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Festooned with flowers, the brilliantly painted tiles of Rustem Pasha Mosque form a glazed garden of infinite variety. John Carswell discovers in them the hand of genius that gave birth to classical Iznik design. Photographs by Simon Upton
The mosque of Rüstem Pasha had been out of circulation for the past few years, for total restoration. I was apprehensive when it opened its doors again, but needlessly so, for it has been cleaned and restored with the essence of good taste, even to the choice of velvety red carpet, with subtle pale olive bands to align the faithful. And this is perhaps the point, for Rüstem Pasha is still the spiritual centre of Tahtakale, the warren of streets next to the Bazaar, as well as the greatest of all tiled monuments in Istanbul.
Seen from across the Golden Horn, it assumes an importance disproportionate to its size, for two reasons. First, being built on stone arcades, it is a first-floor building, and thus automatically detaches itself from the vibrant activity of the streets below: the wood-turners, tinsmiths, brass workers and myriad other craftsmen who are its parishioners. Second, this elevation contrasts the building directly with Sinan’s great masterpiece, the Süleymaniye Mosque, which dominates the hilltop above. But the Süleymaniye is far away, and Rüstem Pasha is close, and to the distant spectator, this perspective makes them curiously equal. As it was Sinan who also designed Rüstem Pasha, one wonders if this may have been an intentional effect.
But apart from the size, there is a spectacular difference, and this concerns their decoration. With all of Sinan’s hundreds of buildings, many constructed when the Iznik tile industry was at its peak, his use of tile ornament is sober, controlled and sparing. It never relinquishes the subsidiary role in the scheme of things. But in Rüstem Pasha it is as if, having solved the problem of structure and location, Sinan opted out. Or perhaps he was commanded to produce plain surfaces for the precise purpose of plating them with tiles. We do not know…
Martyn Rix introduces a special issue devoted to Turkey’s horticultural heritage, from the splash of the urban window box to the splendour of a mountain hillside. Martyn Rix is the editor of Curtis’s Botanical Journal. His articles in Cornucopia Issues 29 and 31 explore the flora of the Taurus Mountains
SPECIAL OFFER: order three beautiful garden-themed issues, including this one, for only £60. List price £102
In its heyday the Istanbul tulip was the most fashionable of flowers. Turhan Baytop turns the pages of a priceless 1725 tulip album
The Seljuk sultans who fell in love with Alanya and tamed its wild hillsides in the thirteenth century left a legacy of walled gardens and verdant terraces that is only now being rediscovered. By Scott Redford with photographs by Sigurd Kranendonk and Astrid von Schell.
The truly intoxicating rhododendrons of northeast Turkey. The most famous victims to fall under its spell were Xenophon’s luckless men on their return from the Persian expedition. Text and photographs by Andrew Byfield.
In Mürefte on the Sea of Marmara, village women still take to the fields each summer to collect just seven different herbs, with which they produce a ritual dish. If they eat it before the first thunderstorms, they believe, they will have immunity from illness for a whole year.
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