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Mosque by David Macaulay


Rating: (Recommended)


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Fine illustration and lucid text combine to present another fine collectable treasure book from the talented David Macaulay: Mosque. Readers of all ages will find something to observe and to learn on these pages. Here’s an excerpt from page 7, the Introduction:

By the middle of the sixteenth century, the Ottomans had built the largest Muslim empire in the world. With superior forces on land and sea, a series of sultans had extended its borders from Algiers in the west to Baghdad in the east, from the outskirts of Vienna in the north to beyond Mecca in the south. With the establishment of military dominance came the inevitable building of trade and cultural links, and with these spread the message of Islam and its five pillars—faith, prayer, charity, fasting, and pilgrimage.

One indication of the empire’s unrivaled power was the phenomenal wealth that found its way into the sultans’ treasury as well as into the pockets of Istanbul’s most influential citizens. For these individuals, however, adherence to the principle of charity was further encouraged by laws that prevented the bequeathing of one’s entire fortune to one’s children. It became a well-established practice, therefore, for the richest members of society to endow charitable foundations to channel their personal wealth into a variety of religious, educational, social, and civic activities. In addition to a new mosque, these foundations would require a number of specific buildings all grouped into an architectural Complex called a kulliye.

All of the great Ottoman buildings of the second half of the sixteenth century either were mosques or belonged to their adjacent kulliyes. Remarkably, most of these buildings were the work of one man, an engineer and architect named Sinan. As chief court architect for almost fifty years, Sinan, along with his assistants, designed and oversaw the construction of buildings, bridges, and aqueducts all across the empire. By the time of his death at the age of one hundred, he had personally served as architect for some three hundred structures in Istanbul alone.

By Sinan’s time, the basic form of the Ottoman mosque was well established. It consisted of an open prayer hall—ideally a perfect cube covered by an equally perfect hemisphere-shaped dome, a covered portico, an arcaded courtyard similar in area to the prayer hail itself, a fountain, and a slender minaret (usually more than one if the mosque was built by royalty). Over time the domed cube became the standard form for all the buildings of a kulliye, regardless of their function.

While the high domes and minarets of the various mosques of Istanbul served as beacons for those wishing to pray or simply to find temporary refuge from the chaos of city life, the countless rows of smaller domes belonging to the kulliyes must have provided a reassuring sense of order in the midst of an often disorienting maze of crooked streets and disappearing alleys.

Readers who enjoyed his many earlier books: Castle, Cathedral, City, Mill, and Pyramid, will want to add Mosque to your collection.

Steve Hopkins, May 25, 2004


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the June 2004 issue of Executive Times

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