x0x The Dome
- [See more at http://www.TurkRadio.us/domes/ ]
x0x The Dome
By Kamil FIRAT
The wind may occasionally impel us to glance up at the sky, where sun,
moon and stars float, where wind-tossed clouds transform sky into
text. A rotating vacuum that presses us to its bosom and shelters us,
encircling every point on our bodies. A transparent, porous space in
which everything is at once sky. The sky, which encompasses all that
rotates, is circular...The circle we see is "The time before me, the
time after me, and the time that belongs to my being." A space not of
time flowing from past to future but of time being scattered directly
to all time in a continuous flux. In one of its aspects it corresponds
to rotation, in another to the static with its centralized structure,
and its closed and introverted nature.
THE DOME AS MANIFESTATION OF EXTERNALITY
The dome is the most important expression of circularity in building.
A massive vacuum enclosing the `aura', in which length, height, width,
depth and, most importantly, time extend in every direction.
In a dome, interior explains that which encloses it. The interior is
the symbol of the exterior; the dome, a manifestation of externality
that rises to the sky over the square and its variations, which
represent pure reason and simplicity. As a structural element, the
dome has a long past in the history of architecture. Pantheon in Rome,
Hagia Sophia in Byzantium, and, again in the Renaissance,
Michelangelo's St. Mark's are structures that embody the dome. The
dome, first used in the monumental buildings of Rome and Byzantium,
was widely implemented, especially in places of worship, long before
the Turks settled in Anatolia.
THE DOME IN OTTOMAN HISTORY
Together with the arrival of the Turks in Anatolia, during the period
of the Principalities in particular, flat-roofed mosques predominated
in what could be regarded as a continuation of the Central Asian
tradition of building. But the Ottomans diverged from this tradition,
using instead in their places of worship the domed structures
traditional in Anatolia.
Quickly adapted by the Ottomans to their own concept of building, the
dome in a sense acquired its true identity with them, in a new
aesthetic approach which, in its process of self-realization,
coincided eminently well with their concept of structure. Windows and
light were problems requiring solution in this new aesthetic approach.
Structural details such as squinches, pendentives and `Turkish
triangles', needed for the mediation from the square to the circle,
emerged meanwhile as aesthetic surfaces and textures in their own
right. Symmetry, circularity and rhythm became essential aesthetic
manifestations of structure and decoration. One reason for all this
striving was the belief that the dome in Islam represents the throne
of God. Among the Ottomans, the dome in this sense ceased to be a mere
structural element, becoming a conceptual element instead. During the
600-plus years of the great imperial adventure that began in Sogut and
ended in Istanbul, the dome was the quintessential Ottoman symbol.
Evliya Celebi mentions in his notes how the Ottomans referred to
mosques as domes. Each period of the empire can be discerned in its
From the first modest examples to the monumental structures
symbolizing power and splendor, and again in the feeble counterparts
produced in the empire's final years, the history of the Ottomans is
chronicled in their domes.
With its modest and minimal features, the Green Mosque, the first
Ottoman domed structure, built by architect Haci Musa in Iznik in
1398, represents the beginning of this process. When Bursa becomes the
capital, the great multi-domed and double-domed mosques on a reverse
T-plan, such as the Green Mosque and Muradiye, turn it into a
A similar phenomenon is evident in the mosques of Edirne, where the
Old Mosque and the Three-Balconied Mosque rise to the sky in testimony
to the imperial process.
THE BREATHTAKING MOSQUES OF MIMAR SINAN
Istanbul becomes a `cityof domes' after the conquest, which is
followed immediately by the construction of the corollaries of the
great double-domed mosques of Bursa--Mahmut Pasha Mosque at
Nuruosmaniye and Murat Pasha Mosque at Aksaray.
The Hagia Sophia, Byzantium's monumental structure, is converted into
a mosque as well. The Ottoman sultans, vezirs, and pashas also
commission the construction of numerous mosques for themselves and
members of their families. Some of these are ordinary, nondescript
structures, but others are truly monumental in nature, most of the
latter having been built during the time of the architect known as
A masterbuilder, Sinan went beyond the ordinary in his interpretation
of the tradition, his designs and his structural solutions, producing
thought-provoking structures which evoke admiration even today. This
great architect, who tried to bring a new perspective to the tradition
in every building he designed, achieved a perfect synthesis of
function and aesthetic in all these structures and must therefore must
be regarded not merely as an architect but as an artist as well.
From the aesthetic proportions of the diminutive Semsi Pasha Mosque to
the way in which the problems of space and adaptation to topography
are solved in the Suleymaniye Mosque built for Suleyman the
Magnificent, Sinan underwent a further self-realization in every
building he designed.
At Selimiye in Edirne, too, Sinan created a structural organization
that can be regarded as a flood of light in a space that seems to
virtually support the sky. Exterior has become interior, and Sinan in
a sense has created a space for the `aura'.
WHEN DOME BECOMES SKY
As representatives of the tradition, the architects that succeeded
Sinan continued to build monumental mosques, but they also arrived at
new syntheses. Foremost among them are Mehmet Aga, architect of the
Sultanahmet or `Blue' Mosque, Mustafa Aga, architect of the
Nuruosmaniye Mosque, and Mehmet Tahir, architect of the Laleli Mosque.
Under the influence of Westernization efforts in the late Ottoman
period, we encounter examples that gradually deviate from the Ottoman
identity. These eclectic structures express somehow the sadness of an
empire that is breathing its last despite all efforts to survive.
It is thrilling to view the Istanbul skyline today when the city
lights come on, for the domes seem virtually stuck to the sky.
Darkened semi-circles, detached from their spatial contexts, they have
become part of the sky itself. When they sky turns a deep azure and
the vault of heaven is sprinkled with moon and stars, dome and sky
merge into one. And perhaps the true meaning of the dome is revealed.