Monday, November 20, 2017

Provincially Ottoman

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

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

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









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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hartmuth, Maximilian.  “De-Constructing a ‘Legacy in Stone’: Of Interpretive and Historiographical Problems Concerning the Ottoman Cultural Heritage in the Balkans.”  Middle Eastern Studies 44 (2008): 695-713.

Hartmuth, Maximilian. “The History of Centre-Periphery Relations as a History of Style in Ottoman Provincial Architecture.” Paper presented at Centres and Peripheries in Ottoman Architecture: Establishing a Balkan Heritage, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Hersegovina, April 22-24, 2010.

“Kavala: One Destination.” https://www.portkavala.gr/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/kavala-destination.pdf.

Lalenis, Konstantinos and Elena Samourkasidou. “Wakfs in Kavala, Greece: A Legal, Political, and Architectural Heritage Issue.” International Journal of Architectural Research 7 (2013): 206-220.

“Municipality of Kavala.” http://www.kavala.gov.gr/c/document_library/get_file?folderId=136041&name=DLFE-7902.pdf

Yılmaz, Şuhnaz and İpek Yosmaoğlu. “Fighting the Spectres of the Past: Dilemmas of Ottoman Legacy in the Balkans and the Middle East.” Middle Eastern Studies 44 (2008): 677-693.


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

(MSBZ004-HS.BIA.0097)
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 
(MSBZ004-FC-48-1)
“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 
(MSBZ004-H58.361)
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). http://www.stambouline.com/2017/09/church-mosque-museum.html


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.