Why Ottoman Architecture? A Research Journey

Written by: Patricia Blessing


Architecture and Material Politics in the Fifteenth-century Ottoman Empire stems from my research on Ottoman architecture, which I began in summer 2014, shortly before the publication of my first book, Rebuilding Anatolia after the Mongol Conquest. That book addresses buildings located in Turkey, which were built for Muslim patrons in the second half of the thirteenth century, and in the early fourteenth century. In that period, large parts of central and eastern Anatolia came under the rule of the Mongol Empire, which had spread from Central Asia to the Middle East. While I was working on the later chapters for that book, which discuss the period from 1280 to 1330, I had to think more and more about the emergence of Ottoman architecture during those same decades and beyond. As I was getting ready to start on a new research project after completing and publishing my PhD dissertation, Ottoman architecture in the early centuries of this long-lived dynasty became what I wanted to focus on. Of course, projects always change and shift focus as research progresses. In this particular case, I moved from considering the early fourteenth century to the fifteenth century. There were a few reasons for this. First and foremost, scholars such as Suna Çağaptay, Robert Ousterhout, and Oya Pancaroğlu had published excellent reassessments of fourteenth-century Ottoman architecture, in particular of its relationship to Byzantine architecture. Second, for the fifteenth century, the transformation of Constantinople/ Istanbul from the capital of the Byzantine Empire to that of the Ottomans had been very thoroughly studied, most recently in Çiğdem Kafescioğlu’s wonderful book Constantinopolis/ Istanbul, published in 2009, and also in Gülru Necipoğlu’s work on Mehmed the Conqueror’s patronage. There are also focused studies on the two other Ottoman capitals, Bursa and Edirne, as well as extensive surveys of Ottoman architecture such as Ekrem Hakkı Ayverdi’s multi-volume publication covering buildings from the early fourteenth to the early sixteenth century. The more I worked on my research, the more I became interested in understanding the “big picture” of the fifteenth century, before and after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Eventually, this turned into a “long fifteenth-century” study, which includes monuments built between c. 1380 and 1510. In terms of geography, I included monuments that are today located in Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia but also travelled to Albania, Bosnia, and Kosovo. A final research trip was supposed to happen in summer 2020, but that was not possible due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Not knowing how long that would take to resolve, and being pregnant with my daughter, I decided to move ahead with the manuscript and complete the book. So, the pandemic does in some ways affect the book that readers have in front of them, but really in a matter of details rather than argument. Right now, I am in Turkey to start fieldwork for my next project, and to finalize research for an architecture on Ottoman wall paintings.

Architecture and Material Politics in the Fifteenth-century Ottoman Empire by Patricia Blessing
Architecture and Material Politics in the Fifteenth-century Ottoman Empire by Patricia Blessing

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About the Author: Patricia Blessing

Patricia Blessing is Assistant Professor of Art History at Princeton University. A scholar of Islamic architecture in the eastern Mediterranean, Iberian Peninsula, and Iran, she is the author of Rebuilding Anatolia after the Mongol Conquest....

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