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NIT Introduction Guide: Architectural Heritage of the Ottoman Balkans

You can find detailed information about Netherlands Institute in Turkey (NIT) in this guide.

Architectural Heritage of the Ottoman Balkans

This long-term research project, conducted by NIT research fellow Machiel Kiel, includes not only a full inventory of Ottoman architectural remains in southeastern Europe, but also archival research into the social and political aspects of the building programmes.

 

Kadin Most (Woman’s Bridge) Over the Struma near Kyustendil (W. Bulgaria), built in 1470 (H. 874) by Inegöllü Ishak Pasha.

 

Background

In 1353 the Ottoman Turks set foot on the shores of South-Eastern Europe after having served for more than half a century as mercenaries of the various warring Byzantine political fractions. This time they came to stay. In 1371 the outcome of the Battle on the Maritsa secured their hold. After this date they unfolded an impressive building activity. Within half a century the Ottomans developed their own style of architecture. By the end of their rule over the Balkans, in 1912, their total architectural output reached around 20.000 buildings: mosques, schools, baths, caravanserais, kitchens for the poor, castles, dervish convents, mighty bridges and monumental mausolea for the great military or spiritual leaders.

Many of the successor states of the disappeared empire (after 1878 or 1912) have had a troubled relationship with this architectural heritage. Not counting Bosnia, perhaps 98% of all existing Ottoman buildings have disappeared. The rich literature on Islamic architecture did not, or hardly, reach Balkan libraries and the history of Islamic art was not taught in any Balkan university.

 

Current Research

Forty years of field work in the Balkans combined with study in libraries all over Europe and the US, and especially the long years of research in the Ottoman archives has resulted in a vast fund of knowledge and documentation. The inventory of the still existing monuments of Ottoman architecture is now largely completed.

What still needs to be done is much work in the archives to find the original building orders or the accounts of the construction of them, preserved from about 1460 onward. The monuments have to be placed within their socio-economic and historical background. We still have to find the patterns of patronage, just as we have to reconstruct the population of town and villages to find out why Islamic buildings were erected there, and not elsewhere.

Here the Ottoman population-and taxation registers (tahrir defter) of the 15th until the early 17th century are of great help, giving population and production village by village, household by household. For the 17th and 18th century we have the very detailed Avariz defters, supplemented by the dzizye defters, that only give the non-Muslim population per district. The architectural legacy of the Ottoman Empire can only be understood when presented against its historical and socio-economic background.

Machiel Kiel published numerous books on the topic, as well as almost 200 studies and contributions to various encyclopaedias. His work appeared in English, French, German, Dutch, Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish and Albanian.

 

The Kiel Photographic Archive

The NIT carries out a project for the digitization and publication of the photographic archive of Machiel Kiel. Digital copies of photos made by Kiel from the 1960s onwards can be consulted through these webpages. It represents an invaluable source for researchers of this heritage. The archive also contains visual documentation of many monuments that have not survived, or have been significantly altered in, the second half of the twentieth century. For further information, please contact the curators of the archive, Dr. Grigor Boykov and Dr. Maximilian Hartmuth.