If I have learned one thing through prep for the trip to Turkey, the actual travel there, and my beginning reflections on the experience, is how inadequate my understanding of the region’s history is. Most of what I know about Turkey–and I suspect this is true of many people educated in the US–is those parts of the story that conveniently rub up against the grand Western narrative. Even so, the great mosques of the Ottoman Empire present a particular problem for architectural historians, since they don’t fit super-neatly into that narrative and require a detour of sorts–although that detour is eased by the association of the Sinan tradition with Justinian’s great cathedral, Hagia Sophia. But even that link is wobbly, since there is little sense of what was going on, architecturally, with the spread of Islam before that time–at least through a majority of texts (aside from those that, more or less elegantly, squeeze those early hypostyle plans into the story). So it was important, and helpful, to first study the Ottoman mosques before the Conquest of 1453, and better yet, to be able to walk in and around these great buildings that non-specialist architectural history has forgotten (or just ignored). On our way back to the hotel from dinner one night we stopped in at the Bursa Grand Mosque (Ulu Cami), finished just before the year 1400. It’s a massive hulking thing, with huge piers supporting twenty domes of equal dimension. Its connection to the even earlier Seljuk tradition became apparent later in our travels. But also it was not hard, in this dim and heavy place, to really understand what it must have been like for the conquerors of Constantinople to come upon Hagia Sophia and see a whole new opportunity for architectural grandeur that is clearly affecting to a broad portion of humanity, regardless of creed, nationality, or chronology, for that matter.
Lengthening the Short Story