Church, Mosque, Museum
contribution by Jessica Cebra
| Fethiye Camii, Istanbul, 1957: South wall of the main vaulted space showing rounded arch added in the Ottoman period. Photo by the Byzantine Institute (MSBZ004-H57.915)|
The numerous architectural reconstructions and renovations in Istanbul today often raise several questions in regards to historic preservation. And while previous essays featured on stambouline have primarily focused on Ottoman monuments, many Byzantine sites have suffered similar fates of so-called “preservation” or “renewal,” most recently the Zeyrek Camii (Pantocrator Monastery) and the Tekfur Sarayi (Palace of Porfyrogennitos) in the Fatih neighborhood. Both monuments have undergone costly restorations, sacrificing historical accuracy in favor of commercial development and promoting cultural narratives tailored for the current government’s political agenda. Preservation of architectural heritage is inevitably challenging when a building has possessed various identities and has served many functions and communities over time. Depending on which life of a building one wishes to revive, a building can be altered, renovated, or restored many different ways. Though many of the recent reconstructions are favorable over utter demolition, they clearly lack the acknowledgement and use of resources and scholarship that are available to accomplish more historically accurate preservation. The suppression or destruction of certain cultural characteristics and the emphasis and preservation of others has been part of an ongoing reclamation of history between modern Greek and neo-Ottomanist narratives in the heritage preservation landscape of Istanbul.
| Byzantine Institute Staff and Thomas |
Whittemore restoring the mosaics at Hagia
Sophia, 1936. Photo by the Byzantine Institute
| Fethiye Camii, 1948: Fieldworker exposing |
a fragment of mosaic from beneath the white
plaster. Photo by the Byzantine Institute
 Fethiye Camii: Arch between south arm and
southeast bay of the Parakklesion, south soffit.
A Mosaic of Saint Blasius can be seen partially
uncovered. Photo by the Byzantine Institute
(MSBZ004-H58.361)The Byzantine Institute operated between a Boston office, their Paris library, and Istanbul fieldwork sites. One of their most notable and well-known accomplishments was the mosaic preservation at Hagia Sophia in the 1930s-1950s. After Whittemore’s passing in 1950, the Byzantine Institute’s fieldwork projects continued under the direction and supervision of Dumbarton Oaks staff in Washington, DC, and expanded to other areas of Turkey as well as Cyprus, Macedonia and Syria. In addition to the meticulous work of their fieldworkers and conservators, the Byzantine Institute was prolific in their documentation. Field notebooks, drawings, tracings, films and countless photographs fill the organizations archive at Dumbarton Oaks. The photographs are especially unique and invaluable because they not only document the Byzantine art and architecture that was being preserved, but also capture the processes and techniques of a relatively new realm of conservation, that of Byzantine mosaics [Figs. 3 & 4]. These photographs also stand as proof of the diligence that the Institute exercised in capturing the buildings and spaces as they were found, documenting the Ottoman architectural additions and alterations, plastered-over walls, and mosque furnishings and decorations.
| Exterior view from southwest, Fethiye Camii; Left, before restoration, 1937 (PHBZ010-ICFA.NA.0148); Right, after restoration, 1938 (PHBZ010-ICFA.NA.0252). Photos by Nicholas V. Artamonoff.|
| Exterior view from east, Fethiye Camii, 1948:|
Byzantine-era south chapel (parekklesion) apse
to the left, Ottoman-era apse to the right. by
the Byzantine Institute (MSBZ004-FC-2008-4)
The Fethiye Camii (Monastery of Theotokos Pammakaristos) is one of the Comnenian era, or 11th-12th-century, structures that the Byzantine Institute focused on between 1949-1963. The building had undergone a previous renovation in 1937-1938 [Fig.5], but was in much need of internal structural restoration to bring it more closely to its original Byzantine design, which was greatly modified from the 16th-18th centuries after the Ottomans converted it into a mosque in 1586. Though the main church structure was to remain a functioning mosque with the Ottoman-era apse kept intact [Fig.6], the parekklesion, or south chapel, which had exceptional remains of 14th-century mosaic decoration, was to become a museum.
| Plan of the Fethiye Camii, illustrating |
the alterations made over time including
the Ottoman additions. After Hawkins
and Mango, 1964.
As it stands now, the mosque interior in the main prayer space doesn't look much different from a series of photographs taken in 1957, when the walls had been uncovered and photographed [Fig. 8, see Fig. 1]. They were quickly plastered back over in 1960.
| Fethiye Camii, 1957: Left, mihrab in the Ottoman apse of the main church structure, looking southeast (MSBZ004-H57.897); right, main vaulted space, looking west from apse (MSBZ004-H57.904). Photo by the Byzantine Institute.|
| Fethiye Camii: Parekklesion, interior looking|
north, before restoration. Photo by the Byzantine
| Fethiye Camii: Parekklesion, interior looking north; Left, during restoration (MSBZ004-H63-259); Right, after restoration (MSBZ004-FC-55-63-5). Photo by the Byzantine Institute.|
| Kariye Camii, Istanbul, 1937: Nave, view towards apse before mosque was secularized (PHBZ010-ICFA.NA.0133). Photo by Nicholas V. Artamonoff.|
| Kariye Camii: Left, parekklesion, view towards east, 1951 (MSBZ004-K604-51-158); Right, fieldworker Constantine Tsaousis conserving a section of wall painting on the south wall, 1957 (MSBZ004-K604-57-154). Photo by the Byzantine Institute.|
Fieldwork was temporarily halted after September 6, 1955 due to the riots and violence in Istanbul against the Greek community, instigated by rumors that a Turkish consulate in Greece was set aflame. Fieldwork staff corresponded with Dumbarton Oaks Director John Thacher and described the horrific events:
I’ve just returned this morning from an inspection of the places where we are working after a terrible night in which all Greek and other minority shops were destroyed, many Greek houses terribly damaged and their goods thrown out into the streets, many Greek churches burned… I was terribly relieved to see that Kariye had not suffered and that Pammakaristos was also spared. I have asked the director of Ayasofya to send another guard to sleep at Kariye tonight.
| Kariye Camii, ca. 1950s: Fieldworkers replacing |
wall reinforcements (MSBZ004-BF.S.1991.0246).
Photo by Carroll Wales.
| Front facade of the Kariye Camii, ca. 1950s: The minaret is under repair (MSBZ004-BF.S.1991.0243). Photo by Carroll Wales.|
| Kariye Camii, 1958: Fieldworker bringing the dome|
or minaret finial back to its original brilliant shine, one
of the final touches before the museum opened
(MSBZ004-H58.143). Photo by the Byzantine Institute.
It was no coincidence that Thomas Whittemore, the founder and director of the Byzantine Institute, was also director of the Committee for the Education of Russian Youth in Exile. Being in Europe during World War I and in Russia from 1914 to 1918 and on later occasions, Whittemore witnessed human tragedy as well as the destruction of monuments. The unique position of the United States after World War I combined with Whittemore’s experience in Russian relief work, his archaeological activities, and his international contacts and influential friends were the factors that facilitated the development of the Byzantine Institute of America.The Kariye Camii and Fethiye Camii are still museums today under the jurisdiction of the Hagia Sophia Museum. The buildings and their decorations are still at risk due to the urban environmental conditions caused by an ever-expanding city, and the ravages of time. The photographs made by the Byzantine Institute document additional sites and artworks that are no longer accessible or no longer exist. The Image Collection and Fieldwork Archives at Dumbarton Oaks continues to make these images available online. The photographs of Fethiye Camii, Hagia Sophia, and other sites have already been made available here. The images of Kariye Camii will soon be added, and all of these photographs will eventually be viewable through Harvard's HOLLIS Images online database.
JESSICA CEBRA is departmental assistant in the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives (ICFA) at the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C.
Citation: "Church, Mosque, Museum: The Byzantine Institute and Preserving the Fethiye and Kariye Camii in Istanbul," Jessica Cebra, Stambouline (September 10, 2017). http://www.stambouline.com/2017/09/church-mosque-museum.html
Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C.
-MS.BZ.004 The Byzantine Institute and Dumbarton Oaks Fieldwork Records and Papers, ca. late 1920s-2000s
-PH.BZ.010 Nicholas V. Artamonoff Photographs of Istanbul and Turkey, 1935-1945
Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.
-Oral history interview with Carroll F. Wales, 1992 November 10-1993 February 11
Belting, Hans, Cyril A. Mango, and Doula Mouriki. The Mosaics and Frescoes of St. Mary Pammakaristos (Fethiye Camii) at Istanbul. Dumbarton Oaks Studies 15. Locust Valley, N.Y: Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, 1978.
Holger A. Klein, Robert G. Ousterhout, Brigitte Pitarakis. Kariye: From Theodore Metochites to Thomas Whittemore: One monument, Two Monumental Personalities. Istanbul: Pera Müzesi, 2007.
King, Charles. Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul. New York: W.W. Norton, 2014.
Mango, Cyril, and Ernest J. W. Hawkins. "Report on Field Work in Istanbul and Cyprus, 1962-1963." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964): 319-40.
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