As always, Macaulay has given a great deal of attention to the relationship between pictures and text, creating another brilliant celebration of an architectural wonder.
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Admiral Suha Mehmet Pasa had done well by war. For more than thirty years his successful naval campaigns had made him a highly respected member of the Ottoman aristocracy, a favorite of two sultans, and a very rich man. For most of his life his eyes were firmly fixed on the borders of the empire he worked so valiantly to protect. But as another decade slipped away, he found himself confronting less familiar boundaries — those of his own mortality. As a devout Muslim, the admiral understood that all the blessings and riches that had been showered upon him were not due to his own efforts as much as to the will of God. As he plucked fruit from the trees of his beloved garden and listened to the laughter and shouts of his youngest children, he decided that the time had come to demonstrate both his faith and his gratitude in the way that had become traditional for a man of his standing. His last campaign would be undertaken on dry land and its goal would be the creation of a charitable foundation.
So it was that one October day in the year 1595, a senior member of Sultan Mehmet III's Corps of Court Architects named Akif Agha was summoned to the admiral's home. The two men met in the garden and over glasses of sweet tea talked about old battles — Agha too had been a soldier in his younger days — favorite trees, and eventually architecture. When Agha left that afternoon, he carried with him a list of the buildings that would house the activities of the admiral's proposed foundation. In addition to a mosque, with its nearby turbe or tomb, the complex would include a medrese, a college for religious education; an imaret, a soup kitchen for the preparation and serving of food; a hamam for public bathing; and a cesme, a public fountain providing fresh drinking water.
The spiritual centerpiece of the entire complex was the mosque, and the heart of the mosque was its prayer hall. It was with the design of this space in which the faithful would gather that Akif Agha began. There were a number of absolute requirements, the most important of which was that the front wall, or kibla wall, of this room must face Mecca. When praying, the congregation would assemble in rows parallel to and facing the kibla wall and in turn the holy city and its most important shrine, the Kaaba. At floor level in the center of the kibla wall was the mihrab — a niche symbolizing the entrance to paradise. It was from in front of the mihrab that the imam would lead the congregation in prayer. The kibla itself is an imaginary line that points toward and radiates from Mecca. The kibla wall was placed perpendicular to the kibla, and the mihrab stood right on top of it.
Directly opposite the mihrab was the portal — the main entrance to the prayer hall. Protecting the portal outside and providing covered space for latecomers to Friday services was a high portico, and beyond it an arcaded courtyard. In the center of the courtyard stood the sadirvan — the fountain at which the faithful would wash their hands and feet before entering the prayer hall. Like the mihrab, the main portal and the sadirvan also stood on the kibla.
The last and, next to the dome, the most recognizable element of the mosque was the tall minaret, from which the faithful would be called to prayer five times a day. It would rise from behind the portico at the northwest corner of the prayer hall.
For Akif Agha and his fellow architects and builders, there was no separation between architecture and engineering. He often reminded his young apprentices that when designing a mosque it was necessary to think from the ground up and from the top down at the same time. There were two basic problems, both of which involved the use of the dome. The first was one of geometry. How does one support a circular roof over a square room without filling the space with walls or columns? The solution that had evolved over the years was a system of piers and arches. The piers were placed either in the corners or around the perimeter of the square, and the arches tied them together. Not only did this arrangement create a suitable base for the dome above, but the space below the arches remained open and unobstructed.
The second problem was one of structure. Because of the dome's hemispherical shape, there are hidden forces within it trying to push the sides outward. While piers and arches could easily be designed to support the great weight of a masonry dome, they could not, on their own, counteract its self-destructive tendencies.
Architects reduced some of these forces by strengthening the sides of the dome, where it was most vulnerable. Then, to channel the remaining forces safely down through the piers and walls to the foundations below, they added extra weight to the tops of the piers and buttressed the arches with a symmetrical arrangement of semidomes.
Much of the design of the admiral's mosque was based on tradition, and all of it was heavily influenced by the work of the late Sinan — once Agha's teacher as well as the former head of the Corps of Court Architects. No matter what shape the perimeter of the prayer hall ultimately took, the space at its center would remain an open square defined by the eight piers supporting the dome. To draw more attention to the mihrab, Agha set it into its own bay, which he pushed out from the central space. Then, to give as many worshipers as possible access to the kibla wall, he extended it beyond both sides of the central square. He provided raised galleries along both sidewalls — one of them for women — and a third at the rear of the prayer hall for the muezzins who would chant the words of the Koran. This mosque was to be large enough to accommodate Friday services, certainly the most important religious gathering of the week and probably the most important secular one too. The sermons at these services would be delivered from the second to last step of a high pulpit called a minber. The traditional placement of the minber was to one side of the mihrab or, in this case, the mihrab bay.
The design Agha finally presented to the admiral in January of 1596 called for a prayer hall seventy feet wide and fifty-six feet deep. The dome would be forty-two feet in diameter and its crest would stand sixty-three feet above the floor. The open courtyard space within the colonnade was roughly equal to the area of the prayer hall, and the minaret would rise to a height of one hundred ten feet. With their patron's enthusiastic approval and encouragement, Agha and his staff immediately began the detailed planning.
By early spring, negotiations had been concluded for a site that fulfilled all of the admiral's wishes. In addition to being obtained for a good price, it was blessed with an excellent view of the harbor and benefited from the steady breezes on which his ships had so often set sail. Not everyone shared His Excellency's nostalgia for breezes, however. All too often, these very same winds would fan small fires into raging infernos such as the one that less than ten years earlier had reduced this entire neighborhood to rubble and left its population in despair.
To oversee the day-in, day-out activities at the site, Agha hired a man named Huseyin Bey to serve as the superintendent of building. Bey soon had gangs of unskilled laborers clearing the site and digging foundation trenches for the wall that would enclose both the mosque and the medrese in a single precinct. He also set aside a space near one of the entrances to this precinct for toilets and assigned temporary areas to each of the building trades for their work sheds and supplies.
Since relatively few large building projects were under way at the time, Agha had little trouble finding the necessary workers. At least half of them would be skilled craftsmen and artists, and half of this group, particularly the bricklayers and blacksmiths, would most likely be Christians. Most of the stonemasons, carpenters, roofers, and window makers would be Muslims. Hundreds of additional skilled and unskilled laborers, boatmen, wagon drivers, night watchmen, storekeepers, and porters, would also be hired. More than a thousand workers would be employed on and around the site at any given time and, to take advantage of the long summer days, that number would most certainly increase.
Early on the morning of June 5, 1596, surveyors established the placement of the kibla wall and marked it on the site with wooden stakes. They then carefully transferred Agha's plan from the paper on which it was drawn to the ground itself. Less than a week later, excavation of the deep trenches for the foundations of the prayer hall was begun. Although the admiral would occasionally express frustration with the length of time being spent on foundations that no one would ever see, Agha assured him that in a city such as Istanbul, with its long history of earthquakes, the quality of these buried walls was every bit as important as that of the walls they would support aboveground. If the admiral couldn't refute the logic of Agha's preparations, he could at least speed them up. He assigned several hundred galley slaves from a nearby garrison to help dig the trenches. Once a reliable surface had been reached, a thick level base of rubble and cement was then created, upon which the foundation walls would be built.
Two blocks away from the main site, near an existing well, another group of workers was digging the foundations for the hamam. The admiral had decided that the baths should be completed as soon as possible for the use of his workers. The bathhouse Agha designed followed the sequence first established in ancient times in which bathers moved from cold room to warm room to hot room. In the cold room, they would undress and relax, perhaps sipping coffee or mineral water before bathing. A fountain in the center of the room would fill the air with its soothing sound. The actual cleansing process began in the warm room and continued in the hot room, where bathers could either wash at one of the basins or simply sweat while reclining on a large heated marble platform. Those wishing to submit their bodies to the most concentrated heat would sit in one of the enclosed areas at each corner of the hot room.
The floor beneath the warm room and the hot room was to be supported above a shallow open space called a hypocaust. Hot gases from the adjacent furnace would pass through this space on the way to flues buried in the walls. An array of small chimneys on the roof could be opened or closed to regulate the flow of these gases, thereby raising or lowering the temperature of the rooms below. Hot water and steam from the boiler above the furnace was to be piped into the hot room.
During the months it would take to complete both sets of foundations, Agha and his assistants spent much of their time estimating the quantities of the various building materials required, locating adequate sources, and establishing firm and acceptable prices. Only by careful planning early on could they hope to stay within the high but not infinite budget the admiral had set aside or avoid running out of a particular material at any point in process.
The most important building material was high-quality stone, much of which would come from a large quarry near the western city of Edirne. Gangs of quarrymen first pried great slabs off the cliff face and then divided them into smaller pieces. Stonecutters next chiseled these irregular lumps into rough rectangular blocks that were then loaded on carts for the 140-mile-long journey to Istanbul. Once they reached the site, these blocks would be cut to their final dimensions and dressed by master masons and their apprentices.
Another important building material was brick, much of which came from the nearby brickyard at Haskoy. There groups of men carefully mixed precise quantities of washed sand and clay, which was then carted over to one of the sheds, where skilled craftsmen molded it into bricks of various shapes and sizes. Every available piece of ground was covered by rows of wet bricks drying in the sun. After three days, these same bricks would be baked in one of the large kilns for three more days. Those to be used in the construction of walls were larger and somewhat heavier than those being produced for the domes.
By November, the streets between the site and the harbor were often impassable as one cartload of material after another slowly wound its way up the hill. In addition to roughly shaped foundation blocks, which continued to arrive from the quarries of Kadikoy, there were shipments of fine stone from Edirne, long, straight tree trunks from the forests around the Black Sea, and lime from local kilns for making mortar and cement.
In December, traffic throughout the city was considerably hampered by layers of snow and ice. Construction of the foundations came to a complete standstill as below-freezing temperatures made it impossible to mix reliable concrete or mortar. Throughout the winter months work continued in the sheds and workshops as masons prepared thousands of squarecut stone blocks for the walls as well as marble capitals and bases for the tops and bottoms of various columns.
Jewish merchants, whose shops and offices were located along the narrow streets near the harbor, maintained a steady supply of ore from the provinces beyond Edirne. Blacksmiths working all around the city turned this ore into the thousands of connectors that would be needed to strengthen the masonry walls.
In a factory behind one such forge, workers assembled pieces of cut wrought iron into the grilles that would secure the window openings around the lower levels of the prayer hall. Sturdy rods were fastened together using specially made connectors called knots.
It wasn't until early March that work resumed on the foundations. But by that time, Bey had things so well organized that no sooner did a shipment of stone arrive on the site than it was quickly swallowed up by the waiting trenches.
By June 24 the foundations were finished. To the admiral's great delight, the future locations of each wall, pier, and column were now plainly visible. He was on hand early one morning for the ceremonial orienting of the mihrab on the foundations of the kibla wall. A ram was sacrificed and its blood was placed at each corner of the prayer hall. To express his gratitude, Suha Mehmet Pasa personally distributed presents to some of the foremen.
Over the summer, the walls of the prayer hall rose in one continuous ring, climbing steadily toward the base of the great dome. They were faced inside and out with carefully cut stone, which the masons tied together with iron clamps and bars. To strengthen the walls further, vertical rods were inserted to bind each layer of stone to the one above it. The cavity between the inner and outer faces was filled with rabble and cement.
When the walls reached the tops of the window openings, the iron grilles were fixed in place. At the base of each opening, carpenters first erected a sturdy wooden bench upon which a grille and its surrounding stone frame were fitted together. The entire bench was then tipped upward, guiding the completed assembly into place.
Using a temporary wooden frame called a centering, masons next built an arch over every window and door opening to deflect the weight safely down to the sides. As the walls rose higher and higher, scaffolding was erected along both sides to support work platforms.
By autumn, the seven bays of the portico were beginning to take shape. Since the primary purpose of the portico was to give latecomers to Friday services an appropriate place to pray, Agha had called for two niches to be built into the walls, one on each side of the portal. These would repeat the form and orientation of the mihrab. At one end of the portico, a small door opened onto a stairway leading to the women's gallery. A similar door at the opposite end led to the spiral staircase of the minaret. With its own built-in stairway, most of the minaret could be constructed without scaffolding in spite of its great height.
Four ancient marble columns, unearthed by workers digging the foundations of the hamam, were trimmed and set onto their newly carved bases. Each would support three arches. The columns at each end of the portico had to be built up in pieces since they also had to support the lower arches of the arcade that would surround the courtyard.
A carved marble capital was secured to the top of each column by a short iron rod. The connection between each column and capital was cushioned by a lead sheet and surrounded by a bronze ring. Once the capitals had been fastened to one another and to the walls with heavy iron tie rods, wooden centerings were hoisted into position, and the connecting arches were then built over them.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mosque"
Copyright © 2003 David Macaulay.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About the Author,
What People are Saying About This
"Macaulay offers an unusual, inspiring perspective into Islamic society that's removed from the charged headlines, and as in all his work, he conveys a contagious awe and wonder at the design and engineering feats that societies have accomplished."
Booklist, ALA, Starred Review
"As always, the level of visual detail is extraordinary; no less so is the explanation of the mosque's role at the center of the Muslim social and religious life." Publishers Weekly, Starred
"Moving methodically around the complex (a progression aided by the glossary in the back), the text and its superb accompanying drawings explain both the religious and structural underpinnings of the mosque... Magnificent." Kirkus Reviews, Starred
"While there are many books that introduce Islam and its major beliefs and practices to non-Muslim readers, this title provides both a less didactic and arguably more effective look at the religion by placing it within a social context, even one as relatively "cold" as architecture." School Library Journal, Starred
"Architecture and engineering enthusiasts who've reveled in Macaulay's meticulous renderings in CASTLE and CATHEDRAL and their like will applaud their guru's return to his widely respected oeuvre." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Starred
"'Mosque' is a superbly illustrated and technically engrossing explanation of how a great Turkish mosque complex would be built in about 1600." The New York Times Book Review
"Through a wonderful blend of architectual detail, historical information, and a fictionalized story, the labor put into designing, constructing, and completing a mosque is brought to life." VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)
"Macaulay uses a variety of media, delineating both broad vistas and particular details with pen-and-ink and wash while rendering construction scenes with a softer manipulation of line and color." Horn Book