Sunday, September 10, 2017

Church, Mosque, Museum

The Byzantine Institute and Preserving the Fethiye and Kariye Camii in Istanbul
contribution by Jessica Cebra
[1] Fethiye Camii, Istanbul, 1957: South wall of the main vaulted space showing rounded arch added in the Ottoman period. Photo by the Byzantine Institute (MSBZ004-H57.915)

The numerous architectural reconstructions and renovations in Istanbul today often raise several questions in regards to historic preservation. And while previous essays featured on stambouline have primarily focused on Ottoman monuments, many Byzantine sites have suffered similar fates of so-called “preservation” or “renewal,” most recently the Zeyrek Camii (Pantocrator Monastery) and the Tekfur Sarayi (Palace of Porfyrogennitos) in the Fatih neighborhood. Both monuments have undergone costly restorations, sacrificing historical accuracy in favor of commercial development and promoting cultural narratives tailored for the current government’s political agenda. Preservation of architectural heritage is inevitably challenging when a building has possessed various identities and has served many functions and communities over time. Depending on which life of a building one wishes to revive, a building can be altered, renovated, or restored many different ways. Though many of the recent reconstructions are favorable over utter demolition, they clearly lack the acknowledgement and use of resources and scholarship that are available to accomplish more historically accurate preservation. The suppression or destruction of certain cultural characteristics and the emphasis and preservation of others has been part of an ongoing reclamation of history between modern Greek and neo-Ottomanist narratives in the heritage preservation landscape of Istanbul.

[2] Byzantine Institute Staff and Thomas
Whittemore restoring the mosaics at Hagia
Sophia, 1936. Photo by the Byzantine Institute

We can look back to the early Republican years of Turkey for somewhat similar examples of this push-and-pull dynamic, when Atatürk balanced Western influence and nationalist urges to commence sweeping societal changes, including the secularization of mosques that had originally been constructed as Byzantine churches, such as Hagia Sophia, Kariye Camii, Fethiye Camii [Fig. 1], and Imrahor Camii. These buildings were deemed national monuments and became museums, though the structures first required consolidation and repair, with the decorative mosaics and wall paintings within in need of uncovering, cleaning, and preservation after centuries of being concealed. This work would be undertaken by the Byzantine Institute, a US organization founded by the enigmatic aesthete turned humanitarian and preservationist Thomas Whittemore [Fig. 2]. Though, unlike many of the current projects taking place today that alter and replace, the Byzantine Institute was grounded in scholarship and specialized craftsmanship, and was careful to bring buildings and artworks to a historically accurate condition, to the best of their ability, while comprehensively documenting their condition before any changes commenced. The wealth of documentation and research produced by the Byzantine Institute allows the many lives of centuries old architecture to be exposed.

[3] Fethiye Camii, 1948: Fieldworker exposing 
a fragment of mosaic from beneath the white 
plasterPhoto by the Byzantine Institute 
“His mind, he once confided to a friend, was always in Istanbul,” Charles King writes about Whittemore in his Midnight at the Pera Palace [p. 273], a portrait of Istanbul between the wars. Whittemore, from Massachusetts, traveled widely and dabbled in a variety of interests before finding his calling in aiding refugees escaping the Bolsheviks during the First World War, and became a central figure of the relief effort in Istanbul, arranging housing and education for exiled families and their children. He established schools with the support of the Committee for the Education of Russian Youth in Exile where he encountered students that he would later employ at the Byzantine Institute. Whittemore also engaged with artists who had to leave the Russian Institute in Constantinople (RAIK) when it shut down in 1914. The RAIK artists primarily painted replicas of Byzantine art for display abroad to raise public awareness and to produce copies for preservation purposes. Whittemore was convinced of the importance of these artworks, and, with his incredible ability to convince others and to gain their patronage, he established the Byzantine Institute in 1929/1930 to preserve Byzantine art and architecture. After enough funds were raised and negotiations made with Turkey’s Council of Ministers, Whittemore was authorized to preserve the remains of Byzantine churches in Istanbul, beginning with Hagia Sophia [see Fig. 2]. While there is photographic evidence that Whittemore had met with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, there is no clear understanding of the extent of the president's involvement with granting the permissions to the Byzantine Institute.
[4] Fethiye Camii: Arch between south arm and
southeast bay of the Parakklesion, south soffit.
A Mosaic of Saint Blasius can be seen partially
uncovered. Photo by the Byzantine Institute 
The Byzantine Institute operated between a Boston office, their Paris library, and Istanbul fieldwork sites. One of their most notable and well-known accomplishments was the mosaic preservation at Hagia Sophia in the 1930s-1950s. After Whittemore’s passing in 1950, the Byzantine Institute’s fieldwork projects continued under the direction and supervision of Dumbarton Oaks staff in Washington, DC, and expanded to other areas of Turkey as well as Cyprus, Macedonia and Syria. In addition to the meticulous work of their fieldworkers and conservators, the Byzantine Institute was prolific in their documentation. Field notebooks, drawings, tracings, films and countless photographs fill the organizations archive at Dumbarton Oaks. The photographs are especially unique and invaluable because they not only document the Byzantine art and architecture that was being preserved, but also capture the processes and techniques of a relatively new realm of conservation, that of Byzantine mosaics [Figs. 3 & 4]. These photographs also stand as proof of the diligence that the Institute exercised in capturing the buildings and spaces as they were found, documenting the Ottoman architectural additions and alterations, plastered-over walls, and mosque furnishings and decorations.

[5] Exterior view from southwest, Fethiye Camii; Left, before restoration, 1937 (PHBZ010-ICFA.NA.0148); Right, after restoration, 1938 (PHBZ010-ICFA.NA.0252). Photos by Nicholas V. Artamonoff.

[6] Exterior view from east, Fethiye Camii, 1948:
Byzantine-era south chapel (parekklesion) apse
to the left, Ottoman-era apse to the right. by
the Byzantine Institute (MSBZ004-FC-2008-4)
The Fethiye Camii (Monastery of Theotokos Pammakaristos) is one of the Comnenian era, or 11th-12th-century, structures that the Byzantine Institute focused on between 1949-1963. The building had undergone a previous renovation in 1937-1938 [Fig.5], but was in much need of internal structural restoration to bring it more closely to its original Byzantine design, which was greatly modified from the 16th-18th centuries after the Ottomans converted it into a mosque in 1586. Though the main church structure was to remain a functioning mosque with the Ottoman-era apse kept intact [Fig.6], the parekklesion, or south chapel, which had exceptional remains of 14th-century mosaic decoration, was to become a museum.

[7] Plan of the Fethiye Camii, illustrating
the alterations made over time including
the Ottoman additions. After Hawkins
and Mango, 1964.
Throughout the Byzantine era, alterations of architecture were quite normal, as buildings would be changed according to their surroundings and uses, the ambitions of their patrons, and the needs of constituents. The plan of the Fethiye Camii [Fig.7] illustrates the various phases of construction over time, including the later Ottoman additions and changes. For example, the original triple arcades surrounding the square nave in the main church were all replaced with large pointed arches, and rounded arches elsewhere in the 16th century. During the process, columns were removed to make the space feel as open and expansive as possible.

As it stands now, the mosque interior in the main prayer space doesn't look much different from a series of photographs taken in 1957, when the walls had been uncovered and photographed [Fig. 8, see Fig. 1]. They were quickly plastered back over in 1960. 

[8] Fethiye Camii, 1957: Left, mihrab in the Ottoman apse of the main church structure, looking southeast (MSBZ004-H57.897); right, main vaulted space, looking west from apse (MSBZ004-H57.904). Photo by the Byzantine Institute. 

[9] Fethiye Camii: Parekklesion, interior looking
north, before restoration. Photo b
y the Byzantine 
Institute (MSBZ004-F-55-61-1)
Since then, carpet has been laid down, the mihrab has been tiled over, and colored glass glazes the windows, but the walls remain painted white with modest decoration and the minbar sits awkwardly between the nave and the parekklesion. The most extensive changes made by the Byzantine Institute were in the parekklesion, where the Ottoman stone arches were reverted back to their smaller brick ones [Figs. 9 & 10] to better complement the reinstalled columns and uncovered mosaic decoration in the space.

[10] Fethiye Camii: Parekklesion, interior looking north; Left, during restoration (MSBZ004-H63-259); Right, after restoration (MSBZ004-FC-55-63-5). Photo by the Byzantine Institute.
“There was probably no better preservative...than Muslim conquest,” writes King [p. 270], referring to the interior decorations of Byzantine churches, which during the later Ottoman period were often plastered and whitewashed over to conceal figural representations while the buildings were being used as mosques. King's statement does not mean to negate the highly destructive invasions throughout the early Ottoman period, but points to the fact that many of these artworks had previously suffered varying degrees of damage through the iconoclastic years, as well as from looting and earthquakes; and though the Ottomans dealt with the decorative programs in a low-cost and efficient manner by covering them up, in one sense they were protecting the decorations by keeping them physically concealed and visually out of sight. 

[11] Kariye Camii, Istanbul, 1937: Nave, view towards apse before mosque was secularized (PHBZ010-ICFA.NA.0133). Photo by Nicholas V. Artamonoff.
In addition to the Fethiye Camii, the Byzantine Institute worked simultaneously at the 12th-14th-century structure Kariye Camii (Christ of the Chora church) from 1947 until 1958. The Chora is an interesting case because the mosaic decoration was never fully covered in the Ottoman period. The building was converted to a mosque sometime between 1495-1511 [Fig.11], but travel accounts by visitors describe the mosaics being visible well into the 18th century -the landmark was known as the “Mosaic Museum”- and were only partially concealed thereafter. On the other hand, the wall paintings in the parekklesion were completely covered with whitewash – a new preservation challenge for the Byzantine Institute staff [Fig.12]. That is, calcium crystals that had formed in humid environmental conditions and other organic growths from the lyme in the paint added more layers to be carefully removed from the painting surfaces.

[12] Kariye Camii: Left, parekklesion, view towards east, 1951 (MSBZ004-K604-51-158); Right,  fieldworker Constantine Tsaousis conserving a section of wall painting on the south wall, 1957 (MSBZ004-K604-57-154). Photo by the Byzantine Institute. 

Fieldwork was temporarily halted after September 6, 1955 due to the riots and violence in Istanbul against the Greek community, instigated by rumors that a Turkish consulate in Greece was set aflame. Fieldwork staff corresponded with Dumbarton Oaks Director John Thacher and described the horrific events:
I’ve just returned this morning from an inspection of the places where we are working after a terrible night in which all Greek and other minority shops were destroyed, many Greek houses terribly damaged and their goods thrown out into the streets, many Greek churches burned… I was terribly relieved to see that Kariye had not suffered and that Pammakaristos was also spared. I have asked the director of Ayasofya to send another guard to sleep at Kariye tonight.
[13] Kariye Camii, ca. 1950s: Fieldworkers replacing
wall reinforcements (MSBZ004-BF.S.1991.0246).
Photo by Carroll Wales.
Some of the fieldworkers and their families were victims of the riots, and the project budgets received additional funding to take care of the personal damages incurred. Despite the atmosphere of tension at the time, the diverse group of fieldworkers maintained comradery and a peaceful workplace. Wales elaborated on their working arrangement in his oral history. Fieldworkers who identified as Greek Orthodox would work on mosaics and paintings that depicted iconographic scenes and figures, and those who identified as Muslims and therefore may not have been fully comfortable working on Christian representational art would fulfill other tasks relating to the architecture, such as repairs to the roofing, floors, minaret, and other structural reinforcements [Figs.13-15]. Yet everyone would come together during breaks to sit outside and play multiple games of tavla.

[14] Front facade of the Kariye Camii, ca. 1950s: The minaret is under repair (MSBZ004-BF.S.1991.0243). Photo by Carroll Wales.
[15] Kariye Camii, 1958: Fieldworker bringing the dome
 or minaret finial back to its original brilliant shine, one
of the final touches before the museum opened
(MSBZ004-H58.143). Photo by the Byzantine Institute.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople naturally took interest in the revival of the Chora, but made a diplomatic decision to not visit the building while the work was taking place. He wanted to avoid any socio-political tensions or suspicions that might be raised by the restoration of Christian iconography in a former mosque. Instead, Wales and his assistant Constantine Tsaousis would pay visits to the Patriarch to report on the progress of work. The fieldwork director Paul Underwood wrote extensive project reports both to keep Turkish officials informed and for publication purposes. While Whittemore did not live to see the outcome of the Kariye Camii conservation, he was the driving force that allowed the gem of the Chora and its distinguished mosaic and wall painting decoration to remain uncovered and accessible to visitors from all over the world. An exhibition of the fieldwork took place in 2007 at the Pera Museum, and in its exhibition catalog Natalia Teteriatnikov mused [p. 37]: 
It was no coincidence that Thomas Whittemore, the founder and director of the Byzantine Institute, was also director of the Committee for the Education of Russian Youth in Exile. Being in Europe during World War I and in Russia from 1914 to 1918 and on later occasions, Whittemore witnessed human tragedy as well as the destruction of monuments. The unique position of the United States after World War I combined with Whittemore’s experience in Russian relief work, his archaeological activities, and his international contacts and influential friends were the factors that facilitated the development of the Byzantine Institute of America.
The Kariye Camii and Fethiye Camii are still museums today under the jurisdiction of the Hagia Sophia Museum. The buildings and their decorations are still at risk due to the urban environmental conditions caused by an ever-expanding city, and the ravages of time. The photographs made by the Byzantine Institute document additional sites and artworks that are no longer accessible or no longer exist. The Image Collection and Fieldwork Archives at Dumbarton Oaks continues to make these images available online. The photographs of Fethiye Camii, Hagia Sophia, and other sites have already been made available here. The images of Kariye Camii will soon be added, and all of these photographs will eventually be viewable through Harvard's HOLLIS Images online database.

JESSICA CEBRA is departmental assistant in the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C.

Citation: "Church, Mosque, Museum: The Byzantine Institute and Preserving the Fethiye and Kariye Camii in Istanbul," Jessica Cebra, Stambouline (September 10, 2017).

Primary Sources:
Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.
-MS.BZ.004 The Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. late 1920s-2000s 
-PH.BZ.010 Nicholas V. Artamonoff Photographs of Istanbul and Turkey, 1935-1945 

Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.
-Oral history interview with Carroll F. Wales, 1992 November 10-1993 February 11

More Reading:
Belting, Hans, Cyril A. Mango, and Doula Mouriki. The Mosaics and Frescoes of St. Mary Pammakaristos (Fethiye Camii) at Istanbul. Dumbarton Oaks Studies 15. Locust Valley, N.Y: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1978.

Holger A. Klein, Robert G. Ousterhout, Brigitte Pitarakis. Kariye: From Theodore Metochites to Thomas Whittemore: One monument, Two Monumental Personalities. Istanbul: Pera Müzesi, 2007.

King, Charles. Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014.

Mango, Cyril, and Ernest J. W. Hawkins. "Report on Field Work in Istanbul and Cyprus, 1962-1963." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964): 319-40.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Fabric of the Past, Questions for the Future

Restoring the Narmanlı Han
contribution by Emily Neumeier
[1] Plaque announcing the street address above the doorway of the Narmanlı Han, 2014.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos by the author. 

[2] The Narmanlı Han on İstiklal Avenue, 2014.
Every day, thousands of people stream past the historic Narmanlı Han on İstiklal Avenue. Standing at the southern terminus of what is perhaps Istanbul’s best-known street, this low yet imposing building is currently closed to visitors—as it has already been for quite some time. And, for the last year, the distinctive curved façade of the Narmanlı Han has been shrouded behind a framework of scaffolding. [Figs. 2 & 3] The white canvas tarp that today covers the building presents to pedestrians a flat, two-dimensional projection of the architecture behind (while, at the same time, serving as a subtle promotion for the Avea cellphone company). Those in charge of the restoration project presumably put up this covering in an effort to create a street presence for the Narmanlı Han even while the building is undergoing renovation: a conciliatory gesture in response to sharp criticism of the first iteration of scaffolding that went up late in 2014, which essentially transformed the Narmanlı Han into a giant, boxy advertisement for the newest iPhone

[3] The Narmanlı Han behind scaffolding, 2015.

Even though this new, two-dimensional Narmanlı Han can be counted as a victory by those trying to save İstiklal from turning into one continuous billboard, the current appearance of the façade still raises questions about current preservation projects in Istanbul. Ultimately, the flat white canvas obscures the building itself from view, and, through the magic of AutoCAD, all of the Narmanlı Han’s cracks, blemishes and chipping plaster have been white-washed away. What remains is a clean, modern abstraction of the Narmanlı Han’s most essential design elements—a vague promise of what is in store for the building itself and its impending restoration. 

[4] Sign and gate blocking access to the inner courtyard of the  Narmanlı Han, 2014.

In the past several years, buildings on İstiklal have been disappearing left and right, all of them withdrawing behind flimsy walls of thin wood panels or corrugated steel. The pace of urban renewal has picked up to such an extent that the street has taken on the appearance of a large open-air conservatory, with many structures wrapped up and sitting in various stages of gestation—sometimes months, but more likely years. Residents eye these cocoons warily, wondering what will finally emerge once the scaffolding falls away. The public has been given plenty of reasons to remain on their guard when it comes to historical preservation in Beyoğlu. The notorious Act 5366, or the “Law on the Protection of Deteriorated Historic and Cultural Heritage through Renewal and Re-use,” empowered local municipal authorities to declare the heart of the Tarlabaşı neighborhood a “regeneration” area.  These legal acrobatics meant that the low-income residents who lived inside the renewal zone were forced to sell their homes, which were then sold to a third-party developer who is currently in the process of completely bulldozing and replacing the buildings with high-end apartment blocks.  

[5] Projected recreation of the Ottoman Barracks, 2013.
Screen grab from video on
Just a few years later, the 2013 Gezi Park protests were sparked by the Taksim Redevelopment Project, which included the reincarnation of the long-gone 19th-century Ottoman barracks [Top Kişla] in the form of a large shopping mall.  [Fig. 5] The clear mobilization of Ottoman architectural heritage—and a monument that specifically emphasizes imperial military strength—as a vehicle for the current government’s neo-liberal politics was not lost on many critics.  After overwhelming protest and civil unrest, the Taksim barracks project seems to have finally been abandoned.

[6] Entrance to the Demirören shopping center, 2014.

Meanwhile, the most controversial example of an urban “renewal” project on İstiklal itself is unquestionably the Demirören shopping center, which opened in March 2011. [Fig. 6] A bizarre imitation of the 19th-century Deveaux apartment building that once stood on the site, the Demirören complex came under fire in both the press and in a report prepared by the Inspection Board of the Ministry of Culture [Kültür Bakanlığı Teftiş Kurulu] for allegedly exceeding the original proportions of the historic façade as well as the square footage that was approved for the project by the Renewal Board [Yenileme Kurulu] in 2007.  Although the offending expansions were reported to be “trimmed,” it is still not clear what exact modifications were made to the site in order to meet the specifications of the approved building permit. 

[7] Demirören shopping center, 2014.
A banner hung on the northern side of the Demirören center shortly after its opening shows an old black and white photo of the Deveaux apartment building before the fire of 1890, directly above a photograph of the new shopping complex. [Fig. 7] The banner invites pedestrians to compare the two buildings side by side, with a text that triumphantly proclaims: “[In] the 2011 Demirören [on] İstiklal, the Deveaux lives in all of its splendor.” The photographs have cleverly been composed, re-sized and cropped in such a way that suggests the new Demirören is simply a cleaned-up version of the older structure. This graphic sleight of hand obscures the fact that the new façade has been dramatically stretched both horizontally and vertically: a Deveaux Apartman on steroids. 

The story of projects like Demirören have put activists and the more general public on edge whenever a new set of scaffolding goes up in Beyoğlu. They fear the literal and metaphoric lack of transparency that the scaffolding represents, another potential bait-and-switch situation that will only come to light once the damage had been irreversibly done. 

Back around 2000, it seemed as if the Narmanlı Han might meet such a fate. After most of the tenants had left so that the building could undergo repairs, the architect Halil Onur, who would go on to design the Ottoman Barracks mall for Taksim, was brought in for the project. Onur allegedly envisaged adding three extra stories to the existing two-level building, a plan that would have significantly altered the scale and character of the historic structure that was supposedly being “restored.”  The plan also probably would not have left much, if anything, of the Narmanlı Han’s surviving fabric, whose condition had deteriorated even further after the building had been left closed and untended for several years waiting for its restoration. Once Onur’s proposal was approved by the Preservation Board [Koruma Kurulu], it seemed likely, if not inevitable, that the Narmanlı Han would soon be replaced with a distorted simulacrum of its former self. Yet a couple of NGOs brought the case to court, in the end successfully staying the project  

Although the threat of the Disney-fication of the Narmanlı Han had been temporarily averted, the building continued to languish, with the entrance to the open courtyard barricaded and several of the shops facing İstiklal permanently shuttered. Signs posted in the windows affirmed that retail owners had been obliged to move on to other locations. [Fig. 8] Then, in early 2014, the owners of the Narmanlı Han decided to sell the property in its entirety to two businessmen, Mehmet Erkul and Tekin Esen, for $57 million. Fully aware of the tense situation into which they had inserted themselves, the new owners were quick to try to allay concerns about their plans for the building, assuring reporters that they had no intention to significantly alter the proportion or design of the Narmanlı Han as it stood, nor did they seek to demolish the fabric of the historic structure.  

[8] The Narmanlı Han’s closed storefronts on İstiklal, 2014.

Although drawings or projection models for the future site have yet to be made public, more concrete details about what is in store for the building came early last year from Sinan Genim, the new architect hired for the restoration project. Genim explained in an interview that no extra floors would be added to the existing structure, and that the interior courtyard would remain open. With a relatively small footprint (1000 square meters, as compared to Demirören’s 39,000+), the Narmanlı Han could hardly serve as a hotel or mall, so the owners have decided in the end to convert the space into a complex accommodating seven high-end shops as well as a café and restaurant.  In reference to the question of how much of the historic fabric would actually be preserved, Genim responded that the outer façade would be conserved, but the interior, “being in a complete state of disrepair," would have to be evaluated and modernized with fire-escapes and a new electric grid: “we are not at liberty to warm the place with charcoal braziers."

Of course, most architects and engineers working in Istanbul find themselves walking the thin line between the demands of conservation and modernization. The main issue is that, when it comes down to economics, it is almost always less costly to demolish and rebuild than to preserve. The fact that the Narmanlı Han itself transitioned from a “renewal” to a “restoration” project in the past few years can largely be attributed to developers responding to an increasingly vocal and organized community of activists who are stepping in where they feel their local government has failed. Those who have joined the effort to save the Narmanlı Han have done so because they believe in protecting the site as a historic and cultural landmark—usually stressing the building’s brief stint as the Russian Embassy in the nineteenth century, or when it became a bohemian enclave in the 1930s, home to the likes of Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar and Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu. Yet a more thorough account of the building’s structural history has yet to be done, and this task is perhaps more pressing than ever, if we are to understand what exactly is at stake. 

What follows is an attempt to lay the foundations for a focused architectural history of the site now occupied by the Narmanlı Han. Besides offering some minor corrections to the timeline of the building’s history that keep circulating in recent news articles, it should also be stressed that what we see on the ground today is not a coherent structure that can be labeled with a single date or architect, but rather an amalgamation of different phases of construction and repair. Most importantly, the famous façade of the building was not part of the original structure, and was only added in the early twentieth century as part of the expansion of İstiklal. The Narmanlı Han has had a long and eventful life. In order to acquire the fullest understanding of what is left standing, we have to peel away these phases, layer by layer.

[9] Adapted from “Plan de Constantinople,” 1807,
F. Kauffer and I.B. Lechevalier, Weimar. 
Photo: Historic Cities Center, Hebrew University
 and Jewish National and University Library. 
Most secondary sources claim that the building complex today known as the Narmanlı Han was first constructed to serve as the Russian Embassy sometime after 1831, the year of the great fire that wiped out a good deal of  Pera. But what did the site look like before the great fire? The first permanent Russian diplomatic mission in Istanbul was established by the Treaty of Constantinople in 1700.  Although it is not clear where exactly the Russian ambassador resided throughout the eighteenth century, he no doubt lived in Galata or Pera-Beyoğlu, the neighborhoods where most foreign diplomats kept their official quarters in Ottoman Istanbul. As early as 1794, documents from the Prime Ministry Ottoman Archive confirm that the “saray” of the Russian Embassy was indeed located in Galata.  In a German map printed in 1807, which was in turn adapted from an earlier French map first drawn up in 1786, the Russian embassy (labeled “Russie”) is located precisely where the Narmanlı Han currently stands today.  [Fig. 9] The European map-makers represent the embassy as a collection of four or five buildings all surrounded by an outer enclosure wall, and place the complex at the beginning of İstiklal Caddesi (then known as Cadde-yi Kabir), directly across the street from the embassies of Sweden and Naples. In another Ottoman document dated 1812, only five years after this map, we learn that all of these buildings [“Rus Sefarethanesi”] had burned down and, as a result, the government had found another location in Beyoğlu (Pera) to serve as a temporary residence for the ambassador until the embassy could be rebuilt.  

The threat of fire dominates every urban history of Istanbul before the twentieth century. As most buildings in the city were constructed of wood, fires spread quickly and often destroyed entire quarters, with most people losing their homes more than once in their lifetimes. This almost continuous regeneration of the city fabric, however, did not seem to really impact the layout or demographics of Istanbul, at least not until the mid-nineteenth century, as most people tended to simply rebuild directly on top of the plot that had been ruined. There is no doubt that, after the Russian Embassy had been rebuilt after 1812, it yet again went up in flames, like the rest of Pera, in 1831. The 1831 fire was particularly devastating, destroying the entire quarter in a matter of hours. In his diary, the British general Charles Grey writes that Pera “exhibit[ed] the appearance of a forest of chimneys, which in most cases have been the only stone part of the houses.” 

[10] General View of the Nave, Hagia
Sophia, from a drawing by Gaspare
Fossati, Lithography by Louis Haghe,
 1852. Photo: Library of Congress.
The current structure of the Narmanlı Han seems to have been initially erected sometime shortly after 1831. An Ottoman document that mentions the recent rebuilding of the “Rus Sarayı” in Beyoğlu narrows the date for the construction of the structure to 1833.  The architect for this building remains something of a mystery. Many sources claim that the structure was designed by none other than Gaspare Fossati, the Italian architect most famous for his restoration of Hagia Sophia. [Fig. 10] Yet this attribution remains unlikely, as Fossati only arrived in Istanbul in 1837, four years after the building’s reconstruction.  Another recent claim that the architect of the Narmanlı Han was Gaspare’s younger brother, Giuseppe Fossati, is even more dubious. In 1833, Giuseppe was 11 years old—quite the prodigy indeed! More likely, the main fabric of what we see on the ground today at the Narmanlı Han was constructed under the supervision of a local architect, who more or less replicated what had been there before the 1831 fire—a collection of buildings made of brick, wood and plaster, turned inwards around an open-air courtyard.

[11] Russian Embassy (now consulate) on İstiklal, built 1845, Gaspare Fossati. Photo: Alaexis, Creative Commons License.

The circumstances of the initial construction of the Narmanlı Han in 1833 have most likely been confused for such a long time because the structure only served as the Russian Embassy until 1845, when a new, neo-classical palace (designed, in fact, by Gaspare Fossati) opened just a few blocks north on the Grand Rue de Péra (İstiklal). [Fig. 11] The complex today still houses the Russian diplomatic mission in Istanbul. Thus, only a few years after its construction, the Narmanlı Han was demoted to a consulate, a mere satellite to the imposing new building just down the street. While the Narmanlı Han actually preserved the style of urban construction in Pera before the 1831 fire, the new Russian Embassy stood as the epitome of the emerging trend of foreign missions commissioning large, European-style mansions in Pera. 

Unfortunately, we do not have too many details about the life of the Narmanlı Han in the second half of the nineteenth century. As the Russian consulate general, it continued to serve various functions related to the diplomatic mission in the city, providing space for secretarial offices as well as a tribunal. The 1891 almanac Annuaire Oriental states that the Russian consulate, overseen by a Monsieur Aexis Lagowsky, was open for visa applications from 10:00 am till 3 o'clock in the afternoon [p.78]. It does seem that at some point, probably in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Narmanlı Han also began to operate as a prison, but only accommodated Russian citizens who had committed a crime on Ottoman soil. This seems to have been the case until WWI, as the site was essentially left abandoned when the Russians declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1914. After the war, the Bolsheviks came to Istanbul, and complained to the Ottoman government that they found all of the Russian properties, including the Narmanlı Han (referred to as “La Maison du Consulat à Péra”), “unduly occupied by people who have no quality.”  Interestingly, the argument that the building be evacuated of undesirable persons so it can be returned to its former glory mirrors the more recent efforts in the last two decades to evict businesses and residents from the Narmanlı Han, ostensibly for its restoration. After the war, the buildings were given back to the new representatives of Soviet Russia. With all of the foreign embassies moving to the new capital in Ankara in the early 1920s, the building continued to serve consular functions and rent out office space until 1933, when it was sold to the Narmanlı brothers. 

[12] View of the Ruins after the Pera Fire. Illustrated
London News,
2 July 1876.
Photo: Collection of Maggie Land Blanck.
Amazingly, the structure of the Narmanlı Han itself seems to have escaped being consumed by fires that continued to plague the city throughout the nineteenth century, notably avoiding the fire of June 1870, when Pera lost more than 5,500 buildings and almost the entire length of the Grande Rue de Péra. [Fig. 12] The Narmanlı Han appears in the D’Ostoya map of Istanbul produced in 1858-1860, about a decade before the great Pera fire, and  the profile of the complex appears almost exactly as it does today—a collection of six buildings encircling an open courtyard.  [Fig. 13] The fact that the buildings survived the 1870 fire, therefore, makes the Narmanlı Han one of the oldest structures currently standing on İstiklal.

[13] Aerial view of the Narmanlı Han in 2012. Photo: Adapted from Google Earth.

[14] Detail of the Goad Insurance Map of Istanbul,
1905. Photo: Paolo Girardelli.

A careful analysis of cadastral maps reveals that the façade of the Narmanlı Han received an extreme makeover in the early twentieth century, most likely the result of a more large-scale expansion of the street towards Tünel. A detail from the famous Goad insurance maps, prepared in 1905, shows the complex as it stood before the Grand Rue de Péra was widened.  [Fig. 14] According to this map (using the scale accompanying the image), the front part of the building facing the main street was approximately 15.3 meters in depth, with the section of the avenue directly in front of the Han being 6 meters wide. 

[15] Detail of German cadastral survey, 1913-1914.
Photo: Alman Mavileri, ed. İrfan Dağdelen (İstanbul:
İstanbul Büyükşehir Başkanlığı, 2006).
Meanwhile, another important map from the period produced about a decade later in 1913-14 indicates that the street has been expanded to 15.4 m, i.e. more than twice the original width, and, as a result, the front part of the Narmanlı Han was at that point only 12.2 m in depth, losing 3 meters of fabric on the side of the complex facing the street--the original façade being presumably destroyed and replaced with what we see on the ground today. [Fig. 15] The partial demolition of the Narmanlı Han, which took place sometime between 1905 and 1914, seems to have been part of a larger project to enlarge this section of İstiklal Caddesi, with the electric tram being introduced around the same time. Unfortunately, we do not have any information about the architect of the new façade, although it is interesting to note that the austere style, characterized by an almost complete lack of ornament and anchored by massy Tuscan columns, looks to the Russian neoclassical revival that took hold in St. Petersburg and Moscow before WWI. [Fig. 16] We could thus speculate that the Russians brought in one of their own when their consulate on İstiklal required an updated design.

[16] Mindovsky House, Nikita Lazarev, 1906, Moscow. Photo: By NVO, Creative Commons License.

[17] The d Group at the opening of their first exhibition
at the Mimoza Hat Shop, 1933. Photo: Adan Çoker
et all, Cemal Tollu (Istanbul: Model, 1996), p. 71.

Most people know the rest of the story. When the businessmen Avni and Sıtkı Narmanlı bought the building in 1933 to house their offices, the art-loving pair also transformed the location into a kind of bohemian enclave for the emerging modernist set, renting out the rest of the space to small publishing houses, writers, and artists. Tanpınar wrote Huzur there. The avant-garde artist collective “d Group” held their first exhbition there. [Fig. 17] In the second half of the twentieth century, the daily Armenian newspaper Jamanak was printed there for almost thirty years. In the late 1980s and 1990s, a new generation discovered the Narmanlı Han, especially gathering around the Deniz Kitabevi, selling used books and vinyl records. This was all more or less shut down around 2000, and nostalgia for the quiet courtyard and the wisteria blossoms has been mounting ever since.

The prevalent discourse on cultural heritage management in Istanbul largely falls between two camps, those who prioritize the preservation of historic fabric to the greatest extent possible, and those who perceive preservation as a real hindrance to progress. The divide between these two approaches distinctly emerges when one parses the language of the slew of documents that accompany development legislation and project proposals. While the term “restoration” [restorasyon] usually signals the conservation of historic fabric as a priority in the project, the term “renewal” [yenileme] tends to describe the complete or partial demolition and replication of a historic structure. Both words promise the protection of cultural heritage, but the results on the ground look very different indeed. In the end, it seems that the Narmanlı Han will be subject to both renewal and restoration, with the early 20th-century façade being cleaned up but essentially left as it stands, while the fate of the earlier nineteenth-century fabric within remains much more precarious. 

Back in 2013, then Prime Minister Erdoğan asked his critics: “You save the pots and pans, why do you not want to protect the historic barracks?" The Prime Minister was expressing confusion about why the construction of the Marmaray and Metro stations in Yenikapı was expected to be held up for years upon years for the sake of recovering archaeological artifacts that kept emerging from the ground, while, for some reason, no one seemed particularly thrilled about the comeback of a historic Ottoman building that had been bulldozed in the 1940s to make way for Gezi Park. The answer to this rhetorical question lies in the difference between “renewal” and “restoration”—a dialectic between replica and relic. Those who advocate for “renewal” maintain rather optimistically that the past is never truly gone, it can always be revived and perhaps even re-engineered better than before. Meanwhile, people in the “restoration” camp believe in the intrinsic power of an object or a building to keep us connected to the lives of earlier generations. This perspective fosters a real sense of urgency when it comes to the preservation of historic fabric, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. 

EMILY NEUMEIER is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Art History at University of Pennsylvania. Her research concerns the art and architecture of the Ottoman Empire and Turkish Republic. 

**This essay was adapted from an article published in the December 2015 issue of Toplumsal TarihMy thanks especially to Paolo Girardelli and Aslıhan Demirtaş for their help and insight when first developing the ideas for this essay, which has taken more time to write than I would like to admit. I also would like to thank Alexander Balistreri, Zaur Gasimov, Sato Moughalian, Irvin Schick, and Ahmet Akşit for their assistance in preparing the text and images.

Citation: "Fabric of the Past, Questions for the Future: Restoring the Narmanlı Han," Emily Neumeier, Stambouline (February 26, 2016).

Primary Sources:
Prime Ministry Ottoman Archive (Başbakanlık Arşivi), Istanbul
AE.SSLM.III 160/9586 (1208 Dhu'l-Hijja 29/ 1794 July 28)
HAT 965/41285 (1227 Rajab 06/ 1812 July 16)
HAT 1166.4611 (1249 Rebīülâhir/ 1833 August-September)
HR.İM 67/83
HR.İM 113.16 (1924 August 13)

More reading:
AKPINAR, İpek Yada and Korhan Gümüş, “Taksim, Dün-Bugün: İdeolojik bir Okuma,” dosya 28 (Jul. 2012), pp. 41-42. 
BRUMFIELD, William C., “Anti-modernism and the Neoclassical Revival in Russian Architecture, 1906-1916,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 48/4 (Dec. 1989), pp. 371-386.
DINÇER, İclal, Zeynep Enlil and Tolga İslam, “Regeneration in a New Context: A New Act on Renewal and its Implications on the Planning Processes in İstanbul,” Paper presented at Bridging the Divide: Celebrating the City. ACSP – AESOP Fourth Joint Congress (July 6 – 11 2008, Chicago, Illinois). 
GIRARDELLI, Paolo, “Italian Architects in an Ottoman Context: Perspectives and Assessments,” in İstanbul Araştırmaları Yıllığı 1 (2011), pp. 101-122.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

From Kutahya to Al-Quds

The Birth of the Armenian Ceramics Trade in Jerusalem
contribution by Sato Moughalian

[1] The Dome of the Rock (detail), c. 1900-1920, showing part of the then lead-covered dome and the patchwork of repaired and missing tiles. Photo credit: American Colony (Jerusalem) Photo Dept.; Matson Photograph Collection. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division 

As we browse souks and shops and walk along cobbled streets in the Old City of Jerusalem, brilliantly glazed tiles and plates catch the light and beckon our attention. These charming and ubiquitous wares, known as “Armenian pottery,” [Fig. 2] are now an icon of the Holy City, colorful and reminiscent of an ancient time, much like the vaulted buildings and arched passageways contained within the medieval enceinte. And if we enter one of the artisanal ceramics studios in the Armenian Quarter, the Via Dolorosa, or on Nablus Road, we might learn that this art originated in northwest Ottoman Anatolia, in a town called Kutahya, where Armenian craftsmen had produced ceramics since at least the fifteenth century. 

[2] A rich array of work by members of one of Jerusalem’s current leading Armenian ceramist families. Photo credit: Armenian Sandrouni Ceramics Gallery, 87 Armenian Patriarchate Road, Old City, Jerusalem.

How did this art come to be so deeply integrated into the fabric of Jerusalem?

The answer to this question lies at the intersection of the Qubbat al-Sakhra (Dome of the Rock) [Fig. 3], the Ottoman ceramist David Ohannessian of Kutahya, the Armenian genocide, and the aspirations of a group of Oxbridge-educated British military administrators to restore the ravaged city in the wake of the Great War.

[3] The Dome of the Rock on the Haram al-Sharif, Jerusalem. The current gilded dome was a 1992 gift from King Hussein of Jordan. Photo by author, July, 2013.

On a crisp, clear December 11, 1917, British General Edmund Allenby, in a famous gesture of humility, dismounted his horse and formally entered the Old City’s Jaffa Gate on foot. The ceremony marked the end of four centuries of Ottoman rule in Jerusalem. 

Conditions awaiting the incoming British administrators were dire. The new Military Governor, Ronald Storrs, reported, “The most urgent problem is of course food. The city has been on starvation rations for three years, and is now cut off, not only—as throughout the War—from revenues accruing from the pious and curious and the corn-ships of Odessa, but—since the Turks left—from the vital grain districts of Salt and Kerak beyond the Jordan…” [Storrs; 291] Rotting animal carcasses, rusted sardine tins, and rubble from collapsed structures littered the streets. Storrs immediately set out to obtain wheat from abroad and to impose sanitary measures against the malaria, typhus, dysentery, and cholera that had felled thousands of Palestinians during the war years. But he also recognized another crucial need: to rebuild the physical city and restore Jerusalem as a hospitable destination for pilgrims, tourists, and its own permanent residents.

The multilingual governor, like a number of his colleagues in the British Military Administration, had read Greek, Latin, ancient history, classical art, and archaeology at Cambridge, and was deeply attuned to the needs of historic preservation. Storrs recruited designers, architects, and engineers, as well as leaders of the local Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities. In September 1918, this group of individuals founded the Pro-Jerusalem Society; its purpose was to oversee town planning and rebuilding and to protect the district’s many precious antiquities. The Military Governor understood that Jerusalem’s large Muslim community did not greet his presence with enthusiasm. The new committee was an attempt to form “a reunion round one table of differing, and very often actively discordant, elements bound together here by their common love for the Holy City.” [Ashbee, Pro-Jerusalem; v-vi]

Among the major challenges identified by the new British administration was the repair and restoration of the holy sites, particularly the Dome of the Rock[see Fig. 1] Built by Caliph ‘Abd al-Malik Ibn Marwan in 691 C.E. on the elevated platform of the Haram al-Sharif, the Ummayad-era building formed the most recognizable silhouette on the landscape of Jerusalem. By 1918, the lead-covered dome of the Islamic shrine was leaking in at least three places, and the internal supports were “insect-infested and decayed timbers.” [Yavuz; 160] Fallen or pilfered tiles turned up for sale in antique shops. 

During the reign of Sultan Süleyman I (r.1520-66), the shrine’s outer covering of mosaic work was replaced with polychrome underglaze, cuerda seca, and cut tiles set in a thick bed of plaster mixed with marble dust. Jerusalem’s weather ranged from extreme heat to cold, with hail, occasional snowstorms, and earthquakes taking a severe toll on exterior surfaces and making periodic repairs of the tile revetment obligatory. Palestine’s geological environment lacked many of the characteristic clays and other minerals necessary to match the original tile work. In the centuries following the recladding of the exterior, materials were imported along with workers—among them, Greeks, Armenians, and Persians—who patched and replaced tiles and subsequently returned to their home regions.   

“Tiles have decayed in the past, and tiles will decay in the future… The Dome of the Rock is not merely a building of archaeological interest, but a symbol of something very much alive…so long as it fulfills the functions it has fulfilled for 1,200 years, so long must its skin be continually renewed in some manner or another, by marble or mosaic, by skin or by cement,” wrote Ernest T. Richmond, the consulting architect who arrived in Jerusalem at General Allenby’s invitation in early 1918.  “Is the method adopted in the sixteenth century of decorating the outer walls of this building with glazed tiles to be continued in the future, or is that system to be abandoned?” Richmond continued, “If a school of workers could be established in Jerusalem it might not only prove of advantage to the Dome of the Rock, but also form a centre for the revival of activity in many other parts of the Near and Middle East.” [Ashbee, Pro-Jerusalem; 8-9]

[4] Bethlehem mother-of-pearl carvers (detail of American Colony Photograph), from Report by Mr. C. R. Ashbee on the Arts and Crafts of Jerusalem and district (1918). Courtesy of Getty Research Institute

Charles Robert Ashbee, a designer and architect associated with William Morris and the British Arts and Crafts movement, echoed Richmond’s sentiment. In the summer of 1918, Storrs invited Ashbee to Jerusalem to conduct a survey of traditional arts and to consider how the Old City might best be preserved. Ashbee had been teaching at the Sultania Training College in Cairo.  In Egypt, he observed the arts of metalwork, weaving, and instrument making still active. His eventual appointment as Civic Advisor and Secretary of the Pro-Jerusalem Society, would allow him to influence the aesthetics of new building work. But he also hoped to introduce or revive glassblowing, weaving, and tile making as resident industries; those trades could provide employment for local artisans [Fig. 4] as well as the growing crowds of impoverished refugees in the city. In Jerusalem, Ashbee could continue to pursue the Arts and Crafts ideal of making handcrafted works to the highest possible pre-industrial standard. 

Colonel Sir Mark Sykes, the British diplomat, MP, and close friend of Ronald Storrs, was the connecting thread between the Pro-Jerusalem Society and David Ohannessian, an acknowledged master of the Kutahya çini (tile) art and an expert in historical restorations. 

In May 1911, the Sykes family’s manor in Yorkshire was nearly destroyed in a catastrophic fire. Sykes had traveled widely in Anatolia, and as he rebuilt his home—Sledmere House—he decided to add an opulent tiled “Turkish Room” as a testament to his love for the region. He had heard that a group of potters was reviving the sixteenth-century techniques and on his next diplomatic trip to Ottoman lands, he traveled to Kutahya to investigate. Sykes found it to be a “town of mud and ruins…save one little spark of life. Kutahia for all time, had been famous for its clay and pottery…there came to it Armenians from Persia, artists of cunning and taste, and there grew up a great industry, with the result that the mausoleums and mosques of Brusa and Constantinople still blaze with glorious glazed colours set in wonderful orders and designs” [Sykes; 521]. 

In fact, it may have been the need to restore some of those great tiled monuments from earlier eras that contributed to the late nineteenth-century revitalization of court-style tile production in Kutahya. As the Iznik ceramic industry declined from its mid-sixteenth-century peak into the seventeenth century, Kutahya (about 100 miles south of Iznik), [Fig. 5] with its largely Armenian artisans and proximity to sources of the necessary minerals, had continued to produce cups and other tableware and pottery, as well as original and replacement tiles for restorations. (The extensive 1718-19 tile commission for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, ultimately installed in the Armenian Cathedral of St. James in Jerusalem, is a notable example.)

[5] Map of Northwest Anatolia. Map made with Google Earth Pro, 2015.

When Sykes arrived in Kutahya in the autumn of 1911, three major ceramics workshops were engaged in a whirlwind of activity—exporting tiles and pottery to Europe, creating monumental installations for public and private buildings, and performing restorations of important historical sites throughout the Ottoman world. Often, the ateliers cooperated in the fulfillment of large commissions. The great ustas (masters) of that era were Mehmet Emin, owner of the Fabrique de Faïence à Kutahia; the brothers Garabed and Harutyun Minassian, who jointly directed a studio; and David Ohannessian, who had opened his own establishment in 1907, the Société Ottoman de Faïence. [Fig. 6] Sykes wrote, “By painful process, without chemists or knowledge, these men set out to do what their ancestors had done. By slow degrees, they re-discovered colour after colour and process after process, until at last they were able to imitate, at first distantly, and then more closely, the work that had been done in the past.” [Sykes; 519]

[6] A 1909 photo of Ohannessian and Minassian pottery displayed
at the Bursa Trade Fair. The following year, Ohannessian’s atelier
won a gold medal. Photo credit: Tʻēodik. Amēnun taretsʻuytsʻě.
 Halēp [Syria]: Kilikia, 2006. Volume 13, page 224

Shortly before the 1908 revolution, leading Ottoman architects, including Ahmet Kemalettin and Vedat Tek, had begun to develop a new Turkish nationalist style with nostalgic allusions to sixteenth-century architectural elements. Tile work figured prominently in the new construction. The Kutahya workshops received commissions for large projects including the Sirkeci Post Office (Tek; completed 1909; tile work by Emin and Ohannessian); the Türbe of Sultan Reşad V (Kemalettin; completed 1913-14; tile work by Ohannessian, Minassian, and Emin); [Fig. 7] the entryway and mosque interior of Prince Mohammed Ali Tewfik’s palace in Cairo (now the Manial Palace Museum; tile work by Ohannessian and Emin, c. 1911); the exterior of the Kutahya Government House (completed 1907; the original tiles have now been entirely replaced, although the interior mosque retains much of its original tiling). Kemalettin also commissioned Emin to produce façade tiles for the Haydarpaşa and other boat landings along the Bosphorus River. During this extraordinary burst of activity between 1907 and 1914, the Kutahya ustas employed 150 workers.

[7] Interior of the Türbe of Sultan Reşad V, Eyüp, Istanbul
(architect, Ahmet Kemalettin; tile work, David Ohannessian,
the Minassian brothers, and Mehmet Emin; completed 1913-14).
Photo by author, 2014.
[8]“Turkish Room,” Sledmere House, home of
the Sykes family. Photo by author, 2007.
In 1911, Sykes commissioned David Ohannessian to design and execute an organic and original array of tiles for his Yorkshire estate. [Fig. 8] In a letter to his architect, Sykes wrote, “it seems that [Ohannessian] accidentally discovered a way of making something very nearly approaching the old white, which is neither dead white nor cream, but has the bluish tinge of the white of a child’s eye.”* The tiles were shipped to England at the end of 1913. 

This bloom of creativity and success would soon come to an end. The Ottoman entry into war in November 1914, constricted the ceramists’ work. The following year, Kutahya’s mutasarrıf (governor), Faik Ali Bey, resisted Constantinople’s deportation orders for his Armenian citizens, but was removed from office in March 1916, and reassigned to Gelibolu (Gallipoli). David Ohannessian was arrested; he and his young family were deported to the Syrian desert of Deir Zor, together with hundreds of thousands of other Armenians. During the forced march, Ohannessian contracted a near-fatal case of typhus; the whole family faced starvation. By the end of 1916, the Ohannessians had reached Aleppo, where they quietly entered the throngs of destitute survivors.

In November 1918, Mark Sykes’ final Foreign Office mission led him to Jerusalem and then Aleppo, where he re-encountered Ohannessian. A number of British officers and diplomats had seen the magnificent installation in Sledmere House and concurred when Sykes recommended Ohannessian to the Pro-Jerusalem Society as it searched for an artist to create new tiles for the Dome of the Rock.

Ohannessian arrived in Jerusalem in early 1919 and learned that an old kiln had been discovered on the Haram al-Sharif. The ceramist conducted experiments to see if it could be used again and searched for appropriate raw materials. A 1944 article in the Palestine Post related, “Ohannessian, the only one still to do so, uses as fuel a carefully prepared mixture of olive and pine wood. The old potters tell of that first furnace in Jerusalem, formally opened by Lord Allenby, the entire output of which was spoilt owing to the impossibility of getting the right fuel at the time. That failure almost jeopardized the future of the industry.”

The Pro-Jerusalem Society, conjointly with Jerusalem’s waqf—the Islamic pious foundation responsible for maintenance of the Muslim holy sites—negotiated a contract with Ohannessian and advanced him some capital to begin the work. The Grand Mufti launched an international campaign to raise funds for the entire restoration project.

The traditional techniques of tile manufacture required a number of workers in well-established divisions of skilled and semi-skilled labor: designers, quartz and flint grinders, clay mixers, slip makers, pattern tracers, tile cutters, painters, wood gatherers, and kiln stokers.

The Grand Mufti rejected the notion of a commercial pottery on the Haram al-Sharif. Instead, Governor Storrs found a suitable location on the Via Dolorosa and Ohannessian designed a new kiln and work areas. In July 1919, during the construction of the kiln and studio, the ceramist requested permission to travel to Kutahya to gather remaining colleagues, tools, and materials and bring them back to Jerusalem. Harutyun Minassian had been deported to the interior of Anatolia in 1918; he and his brother ultimately relocated to Athens. Mehmet Emin continued a scaled-down operation, but with the loss of so many workers, he had stopped producing tiles in 1918. He joined the Turkish army and would be killed by advancing Greek forces in 1922. The Kutahya tile tradition, which had been so carefully and fruitfully revived at the beginning of the twentieth century, became another casualty of the Great War.

Ohannessian returned to Jerusalem in the autumn of 1919 with Nishan Balian, an expert at the potter’s wheel; Mgerditch Karakashian, who specialized in black brush drawing and tracing of traditional designs; several other workers who painted colors into outlined patterns and were adept at glazing and firing; and the artisans’ wives and children. Ohannessian’s new workshop was called the Dome of the Rock Tiles. He also established a School of Ceramics, supported by the Pro-Jerusalem Society, and trained orphaned Armenian genocide survivors, who were placed with him by the Near East Relief foundation. [Fig. 9]

[9] Girls decorating ceramics at the Dome of the Rock Tiles
workshop (1920). American Colony Photo from the Library
of Congress Prints and Photograph Division.

Ohannessian’s workshop produced calligraphic and other replacement tiles for the Dome of the Rock and also began to produce pottery for retail sale and export. The Pro-Jerusalem Society commissioned Ohannessian to produce street name tiles, inscribed in three languages: English, Arabic, and Hebrew. [Fig. 10]

[10] Dome of the Rock Tiles street sign. These tri-lingual Mandate-era street signs are no longer in situ. Reproduced by permission of the Ohannessian family.
By 1921, Jerusalem’s Muslim community had re-established dominion over its own holy sites. The Supreme Muslim Shari’a Council, formed that year to protect the interests of Palestine’s Muslims, hired Ahmet Kemalettin, then chief architect of the Awqaf (Pious Foundation) Ministry in Constantinople, to develop restoration plans for the buildings on the Haram al-Sharif. Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, Kemalettin, who had frequently worked with Ohannessian during his Kutahya years, praised the ceramist’s work highly, saying that he was “unequalled in his industry except by one in the whole world.” [Mukhliss; 18] Shortly afterwards, perhaps fearing the complete demise of the Ottoman tile trade, Kemalettin changed his attitude and insisted that the tiles be manufactured in Turkey and shipped to Jerusalem. Although Armenian Christians had constituted the majority of Kutahya’s ceramic makers in the preceding centuries, Ohannessian and his fellow Armenian artists in Jerusalem were precluded from completing the  work. (The full exterior restoration was finally accomplished in 1966. Nearly all the remaining historic tiles were removed and replaced with imported tiles produced in Kutahya by the Çinicioğlu family.) 

[11] Samples from the Dome of the Rock Tiles
workshop, circa late 1920s. Ohannessian Family Archives.

In 1922, Balian and Karakashian left Ohannessian’s employ to establish their own joint workshop outside the Old City walls on Nablus Road.

By the end of 1922, the Dome of the Rock Tiles workshop was in full production and had become a destination for visiting officials to see the success of the Pro-Jerusalem Society’s efforts to integrate traditional arts into the life of the Holy City. Ohannessian and the studio’s thirty workers produced tiles for monuments, altars, and domestic façades, as well as standing ware and plates [Fig. 11] that were exported to many countries. The ongoing concern was the local region’s lack of minerals essential to the traditional Ottoman ceramic techniques; Ohannessian requested a mineral survey of Palestine from Mandate Geological Advisor, G. S. Blake. The artists continued to search for ways to adapt the available materials for their purposes.

[12] Fountain niche at St. Andrew’s Church and Guesthouse. 
Ceramics by David Ohannessian (1930).
Over the next two decades, Ohannessian received commissions for numerous monumental installations in Jerusalem including tile panels for the entryway and courtyard of the American Colony (1923; now a luxury hotel); a tiled room for the St. John Ophthalmic Hospital (c. 1925; now the Jerusalem House of Quality); a tiled fountain with muqarnas at the Church and Guesthouse of St. Andrew (1930) [Fig. 12]; a massive fireplace for the British High Commissioner’s headquarters (1933; now part of the United Nations organization); and a tiled iwan--the vaulted space opening onto the courtyard of the Palestine Archeological Museum (opened 1937; now the Rockefeller Museum).

Ohannessian also worked with architects, primarily Spyro Houris, on a series of “ceramic houses” in Jerusalem, built in the 1920s and ‘30s. [Fig. 13] His clients included Christian and Muslim Arabs, and he carried over the Ottoman tradition of façade ornamentation to Jerusalem. As the facing of all new construction had to be the golden Jerusalem stone (this Mandate regulation was codified into law in the 1930s), these tiled decorations, with their deep blues and greens, offered a brilliant splash of color against the sere landscape. The houses were built in the neighborhoods of Talbiyeh and Sheikh Jarrah, as well as on Jaffa and Queen Helena Roads.  

[13] Detail of Beit Gelat (1926), Architects: Spyro Houris and Nikephoros Petassis; façade tiles by David Ohannessian. Photo by author, 2013.

David Ohannessian continued to produce pottery and tiles until 1948, when he left for Damascus, Cairo, and finally Beirut, where he died in 1953. The joint Nishan Balian-Mgerditch Karakashian workshop continued operating until the deaths of the original partners. Subsequently, their descendants opened separate workshops, creating and exporting a wide variety of work. In 1954, Marie Alexanian, a French-Armenian painter, trained at the Lyon Académie des Beaux-Arts, married Nishan’s son, Setrag, and introduced an original design vocabulary to Jerusalem tile work. Marie Balian’s creations have been exhibited in major international museums, including the Smithsonian Institution. The Balian family workshop remains on Nablus Road, outside the Old City. The Karakashian family continues to make beautiful tiles in their atelier on the Via Dolorosa, adjacent to the original Dome of the Rock Tiles location. Other Armenian families have also joined in. The Sandrouni brothers—Garo, George, and Harry—each with his own shop, have made keen efforts to understand and document the history of Jerusalem pottery traditions, methodically writing about Armenian contributions, photographing extant works, and making splendid pottery of their own [see Fig. 2].

The art of Armenian ceramics continues to thrive—from the gorgeously painted objets d’art, handmade in the high-end studios, to the small trinkets made in quantity for tourists.  Although the glazes, designs, and colors evoke the distant past, the art itself is less than a hundred years old. Established after the losses and hardships of the Great War, it spills forth today with vibrant life—a  transplanted and transformed branch of an old Ottoman tradition—now inextricably woven into the panorama of Jerusalem.

SATO MOUGHALIAN is a professional flutist in New York City and the granddaughter of David Ohannessian. Her essay “David Ohannessian and the Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem” will be published in A la découverte de la Jérusalem des Arméniens. Paris: Somogy Éditions d’Art (forthcoming). She is currently writing a book-length biography of Ohannessian.

*Thanks to the Yorkshire Archaeological Society for permission to quote from Mark Sykes’ letter to architect Walter Brierley. Ref: YAS MS729/37

**Special thanks to Daniel B. Monk of Colgate University for sharing several documents and for his insights into rebuilding in the early British Mandate years and to Bedross Der Matossian of the University of Nebraska/Lincoln for his valuable suggestions.

Citation: "From Kutahya to Al-Quds: The Birth of the Armenian Ceramics Trade in Jerusalem," Sato Moughalian, Stambouline (December 8, 2015).

Selected Bibliography:
ALBOYADJIAN, Arshak. Memorial Volume of Armenians in Kutahya (in Armenian). Beirut: Donikian Press, 1961.
ASHBEE, Charles Robert., Ed. Jerusalem, 1918-1920, Being the Records of the Pro-Jerusalem Council during the period of the British Military Administration. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, W., 1921.
ASHBEE, Charles Robert. Report by Mr. C. R. Ashbee on the arts and crafts of Jerusalem and district (1918). [archival material]
ATASOY, Nurhan, Julian Raby, and Yanni Petsopoulos. Iznik: The Pottery of Ottoman Turkey. London: Alexandria Press in association with Laurence King, 1994.
AULD, S., R. Hillenbrand, & Y.S. Natshah. Ottoman Jerusalem: The living city: 1517 - 1917. London: Altajir World of Islam Trust., 2000.
CARSWELL, John. Iznik Pottery. London: Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Press, 1998.
CARSWELL, John, and C. J. F. Dowsett. Kütahya Tiles and Pottery from the Armenian Cathedral of St. James, Jerusalem, 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.
ÇİNİ, Rifat. Kütahya in Turkish Tilemaking. Translated by Solmaz Turunc and Aydin Turunc. Istanbul: Uycan Yayinlari A. S., 1991.
DOLEV, E. Allenby's Military Medicine Life and Death in World War I Palestine. London: I.B. Tauris, 2007.
HOFFMAN, Adina. Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Forthcoming, 2016).
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