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).
KENAAN-KEDAR, Nurith. The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem: Three Generations, 1919-2003. Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 2003.
KOUYMJIAN, Dickran. “Armenian Potters of Kutahia,” in Richard G. Hovannisian, ed., Armenian Communities of Asia Minor. Costa Mesa: Mazda, 2014.
KUPFERSCHMIDT, Uri. The Supreme Muslim Council: Islam under the British Mandate for Palestine. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1987.
KÜRKMAN, Garo. Magic of Clay and Fire. Istanbul: Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation, 2006.
MONK, Daniel Bertrand. An Aesthetic Occupation. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002.
MUKHLISS, Abdallah and Ya’qub Abu al-Huda. Report to Herbert Samuel. November 5, 1923 (translated), ISA/CS/189. Page 18.
NECİPOĞLU Gülrü. "From International Timurid to Ottoman: A Change of Taste in Sixteenth-Century Ceramic Tiles." Muqarnas. 7 (1990): 136-170.
OLENIK, Yael. The Armenian Pottery of Jerusalem [Exhibition Catalogue, Ceramics Pavilion, Haaretz Museum, Tel Aviv, Summer 1986]. Tel Aviv: Haaretz Museum, 1986.
RICHMOND, Ernest Tatum. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924.
STORRS, Ronald. The Memoirs of Sir Ronald Storrs. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1937.
SYKES, Mark. The Caliphs' Last Heritage; A Short History of the Turkish Empire. London: Macmillan and Co, 1915.
YAVUZ, Yıldırım. “The Restoration Project of the Masjid Al-Aqsa by Mimar Kemalettin (1922-26),” Muqarnas. 13 (1996). Pages 149-64.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Keeping out Napoleon

The Fortress-City of Acre
contribution by Annie Greene
[1] Old Walls of Acre. Felix Bonfils, 1878. NYPL Digital Collections

[2] Khan al-Umdan, constructed late 18th
century by Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar. 

Photo from www.akko.org.il.
The walls of Acre (‘Akko/‘Akka), prominently jutting out into the Bay of Haifa, have in many ways come to define this small Mediterranean coastal town. [Fig. 1] Once Acre's main line of defense, the fortifications now serve as a time machine, of sorts, that separates the Old City and its labyrinthine streets from the “new” one that has developed outside the historic walls. Every year, visitors flock to Acre to explore the city’s main tourist attractions, such as the Al-Anwar Mosque and the Khan al-‘Umdan, as well as the Crusader-era tunnels, refectory, and church. [Fig. 2] Yet the walls that surround Old Acre—the walls that make it a walled city, even today—deserve consideration as well. In 1799, the fortified city held off Napoleon and the French army, a most feared revolutionary power, and reversed the tide of the Napoleonic Wars in the Middle East. 

[3] Satellite view of the Old City of Acre. Google Earth Pro, accessed October 5, 2015.

Acre was a fortress-city long before the Ottomans rolled in and incorporated the region into the empire. The location and shape of the site makes for a strategic military position as well as a bustling port town. [Fig. 3]  The story of the city’s fortifications really begin during the First Crusade, when Acre was attacked,   and, in 1104, capitulated to King Baldwin of Jerusalem. The Crusaders rebuilt the city, fortifying it with walls. Acre thus became the Crusader Kingdom’s main port to the rest of the Levant, with access to the spice trade. During the Third Crusade (1189-1192), Acre was the seat of the Knights Hospitaller order and even served as the de facto capital of the remnant Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, following the fighting and its subsequent capture by the Ayyubid Sultan Salah al-Din in 1187. In order to prevent the return of the Crusaders, Acre was razed to the ground with the Mamluk conquest in 1291. The city then diminished in importance and, in the early modern period, was nothing more than a small port and fishing outpost. 

Acre came back in a big way in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, and the historic fabric as it is seen on the ground today was largely shaped under the leadership of two Ottoman governors [vali], Zahir al-‘Umar (d. 1775, r. 1768-1775), and Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar (d.1804, r. 1775-1804). The growth of the city’s influence within the Western Galilee region greatly affected the re-development of the city. During the course of the eighteenth century, Acre and its hinterland eclipsed the nearby port town  of Sidon. 

[4] Map of Acre in 1820. From Thomas Phillip,
Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, p. 231.
[5] Walls of Acre. Photo by Author, 2015.
Because the city sits on a peninsula, the fortification walls of Acre face the sea on three sides, with the Bay of Acre to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. To the north are the land walls, defended by an elaborate three-layer system. The inner land wall was built in the time of Zahir al-‘Umar, while the outer land wall was added only a few decades later by  Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar. The third element of the defense system, a nineteenth-century earthen rampart, was added on the order of the vali ‘Abdullah Pasha (r. 1820-1832). [Fig. 4]  These fortifications, especially when compared with the Crusader-period walls, incorporated several modifications that point to the ever-increasing usage of firearms, such as gun-slits placed within the walls’ deep embrasures; low, thick bastions with rounded corners in order to deflect canon and artillery fire; and complex symmetrical layouts. [Fig. 5]

[6] Wall constructed by Zahir al-‘Umar at Acre. Photo by Author, 2015.

After having the former mültezim [tax farmer] of Acre killed while sending his troops to march on the city, Zahir al-‘Umar declared himself the mültezim of Acre in 1746. This declaration made him the political, military, and commercial ruler of the city. He first fortified the city around this time, which displayed the visual rhetoric of his possession and rule. [Fig. 6]  Zahir al-‘Umar first strengthened the city’s walls by adding square towers:  three on the eastern wall, four on the north, and one on the north-eastern corner. The wall to the north-east of the citadel still remains today, and it can be distinguished from later developments in the small size of the blocks, and the embrasure design of narrow slits set in arched casemates. These features are consistent with Zahir al-‘Umar’s other known and identified fortification projects in the Galilee region, such as the walls of Tiberias, Qal‘at Jiddin, and Dayr Hanna. [Fig. 7] 

[7] Tiberias from the Lake. Photograph Lewis Larsson, 1898-1914G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
[8] Skyline of of Acre. Photo by Author, 2015.
Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar, previously appointed as vali of Sidon, took over rule of Acre after the death of Zahir al-‘Umar in 1775. Even today, it is hard to escape from al-Jazzar in Acre. A main street is named for him. His mosque, built 1781, dominates the skyline when standing on the walls, which he fortified, and from which he fought. [Fig. 8]  An incredibly intriguing figure, born as a Christian in Bosnia, Ahmad went to Istanbul as a youth, worked as a barber, and befriended one of the Egyptian Mamluk elites there. He followed him back to Cairo, converted to Islam and trained among the Mamluk military elite, and, according to popular tradition, killed seventy Bedouins to avenge the murder of his master. His nickname al-Jazzar, “the butcher” in Arabic, is said to have been inspired by his cruelty and vengeful spirit. 

[9] Eastern (outer) walls of Acre, Photo by Author, 2015. 

[10] The moat of Acre on the north side. 
Photograph 1920-1933, G. Eric and Edith
 Matson Photograph Collection, Library
 of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt was the impetus for another fortification of Acre’s walls under Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar. In this period, the British offered their assistance in strengthening the walls of both Jaffa and Acre in the hopes of curbing French presence in the region. The innovative design allowed for maximum defensive artillery fire while minimizing enemy attacks. Al-Jazzar’s new defensive line was 30m outside the walls of Zahir al-‘Umar, which were dismantled in some places for the purpose of constructing the new walls and the moat that ran outside it. [Figs. 9 & and 10] The new walls were thicker, and this improvement had the dual effect of absorbing the impact from canon fire, in addition to providing a wide-enough platform from which Ahmad Pasha’s men could respond by shooting their own artillery in safety. The British also provided the Ottomans with canons.  

Acre’s land and sea walls that were re-fortified during the eighteenth century therefore reveal a local story of military innovation, and point to interaction with Europe beyond invasion. Britain’s help with the provision of canons, as well as British and Russian naval presence alongside the Ottoman forces to fight Napoleon’s men, illustrates the end of an isolated local power structure. The following decades saw considerably more European involvement in terms of politics and trade.  
Just as the walls circled Acre, so too did Ahmad Pasha surround his realm with armies. He considered Acre his base, and he had to protect it and subdue the outlying areas for reasons of political and economic security. These measures incited on-again off-again conflict with the Druze, and led him to assert control over Jaffa when the French began their campaign, as control over both Jaffa and Acre would be a decisive foothold for an invader to continue into the hinterland of the Levant. 

[11] Statue of one of Napoleon’s
men in the Old City of Jaffa, pro-
claiming it a Historical Site:
One of the ironies of tourism in
the present day. Photo by
author, 2015.
Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, and from there turned eastward toward Jaffa in 1799,  proving again the defensive link between Egypt and the Levant. He knew that if war with the Ottomans were on the horizon, he would rather strike first and secure his position. [Fig. 11] When the threat of the French turned into a reality, Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar sent his troops to create a military buffer between Acre and Napoleon’s advances. He added his men to the Egyptian Mamluks stationed at El-‘Arish, in Egyptian territory, and annexed Gaza, which had not previously been a part of Damascus’ administrative district. He also made alliances with influential families in the Galilee region, and the Druze between Dayr al-Qamar and Baalbek, creating effective political support for Acre. 

Napoleon cited the presence of Ahmad Pasha’s troops in Egyptian territory as a provocation of sorts, and one of the reasons behind the Levantine campaign. Napoleon and his forces managed to enter El-‘Arish on February 7, 1799 and besieged the citadel. Gaza fell on the 25th of February, and then the French conducted a four-day siege of Jaffa starting on March 3, destroying the city and massacring its inhabitants. After sacking Jaffa, the French army continued the march northward toward Acre. Where Jaffa’s walls had failed, Acre’s did not. Al-Jazzar had also surrounded the city with more walls of armies. From the sea, English, Russian, and Ottoman troops fired on the French, and Ahmad Pasha al-Jazzar’s own men bombarded Napoleon’s army from the land walls. [Fig. 12]  The siege of Acre lasted exactly two months, from March 19, 1799 until May 20, when Napoleon had to retreat due to plague and shortage of supplies. The walls of Acre had held him off.

[12] Citadel of Acre, Ottoman fortification. Photo by author, 2015.

Much is made of Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. Alongside the military operations, he and his men also conducted a cultural campaign that resulted in the Description de l’Égypte. More emphasis could be placed, however, on the reversal of Napoleon’s campaign plans at Acre--not only when taken from the perspective of a retreating revolutionary European army, but also from the vital perspective of 18th-century architectural and military innovation outside of Istanbul. Acre, as a walled city, enforced its boundaries against the invading French army and maintained its sovereignty and authority. Its identity as a successful fortress-city shines through to today. Though Acre may have a street named after Napoleon (Rechov Napolyon Bonapart), it remains outside the walls, just like the man himself. 

ANNIE GREENE is a PhD student at the University of Chicago, specializing in the cultural and intellectual production of Ottoman Iraq in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

**For more on Acre, see another stambouline post: The Lights of Ahmad

BRUMMETT, Palmira. Mapping the Ottomans: Sovereignty, Territory, and Identity in the Early Modern Mediterranean. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
GÜLER, Mustafa. Cezzar Ahmed Paşa ve Akka Savunması. Istanbul: Çamlıca, 2003.
PETERSEN, Andrew. A Gazetteer of Buildings in Muslim Palestine (Part 1). Contributions by Marcus Milwright, drawings by Heather Nixon, and maps by Peter Leach. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
PHILIPP, Thomas. Acre: The Rise and Fall of a Palestinian City, 1730-1831. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Citation: "Keeping out Napoleon," Annie Greene, Stambouline (October 7, 2015). http://www.stambouline.com/2015/10/keeping-out-napoleon.html.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hagia Sophia at Ground Zero

contribution by Benjamin Anderson

[1] Design for the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at the Ground Zero Site, 2012, Santiago Calatrava Architects & Engineers. 

[2] Site map, National September 11
Memorial & Museum, 28. August 2015.
Photo: author.

Today when visitors exit the 9/11 Memorial Museum in lower Manhattan, they look across a deep pool that occupies the footprint of the south tower of the World Trade Center towards an active construction site. Plans distributed across the memorial relate that this platform will soon host “St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church,” and a sign stretched across a chain-link fence on Greenwich Street displays an architect’s rendering of the building in progress. [Figs. 1 & 2] 

Those who were paying attention in Art History 101 will notice the basic similarity between the church in the drawing, whose single broad dome rests on four massive pillars, and Hagia Sophia. [Fig. 3] A more elaborate connection between the two structures is asserted by a video hosted on the website of the man who designed St. Nicholas, Santiago Calatrava. The video opens with a view of Hagia Sophia from the southwest. The four minarets have been removed and the dome is crowned by a cross, while the mausolea of the Ottoman sultans remain in the foreground. This rendering morphs into the model of the church held by its imperial patron, Justinian, in the Byzantine mosaic that stands above the building’s southwestern entrance. The view expands to take in the entire mosaic, with the Virgin and Child at center and the emperor Constantine offering a model of his city at right. The Virgin and Child are then transformed into a series of increasingly abstract watercolors executed by Calatrava himself that culminate in the design of St. Nicholas. 

[3] Hagia Sophia. From Guillaume-Joseph Grelot, Relation nouvelle d’un voyage de Constantinople (Paris: Pierre Rocolet, 1680).
The church’s patrons in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America have also drawn a connection between the two buildings. As Archbishop Demetrios explained to the New York Times: “What attracted the committee... was that Mr. Calatrava had been strongly influenced by Hagia Sophia, the magnificent sixth-century Byzantine basilica in Istanbul that was converted into a mosque and then, in 1935, into a museum.”

[4]  From Atlas of the Borough of Manhattan
(New York: G. W. Bromley & Co., 1916).
New York Public Library, Lionel Pincus
and Princess Firyal Map Division.
Calatrava’s new construction rises near the former site of an older church of St. Nicholas, located at 155 Cedar Street. [Fig.4]  At the beginning of the new millennium, this building stood as a remnant of nineteenth-century Manhattan, an erstwhile house that had also served as a tavern and was purchased early in the 20th century by Greek immigrants. St. Nicholas had managed to survived the urban renewal projects that destroyed the surrounding urban fabric, [Fig. 5] and its incongruously modest profile stood in the shadow of the World Trade Center until 2001, when the south tower’s collapse leveled it completely.

[5] St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 1998. Photo: jaydro (Panoramio).

For the last fourteen years, the Greek Orthodox congregation of lower Manhattan has been housed in a church across the river in Brooklyn. As with all matters related to the redevelopment of Ground Zero, discussions of the rebuilding of St. Nicholas quickly left local needs behind to dwell instead on questions of symbolism and propriety. By 2010, an essentially financial dispute between the archdiocese and the Port Authority had become entangled with the national controversy around the proposed Islamic community center at Park Place (often polemically described as the “Ground Zero mosque”). An assistant to the archbishop stated: “We have people that are saying, why isn’t our church being rebuilt and why is there... such concern for people of the mosque.” In 2011, George Demos, a congressional candidate from Long Island, launched a petition to “rebuild [the] ground zero church first,” expressing the hope that future generations might “look back with pride that our nation stood up and defended our Judeo-Christian values.”

These statements positioned the new reconstruction of St. Nicholas as a maneuver in a contest between Christianity and Islam, an interpretation that persisted even after the dispute between the archdiocese and Port Authority had been resolved. When Calatrava’s winning design was made public in 2013, a spokesman for the archdiocese stated that “the dome, invented by the Mycenaean Greeks, was a Christian form of architecture that was borrowed by the Islamic world. There are going be some wonderful teachable moments down the road.” These statements may have been influenced by the simultaneous campaign led by Turkish religious conservatives to reopen Hagia Sophia for Muslim worship, a movement that culminated later in 2013 when the deputy Prime Minister referred to the building as the “Hagia Sophia Mosque.”

[6] Hagia Sophia with the equestrian
statue of Justinian. Cristoforo
Buondelmoti, Liber Insularum Archipelagi.

The Hagia Sophia that stands today in Istanbul was built in the aftermath of catastrophe, a violent uprising brutally suppressed by the Emperor Justinian in 532, in which thousands died and the monumental core of the Byzantine capital was torched. Justinian stamped his monogram on the capitals found in the interior of the new church and set his equestrian statue on a monumental column beside its dome, turning Hagia Sophia into a kind of monument to his own victory over the rebels. [Fig. 6] Procopius, the emperor’s court historian, proposed that the new church was so beautiful, that if someone had shown the inhabitants of Constantinople a model of it before the fire, they would have demanded that their old church be destroyed right away, so that it could be replaced by the new structure. Hagia Sophia was not only a marvel of engineering and aesthetics: it also represented an attempt to control the meaning of the event that had cleared the ground for its construction.

The analogy to St. Nicholas is by no means precise. Most importantly, those responsible for the construction of the new church had nothing to do with the destruction of its predecessor. Nevertheless, the new St. Nicholas, like Hagia Sophia, represents an effort to inflect the meaning of the preceding catastrophe. For the representatives of the archdiocese and their political allies, the new St. Nicholas is meant to establish the priority of Christianity in the commemoration of 9/11. As an ancillary benefit, it employs a prominent piece of real estate to claim the design of Hagia Sophia as innately Christian (and Greek).

[7] St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, construction site, 28. August 2015.
Photo: author.

We can choose, however, to draw a different lesson from the history of Hagia Sophia. In the centuries after Justinian’s death, Byzantines began to produce legends that downplayed the emperor’s role in its construction, thereby converting it into a monument that met their own needs, not his. Some ridiculed Justinian, relating his jealous reaction to the popularity of the building’s true architect, who cleverly evaded the emperor’s attempts to have him killed. Other stories had nothing to say about the emperor, but tamed the overwhelming monumentality of his church by focusing on intimate particulars: the pier where an angel appeared to the architect’s son, for example, or the fountain in which pilgrims found a cup that they had lost while bathing in the River Jordan.

Legends like these transmit a wise patience, an understanding that the efforts of the wealthy and powerful to fix the meanings of events and monuments are misguided, since familiarity and the rhythms of daily use will produce accounts more enduring than the intended and official. In this sense, we have every reason to welcome, and to participate in, the creation of a new Hagia Sophia at Ground Zero.

BENJAMIN ANDERSON is Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art and Visual Studies at Cornell University.

Citation: "Hagia Sophia at Ground Zero," Benjamin Anderson, Stambouline (September 16, 2015). http://www.stambouline.com/2015/09/hagia-sophia-at-ground-zero.html.