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x0x Seljuk jars - Glimpses into the past

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    [See http://www.byegm.gov.tr/YAYINLARIMIZ/newspot/2001/jan_feb/n6.htm for more.] x0x Seljuk jars - Glimpses into the past By Cihat Soyhan The discovery that
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2004
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      [See http://www.byegm.gov.tr/YAYINLARIMIZ/newspot/2001/jan_feb/n6.htm for more.]

      x0x Seljuk jars - Glimpses into the past

      By Cihat Soyhan

      The discovery that clay taken from the fertile earth could be used to
      create vessels for storage was one of the most important steps forward
      in human civilisation. Using pottery jars for storing and carrying
      water, one of the most essential needs, transformed domestic life.

      For archaeologists and historians pottery is among the most important
      sources of information about past cultures. The first pottery was made
      35,000 years ago, when clay was shaped into figurines or small relief
      motifs. At first pottery was dried in the sun, until the discovery
      that heating by fire rendered the clay stronger and less porous, which
      meant that vessels could be used to hold liquids as well as dry
      substances. Eventually glazes made of melted sand were developed that
      gave pottery an attractive waterproof coating.

      The Turkic peoples had made pottery in Central Asia, and this art
      developed still further after the Seljuk Turks arrived in Anatolia, a
      land which had been an important centre of pottery production from
      very early times. Both Seljuks and Ottomans adopted Anatolian
      materials and techniques for their ceramics. In the 12th and 13th
      centuries, Konya was the centre of Seljuk ceramic manufacture, but it
      was during the Ottoman period that the Turkish art of ceramic making
      reached its peak with the Iznik tiles and vessels produced between the
      14th and 17th centuries. And with the decline in the Iznik potteries,
      Kutahya became the new centre of pottery and tile manufacture.

      Under the Seljuks the most common form of pottery decoration was
      sgraffito, designs incised with a sharp implement. This technique was
      widely used in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Memluk Egypt between the 9th and
      13th centuries, as well as by the Byzantines and Seljuks in Anatolia.

      There are close similarities between the motifs and forms of Byzantine
      and Seljuk pottery, and often they can only be distinguished by
      differences in the type of clay, slip and glaze.

      Among the finest examples of Seljuk pottery are large unglazed jars
      made of red paste used to store water, grain, olives, olive oil, grape
      syrup and other foodstuffs. While some are very simply decorated with
      flutes and zigzag lines, others have stamped motifs or relief
      decoration in the technique known as barbotine, by which very soft
      clay has been applied with a nozzle.

      The repertoire of motifs is diverse, including human and animal
      figures, masks, rosettes and undulating branches. Archaeological
      excavations in Central Anatolia have revealed jars of this type with
      close affinities to Syrian ceramics and thought to have been made in
      southeast Anatolia.

      As well as pottery plates, bowls, jars and other vessels, glazed tiles
      were widely produced by the Seljuks as architectural decoration for
      both secular and sacral buildings. These tiles were known as kasi,
      after the Persian city of Kashan, a famous centre of painted and
      glazed tile manufacture.

      The great 13th century mystic poet Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi
      (1207-1273) speaks metaphorically of pots and potters when he says:
      `No maker of bowls makes bowls for their own sake, but to place food
      within them.' And a Turkish proverb asks, `How much longer are you
      going to make bowls for all who break them?' meaning that it is
      unproductive to keep making up for the repeated mistakes of others.

      Analysis of jars made by ancient civilisations and discovered in
      excavations can reveal the nature of their original contents, whether
      wine, grape syrup or grain. Then again jars have been found buried not
      by chance but on purpose, containing gold and silver coins that the
      owner intended to retrieve after the danger was past.

      Ancient Greek amphoras, with their tapered bases, narrow necks and
      rotund bodies were used for transporting commodities by ship over long
      distances. Another and stranger use of pottery jars was in Anatolian
      Seljuk architecture! Empty jars were used to fill the spaces between
      the curving surfaces of domed and vaulted roofs. Since these were
      lighter than earth or stones, the weight on the columns and arches was
      diminished, and even more importantly, these improved the acoustics of
      the building. Hence they were known as `sound jars'.

      * Cihat Soyhan is an art historian
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