An ongoing restoration of a historic mosque in eastern Turkey has led to the discovery of nearly 100 handwritten manuscripts from centuries ago.
The historic Ulu Mosque in Diyarbakır is often referred to as another Temple Mount for Muslims due to its square dome and monumental structure. The oldest and biggest mosque in Anatolia, the Ulu Mosque, which has been used simultaneously by the followers of the four schools if Islamic law within Sunni Islam -- Hanafi, Shafi’i, Hanbali and Maliki -- is undergoing restoration by the Diyarbakır Regional Directorate of Foundations.
An example of traditional Seljuk architecture, the Ulu Mosque is similar to the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus in terms of plan and architecture. The mosque also bears examples of different architectural trends due to additions at different time periods. For instance, it has square-shaped stones from the Byzantine period, while the mosque yard, maqsurah (the area that has been screened or partitioned off), medrese (theological school) and harem (part of the mosque reserved for women) facing the Kaaba, the most sacred site for Muslims, all reflect the Artuqid period. It also features reflections from two different Anatolian civilizations as well as the Seljuk dynasty and the Ottoman Empire.
In an interview with the Anatolia news agency, Diyarbakır Regional Director of Foundations Metin Evsen said: “The Ulu Mosque is a very important structure for Turkey and the world because this mosque was used together by people following the four schools of Islamic law within Sunni Islam for the first time in history. Four different imams were on duty in the mosque and each led the prayers according to the school of law he followed. They prayed in separate parts of the mosque at the same time. It was this way throughout Islamic history. More than 5,000 people can pray in the mosque at the same time. Today, Hanafis and Shafi’is still perform their prayers in the Ulu Mosque. Right now the section for Shafi’is at the north of the mosque is open. We are planning to open the part that belongs to Hanafis before Eid al-Adha [the Feast of the Sacrifice].”
Evsen noted that the mosque’s exact date of establishment is not known but that it has survived to the present day with parts added by various civilizations at different periods since the Byzantine Empire. Some additions were even made after the establishment of the Turkish Republic. Evsen states that 60 percent of the restoration is complete and that they are planning to open the restored parts of the mosque in order to avoid inconveniencing those who want to come and pray. The restoration is expected to be finished by 2012.
Evsen also explains that the continual restoration of the mosque is supervised by the Science Committee, comprising academics from various Turkish universities, including Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ), İstanbul Technical University (İTÜ) and Dicle University. Gilding in the center of the dome, wood carvings, delicate Islamic calligraphy and gorgeous illuminations are being meticulously repaired.
Evsen also mentioned that approximately 100 manuscripts, four of which are of historic significance, were found during the restoration of the Hanafi section of the mosque. He stated that these manuscripts will be examined by the rector of Batman University, Professor Abdüsselam Uluçam, and exhibited in the mosque’s Mesudiye Medresesi, which is also being restored. The medrese will serve as a manuscript library when the restoration is complete.
Evsen concluded by expressing his unease with the buildings surrounding the Ulu Mosque. “These ugly buildings around the mosque bother us. We are trying to deal with them [get rid of them] through legal means,” he said.