Indeed, hosting the heritage of a number of cultures and eras, Turkey is certainly a real treasure trove for lovers of architecture, some of whom call the country an "open-air museum" of the world's greatest architectural styles.
This week, Today's Zaman takes you to the period when Turkish architecture reached its zenith: the Ottoman era.
In fact, the Ottomans were successors to the Seljuks, a Muslim Turkish-Persianate society, which, by the turn of the year 1000, had made its way from Central Asia to eastern Anatolia. Arriving by way of Iran, the Seljuks' own architectural traditions had already absorbed the great styles of Persian architecture and were blended again with the Byzantine traditions the Seljuks encountered in Anatolia. The result was an architecture that was practical and beautiful, sparse but clean, and decorated with some mathematically elaborate, brilliantly colorful ornamentation.
The Seljuks also contributed to architecture by inventing totally new types of structures, including monuments on tombs, vaults, mausoleums and madrasas, a new type of Muslim theological school. They further built a large network of grand stone way stations or "caravansaries," which at that time offered a welcome shelter to traveling salesmen and their camel caravans.
With the demise of the Seljuk Empire, the Ottoman Empire flourished. The years 1300-1453 are considered the early or first Ottoman period. Ottoman art, in search of new ideas, now absorbed both Turkish Islamic styles and Byzantine Christian traditions and came to develop a style all its own.
Actually it was in Bursa and Edirne -- which were, at that time, Ottoman strongholds before İstanbul was captured in 1453 -- where the architectural style that would later come to be recognized as Classical Ottoman was born. The Ottomans, in fact, were great in combining aesthetic values with technical balance, and thus they soon showed off with great construction of domes in particular. The Great Mosque (Ulu Camii) in Bursa was the first Seljuk mosque to be converted into a domed one. It can be seen as a kind of predecessor for the architecture which was created in İstanbul shortly after its conquest, which includes the Beyazit, Fatih and Mahmutpasa mosques and the world-famous Topkapı Palace.
It is interesting to observe that in Ottoman times the mosque did not exist by itself, but was rather integrated in city planning and communal life. Thus, visiting a mosque you can usually find a wide range of facilities, such as soup kitchens, hospitals, madrasas and hamams (Turkish baths).
Talking about the classical Ottoman period of Turkish architecture (1437-1703), there is surely one name that we cannot leave out: Mimar Sinan. Starting a new school of world architecture, the master built 334 buildings in various cities and not only shaped the face of Turkey but also influenced many architects in other countries.
Under Sinan's influence, the plan of most mosques changed to include an inner and outer courtyard, creating space for magnificent gardens and silent recreation areas within. Among Sinan's works are the Şehzade and Süleymaniye mosques in İstanbul and the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne.
The Tulip Period: a glorious time
At the beginning of the 18th century the Ottoman Empire, riding the crest of a wave in terms of military success, began a period of peace. This so-called Tulip Period (1703-1757) was surely the most glorious time in terms of the development of Ottoman art. At this time, the traditional, introverted characteristics of Ottoman society began to change, and the upper classes began to use open and public areas more frequently.
Now, instead of monumental and classic works, villas, waterside residences (köşkler) and pavilions (yalılar) were built around İstanbul to serve as recreational space. These kinds of houses often have a wooden dome with spacious bays, usually with a row of low windows allowing cool breezes to blow through and offering views of the Bosporus in all directions. Yalı interiors are decorated with elaborate molding and ceiling and walls painted with arabesque scenes, geometrical designs and floral garlands in enchanting colors accented in gold.
On İstanbul's Asian side, the oldest yalı, between Kanlıca and Anadolu Hisarı, is the red-painted Köprülü Amcazade Hüseyin Pasha Yalısı (1699). The oldest yalı on the European side is the Şerifler Yalısı, built in 1782.
Thus, with the empire's upper class concentrating on other areas, during the following years Ottoman art slowly deviated from the principles of classical times. Instead, Ottoman architecture began to be influenced by the Baroque and Rococo styles that were popular in Europe. The so-called Baroque Period (1757-1808) emerged.
In the years that would follow, Baroque, Rococo and other styles intermingled with Ottoman art. Fountains, often with circular, wavy and curved lines, became the characteristic structures of this period.
Works of this period include, for example, the mosques of Nur-u Osmaniye, Laleli and Ortaköy in İstanbul. The Aksaray Valide Mosque in Istanbul is an example of the mixture of Turkish art and Gothic style.
With the demise of the Ottoman Empire, however, and with the rise of Turkish nationalism following the foundation of the Turkish Republic, Turkish architecture changed its face again. In an effort to construct a national architecture, an attempt was launched to free Turkish architecture from the influence of Western art, thereby bringing about a new style based on classical Ottoman architecture. The Turkish Neoclassic period (1890-1930) came into being, followed by a new approach directed towards contemporary architecture. With the establishment of newly designed buildings like a faculty of letters in Ankara, İstanbul University's literature faculty and the heroic Atatürk mausoleum in Ankara, Turkish architecture had, after a long and brilliant Ottoman period, crossed the republic's threshold.