Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Salmatomruk, Fatih - İstanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°01'45.0"N 28°56'22.5"E / 41.029167, 28.939583

The Mosque lies in Istanbul, in the district of Fatih, in the neighborhood of Salmatomruk, not far from Edirnekapı (the ancient Gate of Charisius), more or less halfway between the Chora Church and the Fethiye Mosque, and about 100 m Southwest of the remains of the Odalar Mosque. The small mosque - enclosed in a garden with trees - lies between Koza Sokak and Kasım Odalar Sokak, and is surrounded by modern blocks.

Kasım Ağa Mosque (Turkish: Kasım Ağa Mescidi; also Kasım Bey Mescidi, where mescit is the Turkish word for a small mosque) is a former Byzantine building converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in Istanbul, Turkey. Neither surveying during the last restoration nor medieval sources have made it possible to find a satisfactory answer as to its origin and possible dedication.

It is probable that the small building was part of the Byzantine monastery whose main church was the building known in Ottoman Age as the Odalar Mosque, whose dedication is also uncertain. The edifice is a minor example of Byzantine architecture in Constantinople, and is important for historical reasons.


The building was erected on the top of the sixth hill of Constantinople, on a plateau which is limited by the open air Cistern of Aetios (now a football field) and by the unidentified Byzantine edifice denominated in Ottoman times as Boĝdan Saray. Nothing is known about the edifice in the Byzantine Age. Both usage and possible dedication of this building are unknown,  but it is probable that it was an annex of the monastery whose katholikon is the building known in the Ottoman Age as Odalar Mosque.

According to a member of the monastery, who flourished in the eleventh century, the House was founded by a monk named Bara in the reign of Anastasius I. (491-518) near an old half-ruined chapel dedicated to S. John the Baptist, in what was then a lonely quarter of the city, between the Gate of S. Romanus (Top Kapoussi) and Blachernae.

The monastery becomes conspicuous in the narratives of the Russian pilgrims to the shrines of the city, under the designation, the monastery of S. John, Rich-in-God, because the institution was unendowed and dependent upon the freewill offerings of the faithful, which 'by the grace of God and the care and prayers of John' were generous.

Thrice a year, on the festivals of the Baptist and at Easter, the public was admitted to the monastery and hospitably entertained. It seems to have suffered during the Latin occupation, for it is described in the reign of Andronicus II. as standing abandoned in a vineyard. But it was restored, and attracted visitors by the beauty of its mosaics and the sanctity of its relics.

In 1381 a patriarchal decision conferred upon the abbot the titles of archimandrite and protosyngellos, and gave him the third place in the order of precedence among the chiefs of the monasteries of the city, that thus the outward honours of the house might reflect the virtue and piety which adorned its inner life. Owing to the proximity of the house to the landward walls, it was one of the first shrines to become the spoil of the Turks on the 29th of May 1453, and was soon used as a quarry to furnish materials for new buildings after the conquest.

Gyllius visited the ruins, and mistaking the fabric for the church of S. John the Baptist at the Hebdomon, gave rise to the serious error of placing that suburb in this part of the city instead of at Makrikeui beside the Sea of Marmora. Gerlach describes the church as closed because near a mosque. Portions, however, of the monastic buildings and of the strong wall around them still survived, and eikons of celebrated saints still decorated the porch.

On an eikon of Christ the title of the monastery, Petra, was inscribed. Some of the old cells were then occupied by nuns, who were maintained by the charitable gifts of wealthy members of the Greek community. The water supply for this complex came without doubt from the nearby Ipek cistern. Anyway, at the time of the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the edifice was already in ruin. After the Conquest of Constantinople, a predominantly Christian population settled in the neighborhood around the building.

Despite that in 1506, under the reign of Sultan Bayezid II, a foundation endowed by Kasım bey bin Abdullah (possibly at that time Sekbanbaşı, that is, chief (Turkish: Agha of the Janissaries), had a small mosque erected on the ruins of the building. To the mosque were endowed several shops and plots of land nearby, among them also the still existent Byzantine cistern named Ipek Bodrum (Turkish: Silk Basement, named so because in the Ottoman Age the ample room was used as silk throwing workshop).

The small mosque was heavily damaged by the earthquake of 1894 and by the Salmatomruk fire on 2 July 1919, so that afterward only the perimeter walls and the base of the minaret were still standing. Subsequently abandoned, from the middle of the 20th century the edifice was used as a shanty, but in the 1970s it was fully restored and is now open for worship and a minaret was added in 1989, is not in its original cover.


The edifice has a square plan, with a northeast-southwest orientation. The Byzantine edifice was also roughly square in plan, with a single nave preceded by an atrium at NE and a projecting room on the east side. Due to its small dimensions, the building can hardly be identified as a church, but rather as an annex belonging to a monastery.

The analysis of the brickwork during the restoration showed different construction phases, and revealed that the foundations and the surviving walls were made of brick and stone. Moreover, the surveys show that during the conversion into a mosque in 1506 the atrium and the wall of the Mihrab had to be rebuilt. At the same time, a massive minaret was erected on the northeast side of the building.

The building is in two stories, and may be described as a chapel over a crypt. It points north-east, a peculiar orientation probably due to the adaptation of the chapel to the position of the residence with which it was associated. The masonry is very fine and regular, built in courses of squared stone alternating with four courses of brick, all laid in thick mortar joints, and pierced with numerous putlog holes running through the walls.

 It presents a striking likeness to the masonry in the fortifications of the city. The lower story is an oblong hall covered with a barrel vault, and terminates in an arch and apse. In the west side of one of the jambs of the arch is a small niche. The vault for one-third of its height is formed by three courses of stone laid horizontally and cut to the circle; above this it is of brick with radiating joints. Here cows are kept.

The upper story is m 3.75 above the present level of the ground. It is a single hall m 8.80 in length and m 3.70 wide, terminating in a bema and a circular apse in brick. Over the bema is a barrel vault. A dome, without drum or windows, resting on two shallow flat arches in the lateral walls and two deep transverse arches strengthened by a second order of arches, covers the building.

In the wall towards the north-west there is a window between two low niches; and a similar arrangement is seen in the opposite wall, except that the door which communicated with the residence occupies the place of the window. The apsidal chambers, usual in a church, are here represented by two niches in the bema. Externally the apse shows five sides, and is decorated by a flat niche pierced by a single light in the central side, and a blind concave niche, with head of patterned brickwork, in the two adjacent sides.

The dome, apse, vaults, and transverse arches are in brick, laid in true radiating courses. The absence of windows in the dome is an unusual feature, which occurs also in the angle domes of S. Theodosia. The pendentives are in horizontal courses, corbelled out to the centre, and at each angle of the pendentives is embedded an earthenware jar, either for the sake of lightness, or to improve, as some think, the acoustics of the building. This story of the chapel is used as a hayloft.

A careful survey of the building shows clearly that the domical character of the chapel is not original, and that the structure when first erected was a simple hall covered with a wooden roof. Both the shallow wall arches and the deep transverse arches under the dome are insertions in the walls of an older fabric. They are not supported on pilasters, as is the practice elsewhere, but rest on corbels, and, in order to accommodate these corbels, the lateral niches, originally of the same height as the central window, have been reduced in height.

A fragment of the original arch still remains, cut into by the wall arch of the dome. The flat secondary arches crossing the chapel at each end are similarly supported on corbels. This view is confirmed by the examination of the plaster left upon the walls. That plaster has four distinct coats or layers, upon all of which eikons in tempera are painted.

The innermost coat is laid between the transverse dome arches and the walls against which they are built. Those arches, therefore, could not have formed parts of the building when the first coat of plaster was laid, but must be later additions. In keeping with this fact, the second coat of painted plaster is found laid both on the arches and on those portions of the old work which the arches did not cover.

The secondary arches under the transverse arches at each end belong to a yet later period, for where they have separated from the arches above them, decorated plaster, which at one time formed part of the general ornamentation of the building, is exposed to view. At this stage in the history of the chapel the third coat of plaster was spread over the walls, thus giving three coats on the oldest parts where unaltered - two coats on the first alterations, and one coat on the second alterations. The fourth coat of plaster is still later, marking some less serious repair of the chapel.

The voussoirs of the lateral dome arches should be noticed. They do not radiate to the centre, but are laid flatter and radiate to a point above the centre. This form of construction, occurring frequently in Byzantine arches, is regarded by some authorities as a method of forming an arch without centering. But in the case of the lateral wall arches before us it occurs where centering could never have been required; while the apse arch, where centering would have had structural value, is formed with true radiating voussoirs.

The failure of the voussoirs to radiate to the centre therefore seems to be simply the result of using untapered voussoirs in which the arch form must be obtained by wedge-shaped joints. For if these joints are carelessly formed, the crown may very well be reached before the requisite amount of radiation has been obtained. On the other hand, if full centering had been used, we should expect to find marks of the centering boards on the mortar in the enormously thick joints.

But neither here nor in any instance where the jointing was visible have such marks been found. Still, when we consider the large amount of mortar employed in Byzantine work, it seems impossible that greater distortions than we actually meet with in Byzantine edifices would not have occurred, even during the building, had no support whatever been given. It seems, therefore, safe to assume the use of at any rate light scaffolding and centering to all Byzantine arches.


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