By J.M. Rogers

Today's Zaman
http://www.todayszaman.com/tz-web/detaylar.d o?load=detay&link=149218&bolum=110
Aug 3 2008

"Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you." One of the most
famous epitaphs of all time, this tribute to famous British architect
Sir Christopher Wren is inscribed in Latin on his simple gravestone.

He was buried in 1723 in his magnificent masterpiece, the famous
domed St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The cathedral is of course
his most enduring monument, one of London's best known landmarks,
and it became a symbol of British spirit during the Blitz bombing in
World War II, when it stood proud and tall among the flattened ruins
of surrounding offices and homes.

"Traveler, if you seek his monument, look around you" could be equally,
aptly applied to Sinan, one of the greatest architects of the Islamic
world. As you cross the Bosporus by ferry, lift up your eyes to
the amazing silhouette of the old city and you will see Sinan's
monuments standing tall; gaze across to the Asian side to Uskudar,
and his finger is evident, too.

As you drive on the E5 towards Greece, look to the right near
Buyukcekmece, and you will see a bridge he built. In the great border
city of Edirne, look around you! In Sarajevo (Bosnia), Aleppo (Syria)
and Damascus (Syria), look around you! The works of Sinan's hands
still inspire and amaze today.

Sinan lived some two centuries before Wren, and his skill in building
domed edifices must certainly have been one of the influences on the
British architect's work.

In an excellent new series created by the Oxford Centre for Islamic
Studies, J. M. Rogers introduces us to the master architect and
his work. The series aims to "present an introduction to outstanding
figures in the history of Islamic civilization." Rogers is a respected
academic and he was the first holder of the Nasser D. Khalili Chair
in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African
studies, part of the University of London.

This is not, however, a dry and dusty academic treatise. It contains
the most wonderfully detailed black and white illustrations -- sketches
and designs, plans and elevations -- that make Sinan's works of art
come to life.

Although not much is known of Sinan's personal life, Rogers manages
to present us with a biography, reconstructed from his practice and
that of the court architects after him. Rogers impishly remarks,
"The fact that Sinan and his colleagues figure rather rarely in the
collections of court edicts could be taken as evidence that for the
most part their work gave satisfaction; administrative orders are
normally issued only when things go wrong."

Sinan was born in Cappadocia around the year 1490, probably into a
Greek or Armenian Christian family. When he reached his teens, he was
drafted into the elite janissary corps and rapidly gained promotion and
distinction as a military engineer. He was appointed court architect
in 1538 and proceeded to oversee the most productive and imaginative
period in Ottoman architecture, which lasted for half a century. "His
palaces, mosques, fountains, hospitals and tombs completely changed
the face of the Ottoman capitals, Istanbul and Edirne."

I first met Sinan when I visited one of his most beautiful mosques:
the Suleymaniye that stands majestically at the crest of the hill
above the Golden Horn. The great architect was pleased with his work
here. He later famously said, "I showed that I was an apprentice with
the Å~^ehzade Mosque, an able contractor with the Suleymaniye Mosque,
and an expert with the Selimiye Mosque."

J.M. Rogers begs to differ with the master-architects analysis of
his work. "His alleged description of his career as a progress from
apprenticeship to maturity and mastership is not only apocryphal
but misleading. In fact ... his [plans] do not show any particular
evolutionary pattern -- for the required balance of economy, splendor,
and breadth of vision and structural solidarity allowed of virtually
infinite solutions."

I had to wait five or six years before I was able to visit the
mosque he considered his masterpiece: the Selimiye in Edirne, built
in 1574. This is an outstanding example of the mosque as a complex:
with worship area, courtyards, rooms for teaching, hospital facilities
and soup kitchens as well as an arasta for trade.

Here faith and state came together to provide services for the
peoples of the empire. "In Islam the foundation and construction of
institutions of public welfare, from mosques to water supplies, were
as much the responsibility of the ruler, or his delegated agents,
as of private individuals. Indeed, Muslim political theorists have
traditionally held up the creation of pious foundations as one of
the defining characteristic of the just ruler. The Sultan's role in
patronage, both indirectly and directly, was thus paramount." As an
instrument of this patronage, Sinan held an important place at the
courts of Suleyman the Magnificent, Selim II and Murad III.

In between my visits to the Suleymaniye and Selimiye, I had an
amusing experience related to Sinan. I had been speaking at a training
course for new recruits run by the company's Turkish H.R. director,
at a large hotel in Kumburgaz, about one hour's drive to the west of
İstanbul. As it was Friday evening, Sibel Hanım and I decided to
make it a leisurely return to Istanbul. Instead of the TEM interstate,
we chose the E5 highway, and stopped for fish at Guzelyalı. We then
continued to drive towards Ä°stanbul on the E5. The sun was beginning
to set as we came towards a pretty seaside place called Mimar Sinan,
so we turned off the road for an ice cream and coffee and to watch
the sun sink over the sea.

As we came into town we saw a statue to the great architect, and
I began to wonder what the connection was between him and this
place. We drove to the sea front, and as we ordered ice cream my
curiosity could not contain itself. I asked the lady who served us:
"Why is this town called Mimar Sinan? Was he born here?" "Don't know,"
she replied, with a nonchalant shrug of her shoulders, "I'm new here
myself." As the conversation continued we discovered she had moved
there from İstanbul five years ago! Sibel Hanım was amused that
the foreigner who had been there five minutes was asking questions
that the Turk who had lived there five years hadn't been interested in.

Of course, as we pulled out of Mimar Sinan on the E5, 500 meters
further on I had my answer. There, to our left, extended a series
of gracious arches: Sinan's bridge over the water that has stood
since 1568 as silent witness to his skill of uniting utilitarianism
and beauty.

I am almost inclined to translate J.M. Roger's book into Turkish and
present a copy to the ice cream shop owner in Mimar Sinan, with the
words: "Look around you! Lift up your eyes! This is your history: Seek
his monuments, for you will then discover a treasure worth finding."

--Boundary_(ID_o1rmZH2i9qCYdaKoj03 23w)--

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress