March 23, 2011

Last imperial mosque built gains a new face

A slap resounded around the glittering gathering of women in the imperial harem at Dolmabahçe Palace. The person doing the slapping was none other than Pertevniyal, the valide sultan (the mother of the sultan), and the woman whose face was slapped was France’s Empress Eugenie. “Why?” you may ask. Pertevniyal Sultan is supposed to have been offended at having a foreign woman enter her harem.

Is the story true? If it was, it most likely was hushed up because it would have been an extraordinary affront to the wife of the ruler of France, a long-standing ally of Turkey. The year was 1869 and Eugenie was paying a courtesy call to Sultan Abdulaziz while on her way to the opening of the Suez Canal. Her husband, Emperor Napoleon III, was unable to accompany her because of unrest in France.

Pertevniyal, born in 1812, was originally from Wallachia (in present-day Romania) and was married to Sultan Mahmut II in 1829.

Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Camii was the last imperial mosque built. It is by no means as impressive as the early imperial mosques such as Yeni Camii in Eminönü, which was also built at the behest of valide sultans. It was considered one of the pioneers of Ottoman revivalism when it was built between 1869 and 1871.

What is of great interest is the facade that reflects a number of different decorative styles that were at the time being used on new and renovated buildings in Istanbul by the foreign architects who had flocked to the city in search of fame and fortune. Among these were D’Aronco and the Fossati Brothers. The windows in the drum that supported the dome were Gothic in style. Other elements were taken from Ottoman decorative arts and still others resembled North African and Moorish elements in addition to suggestions of forms borrowed from Indian architecture. The interior walls were covered with decorative motifs from the Ottoman and floral arrangements inspired by Chinese art.

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