. In the context of this period, the term  does not connote a distinctive, empire-wide aesthetic architectural movement led by Istanbul, but rather suggests some measure of synthesis between the traditions of the central empire and its outlying regions. 

[2] Exterior view of the Mehmet Ali House. Creative Commons License.

[3] Portrait of Mehmet Ali Pasha, Auguste
Couder, 1841. Palace of Versailles,
Image in public doma
The Mehmet Ali House, located in Kavala, in the Macedonia region of Greece, is significant among eighteenth-century residential structures because it exemplifies these ongoing debates over the definition of “Ottoman architecture” and over Ottoman architectural legacy in the Balkans. [Figures 1 & 2] Because this house was constructed in 1720, before the creation of national boundaries in the Balkans, it cannot be considered a characteristically “nationalist” Greek, Albanian, or Macedonian structure.  It is instead an example of a synthetic “Ottoman core” or “Rumi” architectural style in which the design of residential structures was largely consistent across large central swaths of the empire, and in which regional ornamental or decorative variants, if they existed, were present in such a way that they did not obfuscate the consistent form of the “Ottoman core”-style structure. In addition, the house’s role as the family home of Mehmet Ali, an Ottoman military official who in the early nineteenth century declared himself governor of Egypt and instituted military and economic reforms--actions that earned him the title “Founder of Modern Egypt"--marks this house as historically significant not only to the Balkan region, but also to Egypt. 

Modern nationalist historiography has attempted to ascribe national origin for various architectural styles in formerly Ottoman-occupied nation states.  Ottoman structures like the Mehmet Ali House, however, espouse a necessarily synthetic Ottoman architectural style, as they were constructed before the advent of national boundaries. Maurice Cerasi proposes that a “core area” of Ottoman architecture, in which domestic residential architectural styles were largely consistent, existed in the swath of land between Anatolia and Rumeli, extending to Thessaly in the south and Bosnia to the east (130). Tülay Artan, similarly, dubs this necessarily synthetic architectural style “Rumi” due to its “fusion of monumental and residential” aesthetic elements (99). Artan, like Cerasi, proposes that this synthetic architectural style was not the result of conscious cultural and aesthetic fusion, but rather came about as the result not only of a simultaneously “reconstructing” and decentralizing system of imperial power, but also of cultural dialogue and “power-sharing arrangements” between the provinces and Istanbul.

Because of its location inside this “core area,” the Mehmet Ali House’s wooden brackets, two-story stone and mortar structure, and large windows on the exterior are extremely similar to other “Rumi” residential structures. Its tile roof and ornamental features, however, are distinctively Balkan. In defining an Ottoman-Balkan legacy, therefore, this house presents evidence of a pre-nationalist synthetic architectural culture which, though tinged with some ornamental features specific to residential structures in the Macedonia region, was common to the “core area” of the empire.  The house itself is a refutation of nationalist historiographies, which tend to champion singular origins for architectural style and to characterize Ottoman residential aesthetics as having overpowered distinct, national-provincial styles that existed before Ottoman incursions into the Balkans.

The Balkan region as a whole represented an extremely valuable zone that affected the financial and social standing of the empire. Frederick Anscombe writes that, “in terms of population, economic vitality, and imperial prestige, the Balkans constituted the most important part of the Ottoman domains, giving a European aspect to an empire commonly imagined as ‘Asiatic’" (574). Despite his emphasis on the strategic importance of the Balkans, Anscombe’s argument segregates the Balkans from the center. Here, the Balkans are not only of strategic and financial importance to the imperial center, but are also construed as pivotal Western elements of the Ottoman Empire. Cerasi’s delineation of a “core area” of influence for Ottoman residential architecture, however, frames the Balkans as having synthesized architectural styles with the center. In dialogue with this, Artan classifies Rumelia, rather than Anatolia, as the aesthetic center and “richest heartland” of the empire, due to its essentially synthetic architectural styles and economic vitality (100-101). Where Anscombe’s framework emphasizes the cultural disparity between the center and the Balkan provinces, Cerasi’s “core area” thesis and Artan’s “Rumi” conception promote a synthetic framework that is reflected in the integrated architectural style of the Mehmet Ali House.

The Mehmet Ali House as Architectural Artifact
The Mehmet Ali House, built in 1720, covers 2,079 square meters. Its two-story construction is typical of the “core area” architectural style. As depicted in Figure 2 and 3, the house utilizes a narrow stone base with a jutting second story supported by wooden cantilever beams. 
[3] Another view of the Mehmet Ali house from the
south. Photo by Emily Neumeier.
These features are common to “core area” domestic architecture because they are found not only in residential structures found in the Macedonia region like the Mehmet Ali House, but also in domestic architecture found across the imperial “core,” including areas of Anatolia.  This two-story wood-beamed structure, then, can be considered the elemental basis upon which synthetic “Ottoman architecture” can be built.

In the case of the Mehmet Ali House, regional architectural elements are present in the house’s jutting second story and tiled roof. These design elements were common in what is now continental Greece and Macedonia, and in the Mehmet Ali House are imposed onto the “core area” structural base of the house. As illustrated in Figures 2 and 3, the house’s balconies and tile roof not only customize the imported “core area” structure but also utilize the house’s strategic location. The Mehmet Ali House stands upon a scenic overlook; the back of the house faces the Aegean. [Figure 4]

[4] View from the sea of the historic citadel of Kavala, where the Mehmet Ali House is located. Photo by Emily Neumeier.

Here, the addition of balconies may not have been, as nationalist frameworks would suggest, a conscious imposition of regional architectural elements onto the stone-and-protruding-mortar construction of the “core structure,” but rather an attempt to capitalize on the house’s strategic location. The tiled roof, moreover, may have served a practical purpose. Cerasi suggests that certain ornamental elements found in the Macedonia region were informed by ancient Greek architecture. The use of a tiled roof may have been due to available supplies in the area.  

It is important to remember that these Macedonian architectural features were not imposed onto residential structures like the Mehmet Ali House out of a nationalistic aesthetic fervor.  They were instead included due to a process of synthesis which, over time, slightly modified the common “Rumi” structure due to a natural process of cultural and aesthetic fusion.  

This “core area” architecture, however, was not a specific set of architectural or aesthetic guidelines handed to the provinces from Istanbul, but was instead the result of a slow process of hybridity. Similarities in architecture were due less to central imperial desires to quash difference - cultural, aesthetic, or religious - in the provinces than they were to the desire of provincial notables to emulate the building styles of Istanbul. In the context of the de-centralizing eighteenth-century empire, in which changes to the tax system allowed wealthy provincial power-holders to amass more wealth and resources, this emulation of central styles allowed provincial notables to demonstrate their cosmopolitanism, while distinctive provincial changes, such as the tile roof on the Mehmet Ali house, allowed them to erect domestic structures which were in dialogue with regional aesthetic forms. The fusion of local ornamentation and core area-style structural design on the Mehmet Ali House, then, was not only a result of the house’s position within the core architectural region of the empire, but also of an increasingly-available architectural synthesis that occurred as a natural result of political and social changes in the eighteenth century empire. While the house retains its distinctively “Ottoman core” form, the addition of a tiled roof and balconies allow it to be distinguished from hybrid styles in other areas of the empire.

In this sense, decentralization accelerated the process of architectural synthesis in the empire’s dynamic [Balkan] heartlands, and residential constructions like the Mehmet Ali House took on an inherently synthetic architectural style. Here, Artan’s discussion of a necessarily synthetic “Rumi” architecture is again applicable: the “interactive patronage” between the Balkans and center was not only spurred by decentralizing wealth and political power, but was also encouraged by cultural and ethnic interaction in the provinces. Because of this, structures like the Mehmet Ali House espoused an essentially integrated architectural aesthetic. This style is both fully Balkan and fully Ottoman; neither architectural tradition enveloped the other, but the two rather meshed to form a hybrid, synthetic style of “Ottoman architecture.” 

Impositions of a Nationalist Framework
Şuhnaz Yılmaz and İpek Yosmaoğlu outline a view that contends that, in the Balkans, Ottoman rule disputed “the otherwise natural development of various nations” (679-80). The application of a nationalist framework assumes that modern nationalist sentiment existed in some form in the premodern Ottoman provinces. In the context of architecture, however, regional ornamental and decorative variants of the type used in the Mehmet Ali House are not representative of a concerted effort to pit regional Macedonian, Balkan, or provincial cultural capital against the might of aesthetic encroachment from the imperial center, but rather of a gradual stylistic synthesis that occurred organically. The traditional historiographic view outlined above imposes a nation-based rationale on the premodern workings of the Ottoman Empire that is incongruous with the synthetic cultural contact illustrated architecturally through the Mehmet Ali House.

The traditional nationalist framework identified by Yılmaz and Yosmaoğlu would signify some measure of cultural conflict in the architecture of the house. As outlined above, however, the synthesis of architectural elements likely occurred organically, as evidenced by the largely intact, centrally-wrought “core structure” of the house.

Nationalist historiographical “myths” that aim to place Ottoman and provincial cultures at odds in order to characterize Ottoman rule as “an era of oppression, humiliation, and resistance” (Anatov 2016: 33), then, are not reflected in the synthetic definition of Ottoman architecture proposed here or illustrated through the Mehmet Ali House.

[5] Public square next to the Mehmet Ali House: Statue of Mehmet Ali (left) that was dedicated by King Fuad I of Egypt, and the Church of the Dormition (right). Photo by Emily Neumeier

The Mehmet Ali House in Modern Context
The synthetic architectural style of this house is also reflected in its present ownership.  Currently, the house itself is the property of the Egyptian government, due to a continuation of early twentieth-century Egyptian waqfs, or charitable endowments, instated before the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, while its gardens are the property of the Municipality of Kavala. Here, again, the nationally-distinct architectural model fails. The two-state holding of the Mehmet Ali House illustrates the extent to which each nation claims architectural-cultural descendance from the Ottoman-style house.

Ornamentally-fused Ottoman-provincial architectural styles of buildings like the Mehmet Ali House represent a larger pattern of cultural synthesis. The surrounding neighborhood, Panagia, also reflects this architectural hybridity. The house’s location between a Greek Orthodox Church and a mosque dating to the sixteenth century exemplifies the extent of these synthetic cultural and aesthetic factors. A modern statue of Mehmet Ali stands between the house itself and the Orthodox church. [Figure 5] In these surroundings, the house’s architectural hybridity is expressed both environmentally and religiously; because these structures existed while the Mehmet Ali House was occupied, they indicate that some measure of cultural synthesis was already at work in Kavala. 

[6] The multi-lingual signage found above the doorway
of the Mehmet Ali House. Photo by Isabelle
Parshall, 2016.
Some measure of the house’s architectural hybridity, moreover, is acknowledged on the signage above its front door, which proclaims the name of the building in Ottoman Turkish, French, and Greek and which has hung above the house since at least the early twentieth century. [Figures 6 & 7] Here, both the regional Macedonian and central Ottoman impacts on the house’s architecture are overtly expressed. Though both the Egyptian government and the Municipality of Kavala hold separate waqf claims to different portions of the house and surrounding land, the expression of complex influences expressed in the multi-lingual signage indicate that both governmental claimants acknowledge some level of architectural and cultural hybridity is at work in the design and existence of the house.

[7] Late 19th or early 20th-century postcard depicting the
multi-lingual signange at the Mehmet Ali House.
Photo in the public domain.

It is interesting, finally, to note that modern tourism documents from the Municipality of Kavala describe the house has having been “based on Macedonian architecture” rather than Ottoman architecture. Despite the inherently synthetic nature of the house’s architectural style, and despite the municipality’s de-facto acceptance of this synthesis through its shared claim with Egypt, the city of Kavala markets the house as a purely Macedonian structure. In doing this, the Municipality is attempting to impose a nationalist origin on the culturally-fused house and to lay claim to its cultural and architectural capital. This national-origin claim may be intended to encourage tourism to the region of Macedonia or to erase some measure of Ottoman impact in the region to unfamiliar visitors, but, in describing this synthetic “Ottoman architecture” structure as “Macedonian architecture,” the official materials fail to account for the extent to which local and “Ottoman core” aesthetic styles fused and worked in tandem in the creation of the Mehmet Ali House.

It is inappropriate, therefore, to characterize the Mehmet Ali House as having a single pre-national stylistic origin. Ottoman architectural styles are necessarily synthetic because of the expanse of the empire, and this site illustrates this synthesis in both its “core-style” structure and distinctive Macedonian ornamentation and its physical location. Cerasi writes that the “typical” Ottoman house type was a style which fused Byzantine, Greek, Turkish, and Central Asian elements: “All these elements were well known to the diverse groups dwelling or working in western Ottoman towns…the Ottoman house did not exist as a coherent type before these many ethnic and cultural elements were integrated” (133-34). “Ottoman architecture” as a term is imprecise and insufficient to describe the hybridity and synthesis of these “core area” architectural styles and, despite attempts in later historiography to impose national origins or national frameworks onto Ottoman residential architecture like the Mehmet Ali House, these sites retained an aesthetic and architectural stylistic hybridity which fused a basic architectural form from the imperial center with decorative or ornamental forms from the provinces. Ottoman architecture, then, cannot be defined within a nationalist framework because, as a style, it is pre-nationalist. The Mehmet Ali House exemplifies both this synthesis of style and the ongoing debate over the terms on which “Ottoman architecture” can be defined.  

Works Cited and Further Reading:
Anatov, Nikolay. “Emergence and Historical Development of Muslim Communities in the Ottoman Balkans: Historical and Historiographical Remarks.”  In Beyond Mosque, Church, and State: Alternative Narratives of Nation in the Balkans, edited by Theodora Dragostinova and Yana Hashamova. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2016.

Anscombe, Frederick. “The Balkan Revolutionary Age.” The Journal of Modern History 84 (2012): 572-606.

Artan, Tülay. “Questions of Ottoman Identity and Architectural History.” In Rethinking Architectural Historiography, edited by Dana Arnold et al, pp. 85-109. London: Routledge, 2006.

El Ashmouni, Marwa and Katharine Bartsch. “Egypt’s Age of Transition: Unintentional Cosmopolitanism During the Reign of Muhammad ‘Ali (1805-1848).” Arab Studies Quarterly 36 (2014): 43-74.

Cerasi, Maurice. “The Formation of Ottoman House Types: A Comparative Study in Interaction with Neighboring Cultures.” Muqarnas 15 (1998): 116-156.

Colvin, Peter. “Muhammad Ali Pasha, the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the School of Oriental and African Studies Library.” Libraries and Culture 33 (1998): 249-59.  

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