Sunday, March 15, 2015

Framing Ottoman Epigraphy

Tracking Down a Black Sea Fortress at the Topkapı Palace
contribution by Emily Neumeier

[1] Sultan Abdülhamid's monument (1294 H/1877-78 CE) to Sohum in the second courtyard of the Topkapı Palace, with the chambers of the imperial council (Divan-ı Hümayun) and Tower of Justice in the background. Unless otherwise noted, photos by Emily Neumeier, 2014.

[2] Ali Pasha of Çürüksu (front row,
middle) and Ottoman Georgians
during the Russo-Ottoman War (1877–
78). Wikipedia, in Public Domain.






Every day, the thousands of tourists who visit the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul stream past a stately stone monument. [Fig. 1] Despite the monument's grand scale (more than 3 meters in height) and prominent location in the second courtyard of the palace, most visitors barely give it a second glance. And who can really blame them, with the nearby Tower of Justice, or the rococo Gate of Felicity (Bab-ı Saadet), as competition for their attention? Yet a careful reading of this monument's inscriptions reveals its unusual function--a piece of war propaganda for a new sultan in the midst of a crushing military defeat. More specifically, this is a military memorial from the early years of Sultan Abdülhamid II's reign, when fighting erupted in both the Balkans and the Caucusus during the Russo-Ottoman war of 1877-78. [Fig. 2] The purpose of the Topkapı monument is to present and frame an Ottoman inscription that had been rescued from the Black Sea fortress of Sohum, a city that was only briefly held by the Ottomans and then once again fell into Russian hands. 


[3] The monument's upper inscription and tuğra of Sultan Abdülhamid II.


[4] The early 18th-century foundation
inscription rescued from the fortress at
Sohum, now preserved in the Hamidian-era
memorial at the Topkapı Palace. 
The inscription that is located at the top of the monument, incised on a single block of marble, is itself undated but has been paired with the tuğra of Sultan Abdülhamid II above, which gives the year 1294 H/ 1877-78 CE. [Fig. 3] The text declares that more than a century and a half earlier, during the reign of Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703-30), a fortress was constructed in Sohum, on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. The inscription further explains that this fortress was later occupied by Russian forces ("Mosḳof eline geçmiş iken"), but it was finally reclaimed again by Sultan Abdülhamid and "the time of the gazi sovereign returned" ("gerüye şah-ı gāzi-i zamān geldi"). It was then that, by imperial order, the 18th-century foundation inscription from the fortress was removed from the Black Sea site and brought to Istanbul for the memorial at the Topkapı. Thus, the two plaques featuring Ottoman epigraphy that appear on this monument serve very different functions. Although the text of the 18th-century inscription from Sohum, if taken on its own as a historical document, does offer valuable information about a little-known Black Sea fortress, within the context of the Hamidian memorial, this plaque is presented as a kind of relic--a tangible fragment, or object, imbued with the aura of past military victory and success. The late 19th-century inscription in the upper register of the monument acts as an illustrative text, both literally and figuratively framing the central plaque. 

Because the Hamidian craftsmen responsible for the construction of this monument treated all three inscriptions (tuğra, upper inscription, central plaque) to the same paint job of gold lettering on a dark-green ground, at first glance a visitor might be led to assume that these inscriptions were all produced at the same time. However, even if a visitor were not able to read the text, there are subtle stylistic differences in the calligraphy that make it clear that these inscriptions are not from the same workshop or time period. [Compare figs. 3, 4 and 5] First, although the upper and central inscriptions are both written in the so-called ta'lik script--very popular for public texts in the Ottoman period--they were clearly designed by two different calligraphers. The ta'lik script in the central plaque is more Persianized in style in that it tends to flow more at an angle, while the later text in the upper panel follows is a bit more flat, sitting on a straight (imaginary) baseline. Additionally, while the text in the upper panel remains contained within eight cartouches, the 18th-century calligraphy in the central plaque is more free and lively, spilling over the lines of the text boxes. [Fig. 5] 


[5] Detail from the 18th-century central inscription showing the ta'lik script.



[6] "Sukhumi Fortress", 1830s, Jacques François
Gamba. Wikipedia, in Public Domain.








Besides being an interesting example of 18th-century calligraphy, the central plaque taken from the Sohum fortress provides insight into the construction of the fortification built by Ahmed III. [Fig. 6] Presently the site is difficult to access for any non-Russian citizens, as Sohum (Sukhumi, Sokhumi, Aqwa) is presently at the center of a complex political conflict, being the capital of Abzhakia, a disputed region in Georgia on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Sohum came under Ottoman control in the 1570s, and at this point the town was presumably re-fortified, adapting even earlier military works dating as early as the Roman period. [Fig. 7]


[7] Selection of late-antique and medieval-era pot sherds found in the 1985 Russian excavations of the Sohum fortress, evidence for the continuous use of the site as a settlement. Hrushkova and Gunba, "Raskopki Suhumskoi kreposti," p. 40.
We know, of course, from the foundation inscription now at the Topkapı that a new fortress was erected (or rather extensively rebuilt and enhanced) in the early eighteenth century in the reign of Sultan Ahmed III. The central plaque's text can be translated thus:
The king among kings of the world, the majestic Sultan Ahmed Gazi, whose imperial gate is the refuge of İskender and Dara. He is the exalted ruler of prosperity, whose imperial person is the ornament of the world with his exalted position of justice and perfect attainment of honor. The Grand Vizier, Damad Ibrahim Pasha, abundant in influence, is the distinguished ruler’s imperial relation. He rendered secure every corner of the world from enemies because he ordered that this region be protected. This esteemed, strong fortress was erected with such majesty that you would imagine it to be the Phoenix at the top of Mount Kaf. The justice of the sultan increases the prosperity of the world such that the most holy one is a fortune for the world’s repose. As for the most exalted vezir he always acts such that the wise sadrazam is in this way the agent of security and peace. 
Unfortunately, this (very flowery) inscription is undated, but the text itself declares that the Sohum fortress was built under the Grand Vizier Nevşehirli Damat Ibrahim Pasha, which further narrows the window of time in which the construction could have taken place to 1718-1730, the term of Ibrahim Pasha's service. The conclusion to this question of dating the fortress can actually be found, not in Ottoman sources, but in a map of western Georgia (Imereti) produced in the first half of the 18th century. [Fig. 8]


[8] Detail of Sohum Fortress (central square enclosure). French copy of the 1738 Georgian manuscript map, Bibliothèque Hydrographique de la Marine, Paris. W.E.D. Allen, "Two Georgian Maps," p. 106.
[9] Sohum Castle as it survives today, along
the water front of the city. Taken from
Google Earth, 15 March 2015.
This rationalized plan of the fortress depicts the construction as situated between two streams emptying into the Black Sea, a rectangular enclosure with a square bastion on each corner and an entrance with towers to both the north and south. The foundation inscription was most likely fixed above one of these entrances. It is perhaps a bit strange that the foundation inscription compares this structure, which is so evidently placed on the edge of the sea at the mouth of the port, to the "Phoenix at the top of Mount Kaf," but this just proves that sometimes the composers of these texts took some liberties with their metaphors and the actual topographic situation of a site (this discrepancy also might indicate that the author commissioned for this text was in Istanbul, and never visited Sohum personally). The description of the fortress on the Georgian map states that the fortification was "built by the Turks in 1723" and governed by a pasha "of two tails" with 100 soldiers (janissaries) operating 60 cannons. This map, therefore, confirms an exact date (1723 CE) for the inscription now found at the Topkapı Palace. The rendering in the 1738 map can be compared with what survives today on the ground in Sohum. [Figs. 9, 10]  Even though we can safely assume that the fortress underwent even further restorations after its initial construction in the early eighteenth century, the original design is essentially intact, being a rectangular plan with the traces of projecting bastions, or towers, on each corner. 


[10] View of Sohum, 1912. Early color photo by Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii.
Wikipedia, in Public Domain.
The question remains, however, why did Abdülhamid's troops decide to remove the foundation inscription from the fortress at Sohum, and bring it to the imperial capital? As the Hamidian inscription states, the fortress at Sohum had for a long time been in Russian hands, and when the Ottomans briefly won back the castle in 1877, they must have known that their occupation there would only be short-lived. There is a long and proud tradition in the early modern period of military victors displaying the regalia of the losing side, and the Ottomans perhaps feared that once the Russians took back control of the fortress in Sohum that they might deface or destroy the foundation inscription as a symbolic gesture. So, while the sultan's troops in the end could not prevent the ultimate surrender of the castle itself, their one consolation prize was Ahmet III's inscription, which served as a precious testament to more triumphant days on the battlefield. Indeed, in the memorial now at the Topkapı Palace, Abdülhamid II, who was facing what by all accounts was a disastrous military loss, endeavored to make an explicit connection between himself and Ahmed III, who, along with his grand vizier Damat Ibrahim Pasha, was celebrated for his many victories against the Russians. It was hoped that this 18th-century inscription, which lauded viziers who "rendered secure every corner of the world" with fortresses that compared to the "Phoenix at the top of Mount Kaf," might confer some of that triumphal fanfare to the new sultan, who framed his ambitions for the future with a nostalgic monument to the past. 



**Many thanks to Olga Greco for her assistance in locating the Russian archaeological reports for the Sohum fortress; to Nilay Özlü for her advice on bibliography; and to the 2014 Ottoman Epigraphy Course at the Research Center for Anatolian Civilizations, Koç University, where this essay began. 

**Transcription of the Central Plaque recording the 18th-century foundation of the fortress (both translation above and transcription by the author, also see transcription by Necdet Sakaoğlu):

(1) [Ş]ehinşāh-i cihān şevketlu Sulṭān Ahmed gāzi ‖ ki bāb-i devleti İskender ü Dārāya me’vādır
(2) [O] ḫāḳān-ı bülend-i iḳbāl kim ẕāt-ı hümāyūni ‖ kemāl-i ‘izz ü cāh-ı ma’deletle ‘ālemârādır
(3) [O] ḫāḳān-ı güziniñ ṣıhr-ı ḫāṣı ṣadr-ı ‘ālisi ‖ Vezir-i pür-himem Dāmād İbrāhim Pāşādır
(4) Cihānıñ eyleyüb her kūşesin te’min a’dādan ‖ bu semtiñ daḥi oldu çünki emri ḥıfẓına ṣādır
(5) [ya]pıldı himmetiyle bu mu’aẓzam al'a-i muḥkem ‖ ki heybetli sanursenkim ser-i Ḳāf üzre ‘Anḳādır
(6) ḳıla ḥaḳ-ı şehriyār ‘ālemiñ iḳbālini efzūn ‖ ki ẕāt-ı aḳdesi sermāye-i ârām-ı düny[a]dır
(7) […] vezir-i a’ẓamın daḫi ḳıla dā’im ‖ ki bā’iŝ böyle emn ü rāḥata ol ṣadr-ı dānādır



EMILY NEUMEIER is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in the art and architecture of the Ottoman world and Modern Turkey.

ALLEN, W.E.D. "Two Georgian Maps of the First Half of the Eighteenth Century." Imago Mundi 10 (1953): pp. 99-121.
BALCI, Ramazan. Sarayın Sırları: Bilinmeyen Yönleriyle Osmanlı Sarayı ve Harem Hayatı. Istanbul: Elit, 2000. pp. 58-59.
FORTNA, Benjamin. "The Reign of Abdülhamid II," in The Cambridge History of Turkey Volume 4: Turkey in the Modern World, Ed. Reşat Kasaba. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 2008.
GUNBA, M. M. and Hrushkova L. G. "Raskopki Suhumskoi kreposti." Arheologicheskie otkrytiia v Abhazii 1985. Tbilisi: Mecniereba, 1990.
SAKAOĞLU, Necdet. The Imperial Palace with its History, Locations, Inscriptions and Memoirs (Topkapı Palace). Istanbul: Denizbank, 2002. p. 89.
SHAMBA, G. K. Drevnii Suhum. Sukhumi: Alashara, 2005.

Citation: "Framing Ottoman Epigraphy," Emily Neumeier, Stambouline (March 15, 2015). http://www.stambouline.com/2015/03/framing-ottoman-epigraphy.html

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Anıtkabirs That Weren't

The Competition to Design Atatürk's Mausoleum
guest contribution by James Ryan

The winning submission for Anıtkabir from Turkish architects Emin Onat and Orhan Arda. From Arkitekt magazine (1943): “This project is a composition that pleased everyone. It is a plan for a mausoleum inspired by the idea of a rectangular temple and is framed by a sophisticated colonnade. The hall of honor is composed with a monumental volume in order to reach a height appropriate for a common view. The base is plain and drawn in ink, underneath this part more elaborate bas reliefs will be made.”
Anıtkabir Today. Photo by Emily Neumeier, 2013.









W
When attempting to explain to Americans the significance of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his legacy in Turkey, I often use the analogy that he is like every US founding father rolled into one. Likewise, Anıtkabir--the mausoleum that houses Atatürk’s coffin, and so much more--is a bit like the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington monuments put together. This comparison is one I’ve always found helpful, in part because the two sets of monuments roughly share the same architectural flavor, despite Anıtkabir’s vast size. 

Whether as a tourist, tour guide, or historian, I have always found Anıtkabir fascinating, because it is a tremendous example of nationalist myth-making. While the architecture itself can be charitably described as grandiose, it is really the museum, which features exhibitions of Atatürk’s possessions (including a rowing machine and cane-rifle), the war for independence (complete with life-sized diorama of the Sakarya Pitch battle) and era of reforms, that does much of the work of hagiography.

Recently, I have begun investigating how this museum and monument came about, which has resulted in an interesting thought experiment regarding what Anıtkabir could have looked like if the memorial's design committee (formed in the early 1940s) had decided to go in a different direction. Along the way I have also learned that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the competition was subject to the geopolitics of the early years of World War II, as many of the nearly fifty submissions were not only from Turkish architects but also from Germany and Italy. Many of the European submissions came from architects who had already been tapped to build many of the major buildings of the new Turkish capital throughout the 1930s.

The history of this competition has been preserved in the pages of the Turkish journal Arkitekt, which ran a series of articles in 1943 highlighting many of the entries, complete with scale renderings and plans. Below I’ve excerpted some of this journal’s comments on the various entries. The views of Arkitekt’s editors seem to have been independent from the evaluations of the competition committee (for an an in-depth analysis of the politics behind this committee, see Christopher Wilson’s recent monograph, Beyond Anıtkabir, cited below). On the whole, Arkitekt's commentators tended to prefer modernist-nationalist designs across the board, and often took issue with some designs that they felt to be over-orientalizing.

We have compiled here a gallery of nine of the more striking submissions to this competition, taken from the pages of Arkitekt, with short descriptions and reflections. Afterwards is a translation of some the most pertinent competition rules, as published in the magazine:


[1] This entry from German architect Yohannas Krüger features a tiling pattern on the façade that is reminiscent of Persian and Central Asian motifs. Krüger’s submission is markedly more understated than some of his Italian and German counterparts. From Arkitekt: “Architect Y. Krüger’s project is a strong piece of work. While the external architecture is a bit brutal in its effect; the interior is rich. In the architect’s project, the memorial dominates the concept and the hall in which the tomb is placed forms the basis of the mass; the other components such as the [architectural] details remain secondary.”




[2] The first Italian proposal featured in Arkitekt comes from Arnoldo Foschini, who won second prize in the competition. According to Wilson, the Italian Minister of Education praised the entry in a letter to Foschini writing, “Italian architecture, through your appreciated work, has obtained another solemn acknowledgement on foreign soil and in 
competition with artists of other nations.” From Arkitekt: “The external design has a similarly relative volume; the façades are filled with superfluous bas-reliefs. Entering the interior space conjures the spirit of a church; the composition of the hall of honor constitutes a contrast between Turkish and Islamic spiritualism.”


[3] This building is a collaboration by three young Turkish architects, H. Kemalî Söylemezoğlu, Kemal Ahmet Aru and Recal Akçay. The combination of European and Islamic monumental traditions was a favorite of the editors of Arkitektwho praised it by saying, “We think this project is the closest work to the character of Turkish architecture in the competition.” They went on to criticize the exterior’s relative plainness, and somewhat incorrect proportions, but praised the interior, which “...has an effect on our national feelings. Although it comprises a small tomb, together with the designs on the ceiling and side walls and colonnades, it creates a national atmosphere."
















[4] The next entry comes from a Swiss architect named Ronald Rohn, and was, according toWilson, meant to evoke the ancient Egyptian funerary complexes at Deir el-Bahari, located on the west bank of the Nile near Luxor. Arkitekt, in agreement with the competition committee, was somewhat dismissive of this entry (Arkitekt even fails to mention Rohn’s name), citing the lack of monumentality, and overall “humbleness” of the design.


[5] Another design from a European, this time the Italian architect Giovanni Muzio, again evokes the monumental architecture of ancient Egypt. Arkitekt enjoyed the way this entry called back to ancient styles of tombs and graves, but thought that the plethora of windows, coupled with the all-concrete hexagonal pyramid could result in a very difficult system of construction.



[6] This entry, also from Italy, comes by way of the architect pair Giuseppe Vaccaro and Gino Franzin. It’s a personal favorite of mine, since the design presents a very bold mid-century modernist outlook and might not have been out of place memorializing any of the prominent authoritarian leaders of that period. Vaccaro himself had just designed a smaller funerary chapel for an industrialist family in Bologna (La Capella Goldoni), which also evoked an oversized sarcophagus. It didn’t impress Arkitekt, however, who’s one-sentence description expressed utter dissatisfaction: “We do not really care for the severity of this project’s classical influence, rather decorative internal design and needlessly difficult construction plan.” 






[7] This entry was submitted by noted Turkish architect Sedat Hakkı Eldem, and is a nod to Anatolian and Persian traditions of kümbet mausoleum architecture with its vaulted dome that is meant to remind one of Seljukid tents. Eldem, according to Wilson, was one of the pioneers of the canonical “Second National Style” in Turkish architecture that represented an attempt to reconcile historical, local, modernist and national forms in a single coherent whole. Arkitekt’s editors were clearly on board with this style, citing that Eldem’s efforts were “...completely Turkish in their influence and inspiration.”



















[8] This entry is courtesy of the German architect Clemens Holzmeister, who designed several government buildings in Ankara, including the current Parliament building. The proposed conical pyramid, surprisingly, differs drastically from the more cubic style of Holzmeister’s other buildings, through which he had endeared himself to many in the Turkish government, including the competition committee. The editors of Arkitekt, however, took him to task, asserting that “it is impossible to discern where the external architectural details and descriptions of a monumentality can be found and it does not follow any of the principles of classical works. This personality has been shown to be at work in Holzmeister’s other works.”














[9] Finally we have an proposal that is perhaps the most palatial, evoking both classical monuments and ancient monuments such as the Tower of Babel or Trajan’s Column. It comes from Italian architect Paolo Vietti, who had previously designed Ankara’s Hippodrome and Istanbul’s İnönü Stadium (home to the football club Beşiktaş). Both Arkitekt and the competition committee dismissed this effort because of the awkward mix of styles, and overall lack of clarity.


Competition Rules:

I. The Character of the Monument
 1. Atatürk established the new Turkey in the heart of the greater Turkish nation. On October 11, 1938, on the face of Atatürk’s coffin, who shook off his mortal coil and migrated into eternity, the greatest influence and gratitude of the Turkish nation was wrought. To express the greatness and power of the connection of the Turkish heart, in which lives this great man, his works and possessions, a Great Monument will be erected according to these principles. 
2. The monument will be a place of pilgrimage. This pilgrimage will commence through a large hall of honor and many hundreds of thousands of Turks will be able to repeatedly pass in front of their ATA, while paying their respects, bowing, and feeling their compensation and connection with him. 
3. This monument is ATA’s; Soldier Mustafa Kemal, State President Gazi M. Kemal, great politician and scientist, great thinker, and finally a constructive and creative genius, it’s qualifications will be the epitome of power and ability. And we will find the monument to be commensurate with his personality. 
4. It is necessary that Anıt Kabir’s façade be visible from a great distance. Accordingly it should be provided with a powerful silhouette. At the same time, although it is necessary that the monument’s architectural motifs be visible from afar, we do not want the greatness and power displayed through small details to be lost in favor of the larger elements. The monument must give the impression of being the most dominant in the land. 
5. The Turkish Nation is symbolized by Atatürk’s name and personality. Those who want to pay reverence to the Turkish nation by bowing in front of his catafalque should be allowed to do so. Accordingly, it will be the duty of every visitor to Ankara to go directly to Atatürk’s grave. 
6. For the cost of Anıt Kabir’s service and outbuildings, as well as the arrangement of gardens and parks, their maintenance, internal paths, surrounding walls, three million lira will be allocated, of which two million is intended for the construction of Anıt Kabir.  .......
III. The Hall of Honor 
14. The hall of honor, containing the great Ata’s sarcophagus, necessarily  constitutes the most fundamental part of the spirit of this monument. At the head of this hall the whole Turkish nation should be able to pay their respects along with foreign state visitors. This hall should be able to contain at least 250 visitors. This hall should give the impression of greatness, glory and power to visitors as they leave, and no one should be able to deny its shape, size and elevation. 
15. The place of Atatürk’s coffin constitutes the spirit of this hall. However, the place which the catafalque will occupy is left up to the competition.
16. Aside from this, the six principles accorded to the Republican People’s Party by Atatürk which are the program and symbol of the contemporary, modern Turkey and are represented by the six arrows of the party’s flag consists of these: 
  1. We are Republicans 
  2. We are Nationalists 
  3. We are Populists
  4. We are Revolutionaries
  5. We are Statists
  6.  We are Laicists 
It is necessary that competitors display and represent these six principles in the vicinity of Atatürk’s sarcophagus either on its side or in some appropriately visible area. 
17. Other that these, there should be an accessible, golden book for our dignitaries and distinguished foreign guests who are paying their respects to sign. The space for this book and the signing space is to be determined by the competitors. [This book, the Anıtkabir Özel Defterleri (1953-1999), has now been published in a 23-volume set!]

**Text cited in this post from Arkitekt magazine, numbers 1, 2 and 4 (1943). All translations by James Ryan.



JAMES RYAN is a Ph.D. candidate in the History department at the University of Pennsylvania, focusing on the late Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic.

BOZDOĞAN, Sibel. Modernism and Nation Building: Turkish Architectural Culture in the Early Republic. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.
ÖZTÜRK, Dilek. "Anıtkabir'in Mimari Gerçekleri," Arkitera.com (11 November 2009).
WILSON, Christopher. Beyond Anıtkabir: The Funerary Architecture of Atatürk: The Construction and Maintenance of National Memory. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013: 65-99.

Citation: "The Anıtkabirs That Weren't," James Ryan, Stambouline (October 5, 2014).
http://www.stambouline.com/2014/10/the-antkabirs-that-werent.html




View Larger Map

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


[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)



CHRIS GRATIEN and GRAHAM PITTS are both Ph.D. candidates at Georgetown University.

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.

Citation: "Ghosts of Lebanese Summers Past," Chris Gratien and Graham Pitts, Stambouline (August 11, 2014). http://www.stambouline.com/2014/08/ghosts-of-lebanese-summers-past.html


Sunday, July 27, 2014

Little Mosques on the Prairie

guest contribution by Michael Połczyński


[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.



MICHAEL POLCZYNSKI is a Ph.D. candidate at Georgetown University.

“ALLAH Akbar… God is Great…” Time Magazine 30/20 (Monday, Nov. 15, 1937).
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.

Citation: "Little Mosques on the Prairie," Michael Połczyński, Stambouline (July 27, 2014). http://www.stambouline.com/2014/07/little-mosques-on-prairie.html
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



View Larger Map