Great Mosque (Ulu Cami)
Birgi, İzmir, Turkey
Hegira 712 / AD 1312–13 (the Minbar, hegira 722 / AD 1322–23)
Minbar master: Muzaffereddin bin Abdülvahid (Muzaffar al-Din bin ‘Abd al-Wahid).
Aydınoğlu Beylik (Emirate)
Aydınoğlu Mehmed Bey (r. AH 708–34 / AD 1308–34).
Mehmed Bey, founder of the Aydınoğlu Emirate, conquered the city of Birgi in AH 707 / AD 1308 and made it his capital. He ordered the Great Mosque (Ulu Cami) to be built in AH 712 / AH 1313. He died in AH 735 / AD 1335 and his tomb is located in the same courtyard as the mosque.
The Great Mosque of Birgi is one of the earliest buildings from the Aydınoğlu Emirate. It has a basilical plan with five aisles extending perpendicular to the mihrab wall, and the bay before the mihrab covered with a dome. The building materials include rubble, ashlar and marble blocks, and brick, of which the marble blocks in the east and south walls, as well as the lion sculpture in the south-east corner, are spolia. There are two rows of windows, and a marble portal in both the east and north walls. Each portal has an inscription. The minaret, contrary to custom, is built adjoining the west end of the qibla wall. Its cylindrical brick body rises from a cubical foundation clad in re-used marble blocks.
The prayer hall is rectangular, almost square. Five aisles extending perpendicular to the qibla wall are defined by pointed arches supported by columns. The columns and their capitals are spolia. The central aisle is wider and higher than the others. The prayer hall has a wooden roof that slopes down in two directions and which is covered with metal plates. The square area defined by arches in front of the mihrab is covered by a dome supported on pendentives. The mihrab niche in the middle of the south wall is rectangular. The entrance to the minaret is on the west end of the south wall.
The Great Mosque of Birgi has abundant decorative woodwork and tiling. The minaret is decorated in turquoise-glazed brick and unglazed brick, and tile mosaic. The mihrab features tile mosaics in aubergine-purple and turquoise; similar decoration is also found on the north arch of the domed bay in front of the mihrab.
The minbar and window shutters are important examples of 8th- / 14th-century woodwork. The minbar is made of walnut wood in the kündekari technique; its whole surface is densely decorated with geometric compositions of three-, five-, eight-, and ten-pointed stars and four-, six-, and eight-sided polygons, and each geometric motif is adorned with dense floral patterns. In addition, there are a number of inscriptions in Arabic, many with religious content. Three inscriptions providing the names of the patron and architect as well as the date of construction are found on the surface of the right side. According to them, the minbar was made in AH 722 / AD 1323 by a master named Muzaffereddin bin Abdülvahid. In 1995 the door-wings of the mihrab were stolen, only to be recovered as they were being sold at a London auction. The wooden shutters of the lower row of windows are also densely decorated. Made of walnut wood, they feature compositions of floral and geometric motifs. In addition, there are religious inscriptions.
The building has undergone various restorations and continues to serve as a place of worship.
The Great Mosque of Birgi, the first capital of the Aydın Emirate, was commissioned by Mehmed Bey, the founder of the emirate, who is buried in a mausoleum to the west. The mosque is a five-aisled basilica and the bay before the mihrab is covered with a dome. The tile mosaic mihrab follows the Anatolian Seljuq tradition and the minbar and window shutters are important examples of AH 8th- /AD 14th-century woodwork. The door-wings of the minbar were stolen in 1995 but fortunately were recovered at an auction in London and returned.
Two inscriptions found on the north and east portals provide similar information: according to them, the building was ordered to be built by Aydınoğlu Mehmed Bey in AH 712 / AD 1312–13. The inscription on the minbar indicates that it, too, was ordered to be built by Aydınoğlu Mehmed Bey in AH 722 / AD 1323.
Kuyulu, İ., “Birgi Ulu Cami [Birgi Great Mosque]”, Erken Osmanlı Sanatı, Beyliklerin Mirası, [Early Ottoman Art: The Legacy of the Emirates] Madrid, 1999, pp.71–2.
Oral, Z., “Anadolu'da Sanat Değeri Olan Ahşap Minberler, Kitabeleri ve Tarihçeleri [Anatolian Wooden Minbars of Artistic Value, Their Inscriptions and History]”, Vakıflar Dergisi, V (1962), pp.23–77.
Önkal, H., “Birgi Ulu Camii ve Selçuklu Geleneğiyle İlişkisi Üzerine [On the Birgi Great Mosque and Its relation with the Seljuq Tradition]”, I.-II. Milli Selçuklu Kültür ve Medeniyeti Semineri Bildirileri, [Proceedings of the First and Second National Seminars on Seljuq Culture and Civilisation] Konya, 1993, pp.51–5.
Önkal, H., “Birgi Ulu Camii Hakkında Bazı Mülahazalar [Some Observations on Birgi Great Mosque]”, 9. Milletlerarası Türk Sanatları Kongresi, Bildiriler, [Ninth International Congress of Turkish Art,] Vol. III, Ankara, 1995, pp.31–5.
Ünal, R. H., (ed) “Ulu Cami”, Birgi Tarihi, Tarihi Coğrafyası ve Türk Dönemi Anıtları [Birgi, Its History, Historical Geography and Turkish Monuments], Ankara, 2001, pp.59–79.
İnci Kuyulu Ersoy "Great Mosque (Ulu Cami)" in Discover Islamic Art, Museum With No Frontiers, 2020. 2020. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;tr;Mon01;12;en
Prepared by: İnci Kuyulu Ersoyİnci Kuyulu Ersoy
İnci Kuyulu Ersoy is Head of Western and Contemporary Art, Department of Art History, Faculty of Letters, Ege University, Izmir. She was born in Nazilli, Turkey, in 1957. She graduated from TED Ankara College in 1976 and from Hacettepe University, Social and Management Sciences Faculty, Department of History of Art in 1980. She received her MA in 1982 and her Ph.D. in 1989 from Ankara University, Faculty of Linguistics and History-Geography, Department of Art History.
She was appointed as research assistant to the Department of Art History, Ege University. She became assistant professor in 1989, associate professor in 1994 and full professor in 2000 at the same university. She is also Head of Turkish Art History at the Institute for Research on the Turkic World. She has researched and published widely on Turkish art.
Translation by: Barry WoodBarry Wood
Barry Wood is Curator (Islamic Gallery Project) in the Asian Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He studied history of art at Johns Hopkins University and history of Islamic art and architecture at Harvard University, from where he obtained his Ph.D. in 2002. He has taught at Harvard, Eastern Mediterranean University, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Courtauld Institute of Art. He has also worked at the Harvard University Art Museums and the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has published on topics ranging from Persian manuscripts to the history of exhibitions., İnci Türkoğluİnci Türkoğlu
İnci Türkoğlu has been working as a tourist guide and freelance consultant in tourism and publishing since 1993. She was born in Alaşehir, Turkey, in 1967. She graduated from the English Department of Bornova Anatolian High School in 1985 and lived in the USA for a year as an exchange student. She graduated from the Department of Electronic Engineering of the Faculty of Architecture and Engineering, Dokuz Eylül University, Izmir, and the professional tourist guide courses of the Ministry of Tourism in 1991. She worked as an engineer for a while. She graduated from the Department of Art History, Faculty of Letters, Ege University, Izmir, in 1997 with an undergraduate thesis entitled “Byzantine House Architecture in Western Anatolia”. She completed her Master's at the Byzantine Art branch of the same department in 2001 with a thesis entitled “Synagogue Architecture in Turkey from Antiquity to the Present”. She has published on art history and tourism.
Translation copyedited by: Mandi Gomez
MWNF Working Number: TR 18