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Magnificent Ornaments of a Special Place

Magnificent Ornaments of a Special Place

3 December 2022

Tile, one of our traditional arts, has been one of the most elegant ornaments used in architectural structures since ancient times. The tile adventure, which began with the conversion of the Karahanids to Islam, gained momentum with the Anatolian Seljuks. Tile art reached its peak in the 16th and 17th centuries when underglaze techniques were widely used.

Tiles that frequently decorated mosques and palaces during the Ottoman Empire also feature in the Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina. The Masjid al-Nabawi, which was very simple in the first stages of construction, partially preserved its modest structure during its first 80 years. The acquaintance with ornaments and mosaics dates back to the Umayyad period. In the time of Walid bin Abdulmalik, Masjid al-Nabawi was both expanded and importance was given to the ornamentation of the building. As part of this project, Caliph Walid contacted the Byzantine emperor and asked him for special masters. From Damascus, 40 large mosaic panels and 100 craftsmen were sent to the Masjid al-Nabawi to do this work.

After two major fires in 1256 and 1481, the Masjid al-Nabawi was extensively renovated. After these fires, the golden mosaics and priceless motifs of the past disappeared off the walls. Masjid al-Nabawi's introduction to tiles, one of the most beautiful examples of Ottoman aesthetics, coincided with the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent.

Sultan Suleiman demanded reports on Masjid al-Nabawi. As a result of these reports, the placement of tile panels in places other than the Mamluk marbles came to the agenda. Between 1532 and 1540, bright Damascus tiles were placed on the exterior walls of the Hücre-i Saadet. These tiles numbered approximately 250 and are known as the first tiles of the Masjid al-Nabawi.

The Ottoman sultans paid special attention to the maintenance, repair and beautification of the holy places. According to an archival document,  during the reign of Sultan Mehmed III, 124,649 gold coins were spent on the reconstruction of Masjid al-Nabawi. The production and installation of the second type of tiles of the Masjid al-Nabawi also coincides with this time.

The intensity of tiles in the Masjid al-Nabawi increased during the reign of Sultan  Ahmed Han I, and these specially produced tiles added a different aesthetic atmosphere to the blessed place. The most beautiful examples of the 16th and 17th century tiles, which are considered to be the pinnacle of Ottoman tiles, were produced in Madinah al-Munawwara during this period. These tile panels look exactly like the tiles produced for the Sultanahmet Mosque. While the tiles were being produced in Iznik, it is likely that the same panels were also sent to Masjid al-Nabawi. It is a known fact that Sultan Ahmed Khan was full of love for the Prophet Muhammad. While building a magnificent mosque in Istanbul, he did not neglect the Masjid al-Nabawi and sent the most beautiful tiles there.

On November 4, 1907, Istanbul was informed that the tiles in some parts of the Hücre-i Saadet and Masjid al-Nabawi needed to be renewed. A diagram of the existing tiles was drawn, and the amount of tiles needed was presented to the palace. According to archival documents, 5040 tiles were manufactured in Kutahya in a short period of time. These were the last tiles manufactured by the Ottomans for the Masjid al-Nabawi ('Arzın Hazineleri, Fatih Karaboğa, p.373-384).

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