On the Roof of the World

The 16th-century Atik Valide Mosque in Üsküdar was built as a tribute to the beautiful Venetian woman, captured by Barbarossa, who went on to dominate the Ottoman court. Godfrey Goodwin witnesses the skilful recladding of the mosque’s magnificent dome. Photographs by Simon Upton

  • Fifteen tons of lead rolled into sheets two millimetres thick, are used to clad the vast hemisphere of the Atik Valide Mosque

Before he designed St Paul’s Christopher Wren wrote to ‘Turkey’ North, then the most important English merchant in Istanbul, to ask how the Ottomans built their domes. North wrote back that lead should never be laid on wood but on ‘that earth from which it came’. Like all the work of Sinan, the supreme Ottoman architect, the domes of the Atik Valide Sultan Mosque above Üsküdar conformed to this rule. Once in a while, however, the lead must be relaid to withstand the ravishes of hail, crow and gull.

Originally the lead came from the mines of Anatolia. Lead ingots were melted down into moulds, much as children used to melt lead over an open fire to pour into moulds for toy soldiers. The somewhat larger moulds of the Ottomans produced sheets of lead a metre wide. These can be reused after melting down, but their bed has to be completely renewed in accordance with the ancient formula: a layer of horusan – brick dust mixed with mud (obviating the Byzantines’ use of blood) – and a paste of earth and straw. The craftsman’s skill lies in the marriage of the sheets of lead.

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Issue 9, 1995/96 Ideal Worlds
£50.00 / $65.80 / 315.12 TL
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 9
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    The library of Ahmet Vefik Pasha, by Patricia Daunt with photographs by Simon Upton. Secluded on a cliff beside the fortress of Rumeli Hisarı is a kiosk that was once the retreat of a bon vivant bibliophile.

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  • Artistic Licence

    Kámil Gök lived all his life in the village of Dereliköy, among people who neither sculpt nor paint. In 1972 he became an impulsive sculptor. As his work proliferated his neighbours turned against him…

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Issue 9, 1995/96 Ideal Worlds
£50.00 / $65.80 / 315.12 TL
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