Architecture of Mardin in the Ottoman Period

Dr. Birgül Açıkyıldız-Şengül

Turkish Cultural Foundation Fellow (2012-2013)

Ph. D. in Art History, University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne (2006)

Current Position: Assistant Professor at Mardin Artuklu University, Department of History of Art

Mardin was constructed by various ethnic and religious dynasties throughout the centuries, but the city acquired its distinctive physical and architectural texture during the reign of the Artukid dynasty (12th -15th centuries). New additions made in later periods did not change the city’s appearance and texture noticeably. The homeostatis was probably due to the continuity in the production of masonary and architectural decoration over the centuries, carried out by the stone masters, both Muslim and Christian. Conversely, the artistic productivity of Mardin was affected by the chaotic political atmosphere and economic stagnation in the 16th and 17th centuries. Contrary to Artukid and Aq Qoyunlu periods, the Ottoman period saw an absolute decline in the artistic production. It was only in the beginning of the 18th century that a short term stabilisation was achieved and Mardin’s castle, city and villages were renovated and new buildings were constructed—namely, Surur Khan, Reyhaniyye, Haji Omar and Sheykh Sharran Mosques. These buildings were constructed by the local aristocratic families and renovations were made by the Ottoman voyvodas.

Although Mardin was governed as an Ottoman administrative unit of sanjak from the 16th century onwards, Tanzimat Reforms that called for regulating urban planning and new construction activities in the Ottoman provinces could not been applied immediately to Mardin. Mardin began to reflect the new bureaucratic changes of the era with the construction of new governmental buildings in the city centre after 1870. From 1874 onwards, a government office and other modern institutions such as a city hall, the government house (vali konağı) a prison, a revenue hall, and a military building were constructed in Gül quarter. Additionally, a clock tower, a hospital, a telegraph office and a bank were built in the city but these buildings have not survived to the present day. While the traditional city centre of Mardin consisted of a commercial area, developed around the Great Mosque, with the construction of the new administrative buildings in Gül quarter, Mardin began to have two centres. One is the old commercial area in the central part of the city and the other is the new administrative centre in the northern part of the city. These governmental and municipal buildings display, interiors and façade arrangements typical of the era. They are generally one or two storey rectangular buildings organized around a central corridor, covered by a flat ceiling or a cross vault. Ground plans of the buildings were most probably sent from Istanbul but the architects and stonemasons were local.

As a result of changes in the structure of the military in the late Ottoman period, many military barracks were constructed throughout the empire.     The Hamidiye Barracks, built in Mardin in 1891, consist of a symmetrical, rectangular two-storey building covered with cross vaults. Its portal has a striking decoration. The frizes framing the archivolt of the barracks are composed of palmette motifs and the rectangular bands enclosing the segmental arched door are comprised of vine scrolls.

The Reform Edict of 1856 permitted non-Muslim subjects to construct new religious buildings. Previously, religious minorities merely had the right to restore their churches according to their original plans but were prohibited from adding new parts to existing structures or building an entirely new church. Thus, immediately after the Reform Edict of 1856, the non-Muslim subjects of Mardin, both Armenians and Syrians, began to construct religious buildings such as churches, monasteries and patriarchal palaces. With the exception of Syrian Protestant Church (1904), all the surviving churhes, such as Virgin Mary Church (1860), Mar Efrem Monastery Church (1884), Surp Hovsep Church (1894), and Church of Mar Petrus and Pavlus (1914) display a three-aisled basilical plan. The number of columns in each row separating the naves varies according to the size of the church. Ogive cross vaults are used to cover the interior spaces. The windows and doorways of the churches have common decorative features. The churches have elaborately decorated plain multifoil arches of the kind that have been used in the region for centuries. The façade arrangment of the church and patriarchal palace of 19th century Mardin have symmetrical façades with round arch windows with keystones arranged in pairs as well as pedimented windows and porticoes.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, examples of the finest masonry begin to appear in residential architecture. Around twenty mansions belonging to influencial and wealthy families, as well as numerous other houses, were constructed or reconstructed in this era. These influencial and wealthy families included notables, tradesmen, artisans, and most importantly aristocratic and tribal families, both Muslim and non-Muslim, who were elected to serve in the councils and assemblies to govern the city. Their prosperity is reflected in the houses they built for themselves. Houses in Mardin are constructed with one, two, three or four storeys, and the houses are placed in ranges one above the other to conform to the steep topography of the city. The typical elements of these houses include general living spaces, courts, iwans arcades, terraces and porticos. The domestic living spaces are typically laid out on a square, rectangular, L-form, or T-form plan. Southern façades which face the Mardin plain are the most decorated elements of the houses. The niches, which enclose the windows and portals are embellished with flamboyant foliate and geometric motifs. Arch forms vary as segmental, pointed, round, trilobed, multifoil, and basket arches. Oriel windows are present in some cases.

Ottoman buildings of the 19th century in Mardin display different features in accordance with their individual functions and situations, the desires of the employers and the attitudes of the architects. Despite such variations, the buildings posses a number of common features. Some buildings in Mardin illustrate novel styles with a European influence, including several examples of neo-classic, one neo-gothic. These new styles were adopted and applied alongside traditional arabesque forms with vegetal and geometric patterns that had been used for centuries by the Muslim and Christian communities of the region.





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