Characteristics and general principles undertaken throughout Ottoman Empire.

This study will help the 21st Century understand the characteristics and general principles that were undertaken throughout the Ottoman Empire including the standard residential system and general urban principles that were the lifestyles and living methods in that era. This study will also touch up on how these principles can be saved and have been saved throughout the years in modern day Turkey. The information will be shown via historical and architectural analysis of the Ottoman era. The objective is to identify how strongly the Ottoman principles were functioning for the civilians and the buildings, this will be done with valid evidence enabling an understanding of whether the principles have or can survive.

There will be surveys carried out with 21st Century architects in Turkey to gather professional views on the Ottoman principles and what their beliefs are towards it. This will be done whilst taking note of how the Turkish public have been affected by the Ottoman regulations and whether it has affected them in any way at all. The historic attractions that tourists are attracted to, especially in Istanbul will also be investigated within this study.


This research will start with the definition and the explanation of Ottoman architecture along with the history of Turkey. Next, there will be an analysis of Turkish houses, this includes the layout plan, and the importance of the sofas and the construction methods carried out. Then there will be an in-depth analysis of both İzzetabad Kasrı and Çırağan Palace as well as a comparison of both buildings. After this there will be an explanation which demonstrates the functions and principles of an Ottoman House or Turkish House. Moving on, there will be a debate on whether Ottoman architectural principles are still in existence today and if Turkish architects take it into consideration when designing or if they have ever considered it in their designs. A case study will be carried out to justify the influence of Ottoman architecture and whether it has in fact changed. An interview will then take place with a Turkish architect, this will be done to observe whether Ottoman architecture has in fact had a strong influence on Turkish architects based in the 21st Century. Finally, a conclusion will be carried out to justify the collected data.

2. Introduction

2.1 History of the Ottoman Empire and Architecture

The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest empires in history. This empire was inspired and erected via Islam and Islamic institutions. The Byzantine Empire was then replaced within the Eastern Mediterranean by the Ottoman Empire. The empire expanded to cover the Balkans and Hungary which then reached the gates of Vienna enabling the Ottoman Empire to reach its height under the power of Suleiman the Magnificent who reigned from 1520-66, at which time the empire was defeated at the battle of Lepanto losing almost its entire navy. By World War II and the Balkan wars, the Ottoman empire declined further over time. The secularism of modern Turkey was born through the end of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire consisted of: Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Hungary, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, parts of Arabia, coastal strip of North Africa. The Ottoman Empire was highly successful due to the fact that the empire was only ever ruled by one monarchy, which enabled the empire to rule for seven centuries. The power was never split between rural princes. Another reason for the empire being so successful was the quality of the military, the army was very strong and strictly trained.

2.2 Brief explanation of Ottoman Principles

The principles of the Ottoman Era had many different sectors, such as the urban strategy of residential buildings, religious buildings and regal buildings. To comprehend the fast development of Balkan history within the last 200 years the review of Habsburg and Ottoman “old regimes” should be considered. The Habsburg Empire and Ottoman Empire are often seen and spoken of as rivals, this is due to the fact that one Empire was Catholic Christian, the other Sunni Muslim; one Western, the other Eastern. The Empire functioned on the foundation of pre-modern institutions and assumptions. The principles of the Ottoman Empire were those which enabled dictation in the context of Ottoman history.

2.3 Combination and powers of Principles

The principles of such a large Empire encouraged most citizens and Sultans to abide by a set law and order, this discipline was taken very seriously and worked systematically well for all most of the population. Everyone had a purpose and a place. The hierarchy was large but under control for many years. The use of sustainability in the Ottoman architecture was one of the most important aspects as it highly involved social, environmental and economic events. The standard sustainability of regular Ottoman housing and regal properties had a major contrast which in turn was mirrored in the architectural language. Each element plays a relevant part within the whole Ottoman Empire which makes every element to be important in its own form. The culture of the Ottoman Empire was growing rapidly which reflected the architecture as the definition of cultural sustainability is the approach in which the change occurs promptly as well as respecting the cultural values of the Turkish community. The Ottoman Empire’s traditional settlement was created with the combination of Islamic and Anatolian cultures. However, the simplicity of Ottoman or Turkish Houses, differed from the designs and layouts of palatial and religious buildings in the sense that whilst the houses tended to priorities function over aesthetic, the religious and palatial structures placed a much greater importance on aesthetic factors to ensure they projected the greatness of the empire and its principles.

3. Turkish Houses and their principles

3.1 Turkish Houses

There is only a few studies of Turkish houses, this is due to the fact that the only studies that exist are from research starting in the 1950s and the documents created by Seddat Hakkı Eldem and archaelologist Mahmut Akok. The reason for the recent studies considering Turkish houses is due to the traditional housing pattern quickly deteriorating and the loss of its character as a new era of housing developments continue to be built. However, the Turkish house is still considered an amazing concept in the word of architecture. There are still some principles which have not been discovered as well as other attempts of Turkish houses.

The definition of a traditional Turkish house can be those in which the Turkish community have inhabited throughout history. These buildings consist of the same identifying characteristics which means they are a very important element. The traditional principles of the plan layout of the houses contain outer or open sofas. The extensions of the sofa is what separates the rooms and creates independent rooms within these plan types. Centralised sofa designs developed over the years. Traditional Turkish houses contain at least two storeys. The ground floor of the house generally includes a tall stone wall which resembles a barricade which is also used to support the building. The main living room of the house is on the upper storey and also demonstrates intricate details of the floor plan, this floor also tends to extend over the street which is another principle for the wall beneath it. The ground floor being finished to the streetline with a stone wall, the upper floor which sits on load bearing walls of wooden studs.

The majority of Turkish houses utilised a timber frame within construction. If there is any middle floors these have low ceilings and are with a mezzanine or a whole floor. Over time the higher floors have become more detailed designs and feature a vast variation in window sizes. Earlier Turkish houses did not have a glazed window but as windows became used more often, they became part of the houses and windows became glazed and opened on either side. Similarly, only after Western influence the use of vertical sliding windows evolved and became fashion. Depending on the size of the window, this creates a sense of unity and it also creates a rhythm throughout the town as well as within each individual house. The pitched roofs on all sides is also a major characteristic of Turkish houses. The roof forms of Turkish houses consist of pitched roofs on all four sides of the building and carry a simple form, this includes any indents or extensions. The common and convenient construction system is carried out via timber frames with a filling martial or plaster. All Turkish houses carry the same characteristics without paying attention to the social class of the residence. The only reflection of social class and wealth is portrayed through interior decoration and number of rooms. Turkish houses are very similar and always compared to seal houses which the Turkish culture has taken over.

3.2 Room Principles

The most important part of a Turkish house is without a doubt the main room (now more commonly known as a living room), this is due to the fact that in Turkish culture, a sense of gathering is a very vital and important aspect. Bearing this in mind, the main room contained enough facilities to eat, sit, wash and even cook. These utilities were capable in other rooms as well depending on the size of the house. These characteristics do not change, but the size of the room may vary. Due to the activity always remaining the same, the function of the room is multi purpose, this means that there are beds built in closets and only laid out when needed. Similarly when there is food made, the tablecloth, table base and tray or tabletop will be taken out of the cupboard and put away after use.

3.3 Principle of Sofas

The divans(couches) which are used for seating are all placed along walls which results in the centre of the room being left empty. This empty space is generally used for all multifunctional activities which take place in the room. The general layout of Turkish houses is dependant on the sofa in the main room, this room becomes a living unit, the only difference these main rooms differ from each other in is if the sofa sizes and sofa layouts vary. The rooms are mainly organised around the sofa. This also creates another form of unity and sense of gathering which is important in the Turkish community and culture. This also links to older types of Turkish houses as they contain outer sofa layouts, this means that the sofas are largely visible to the rest of the building. This method is especially celebrated in summer as it is a well used area during this time. This plan layout easily demonstrates the power of the main room and sofas within and the sofa representing control. As the sofa was originally exposed to the whole house, over time this developed into glazing which show social class via bay windows and eyvans(archway). The sofa plan type developed over the years up to the 19th Century.

The sofas in the middle room developed into central and inner sofa types which emerged in the 18th Century. The further development led to population increase which then meant smaller houses became higher in value evolving into a denser and inward looking plan. As the comfort of community became more and more important this meant after the years the plan became more compact which presented the opportunity for more rooms to be added. This principle of the centralised sofa has also been used in central Asia and has been used mostly in Merdreses(schools), mosques and mansions.

3.4 Design principles

Various influential factors in the design of Turkish houses that have been discovered have determined the ‘general’ features and characteristics of a Turkish house. After this analysis was made the traditional layout still sticks to a household in Antalya and a house in Kühtaya today. This method is convenient in both summer and winter conditions as this design is suitable for many different climates. However, this does not justify that all household buildings in Turkey consist of the same layout. Many factors can influence the evolution of the layout, such as lifestyle or building materials. Depending on the density of relations in terms of administration and trade, which started from Istanbul, being the most influential and cultural centre, then followed by Edirne. The use of this traditional style has always been carried out , however due to each city having to adapt to different conditions, each city evolved their own architectural style. The close houses would be designed in such a layout that it would enable enough space to walk in and around the building but would conserve the privacy of each building however the layout is in such a way that the views of each house is another house.

There are many features in traditional houses which link to the concept of the design in general. One of these features is the fact that no house will ultimately block the sunlight entering each individual building. Also, every houses’ window will not have a view of the other houses’ window. The general layout will consist of the mens hall to be located next to the kitchen. Another principle is the sense of respect that Turkish people have to their guests in which guest rooms will obtain a small kitchen and bathroom/toilet. Each door had two small bells above, one bell had a high pitch tone to it, this one was for the women to ring and for the woman of the ‘house’ to open the door. Similarly, the other bell was for men to ring and for the man of the ‘house’ to open the door. A fire place would have been located in the main room, and used to provide heat for all accompanying rooms.

3.5 Construction methods

Turkish houses would have been constructed utilising wood and timber frames. The use of this construction method is because the regions in which it is needed are within seismic fault zones. This form of construction is also the quickest method of construction and was more convenient for an on growing society. Similarly, the details of the wood construction such as bolts and joints were also kept simple. However, the German, British and Japanese communities seem to carry the intricate designs in the timber elements, which do not originate from their own cultures but are influenced from the Turkish design. Household buildings were seen as temporary due to the temporary life of humans themselves, due to this factor, the construction was built accordingly, but was renovated to help update the visual aesthetic of the building as well as satisfying the needs of the family. The development of timber frames also evolved from straight lines to curved stripes in the Baroque period, then semi buried columns, triangle heads and squared arches in the neo-classical period. The act of Art-Nouveau was completely adapted to wooden buildings which then enabled the combination of all the eras in the 19th Century along with traditional Ottoman arts. The development of Turkish houses until today is the decor and facades which were achieved by the light. Another difference is the amount of storeys and social growth within each region of each city.

4. Ottoman architectural principles

4.1 Ottoman palatial principles

There were many principles within the Ottoman Empire which focus on three main functions of the cities and peoples activity. These three functions are housing, market and religious centres. The urban spaces of the Ottoman Empire were produced from the Turkish and Islamic cultured concepts. Each city contains a multi-functional purpose with the settlements. Each activity that takes place is reflected in the urban space in very different, effective methods. The continued growth of the empire affected many people within that area, which then enabled the empire to inherit more agriculture, architecture and many other qualities. Additionally as the empire grew and became stronger, this encouraged the growth of the civilisation. As the empire expanded, the functions of the cities developed and slowly evolved into the environment and facilities that were necessities for that area of the city. The streets within the cities became more and more dense as the empire grew. The buildings also slowly became more and more attached to each other and buildings on the coastal region were generally occupied by the higher class people. The characteristics of the people influenced the evolvement of the city and style of architecture.

4.2 Vernacular architecture

The architecture used in the Ottoman era was very simple and effective. The Byzantine designs that were used were also based on function with a clean pristine facade. The materials used were very easily accessible, if it was a housing area it was cheaper material such as timber, however for the palatial buildings there was use of several stones such as marble. The architecture used for most buildings are also still alive now and some buildings that were built in the Ottoman Empire, are still used and functioned to this day. One example of this is İzzetabad Kasrı, which is a large pavilion on the coast of Arnavutköy in Istanbul. This building was given as a gift from Sultan Murad IV to Janissary Hasan Halife in the 18th Century.

As this building was originally built for a Pasha, the pavilion was built on the top of a hill near the coastal area and very secluded from the rest of the town. Even as time passed this building was refurbished many times but still sold and inhabited by wealthy families. Today it is owned by a very large holding company, Bayraktar, as they purchased the building and use it as their headquarters after it was refurbished. Even though the authentic look of the building was changed over time this building demonstrates that regardless of the design, the history and the location of the building encourages the function of the building to be inhabited by those who are wealthy and higher class. This building consists of timber cladding with a concrete structure with eight columns at the entrance and was built by İzzet Mehmet Pasha, whom the building was named after.

4.2.1 Contrast

In contrast to this building, the Çırağan Palace located between Ortaköy and Beşiktaş in Istanbul, was built on a much larger scale. It was similar in the sense that the location was coastal and it was also built for a wealthy family. However, it was one of the first orientalist styled architecture between 1863-1880. This palace originally took inspiration from the AlHamra Palace, located in Granada, Spain. The palace stretches from Beşiktaş to Ortaköy, which spans across 664 metres with a surface area of 76,360m² in total. The palace is split into four separate buildings, each section with a different function, these are: Mabeyn, the Grand Saray-ı Hümayun which is constructed via the bed and Valide Dairesi, the Harem building, the Ağalar Dairesi and other surrounding buildings. The Grand Saray-ı Hümayun was constructed into three floors. It covers a 9,850m² surface area. On the top floor there were three halls which were contrasting in design yet very large and all three of them were very central and easily accessible for the users of the building. Each hall also had a connection to a balcony which overlooked both the landscape and seascape scenery. However, there was also an important and special balcony located on the West of the building which faced Ortaköy. These sections are all connected via double corridor systems taken from either side of the stairs, from the coastal side of the building there are two marble staircases which enter the entrance of the palace, additionally there are stairs on the other side. With the access via the coastal stairs there is a connection straight into the “Direkli Salon” (Pillared Hall). This is a 20x40m hall with a 14m height. The exterior and interior of the Palace consisted of 300 marble and porphyry pillars. The interior walls were decorated completely with white, pink and green marble. The Çırağan Palace is a holder of a very well decorated and richly presented persona. Inside the palace there was a lot of use of geometrical patterns. As a whole the palace is very harmonious with the senses of direction and function within each building and access to and from each building. From every detail of the building, the furniture to the doors, the windows to the columns and from the carpets to the ceilings the palace holds a vey strong, rich and prestigious style.

The most interesting and supreme side of the Çırağan Palace is its planning. The qualities of its plan are also incorporated in the traditional Turkish housing architecture. The only one-body palaces that were made in the style of II Mahmut was Çırağan and Beylerbeyi with timber and the Dolmabahçe Palace fifteen years ago with half masonry cladding. However, these plans have kept a distance from the old traditional Turkish plans. The closest example to the Çırağan Palace is the Cypriot Mansion plan, drawn in the 18th century. In the Çırağan Palace, the three classical halls were applied to a large extent with the support of Turkish planning as the halls were enclosed in a rectangular shaped area which avoided the picturesque bay windows and outer margins of a Turkish plan. The plan which was divided into three was expressed onto the facade and it was also considered appropriate to add a terrace in the function of a recess between each sector. Each hall in the buildings has spectacular large window elements which are indicated on the plans and the middle facade elements are kept under the left and the right areas which are similar to the European architectural layouts. Thus, the “Selamlık Sofrası” (Male Hall), was created into a four armed cross shape. Aside from this the general halls and rooms in the palace as a whole were designed in a completely free and very functional manner, this was also reflected up onto the facade of the palace. The more important and richer Hünkar Hamam (Sultan Turkish bath), is applied in a separate armed branch. This branch is in the form of a bridge which enables a connection the palace to the garden opposite the palace road. The function of this palace is now divided into separate functions similar to how it was in the Ottoman Era this includes school, restaurant and hotel areas.

5. Ottoman Architecture today

5.1 Ottoman architectural development in Safranbolu

The industrial revolution developed from Europe leading to the political, social and economic sources to be adopted to the Ottoman world. As exchange systems and increase in population became a highly growing factor, people left the city to find work in other big cities. An example of this is villagers who decided to move to Safranbolu to work in the iron and steel factories. The city started with a settlement of 13-15 household buildings and only a population of around one hundred in 1935. There was then a railroad which was built to link Zonguldak to Ankara, the area were the railroad was made was named Karabük. The social structure of Safranbolu experienced a formation and growth of a new city, this was achieved through the amount of workers who arrived from several other cities. This enforced a second transformation after the 1950’s as it was no longer the centre region for trade. Nevertheless this did not affect the architecture of Safranbolu, as the people living there and other members of the Turkish community in general are very attached to their traditions. This enabled the building to be recycled and not just left as an abandoned structure. Additionally, the smooth topography of Karabük made sites and areas unavailable to be built on which resulted in the increase of land values. The newer buildings created in Karabük such as lodgings and apartments were not used as they were not seen suitable enough for villagers moving into the city. As the values dropped, the villagers who settled into Karabük or other big cities, were the people who rented out their properties and then went on to sell their houses in the city. This was all a result of the fact that the value decreased so there was no relevance in staying in Karabük. The people who carried out these methods were the people who had already started to spend their summers in Bağlar area.

5.2 Ottoman principles today

The aftermath of all of the changes which occurred to these regions, created a development of technology, which meant that the community was finally comfortable financially, and also trying to follow the new fashion of buildings, which at the time was apartment block buildings. So, when the houses in the Bağlar region became more valuable, this meant that previous home owners would demolish their original traditional houses and build apartments. However, when the people settled in the houses in the city, just simply modified their houses to suit the new fashion. One way of modifying their houses was to remove the old style windows and replace them with modern apartment, double glazed windows. Another way in which the houses were modified was the method in which the filling between the timber frame was removed and replaced with easily accessible concrete blocks. Then, there was the replacement of the solid walls (which were originally encasing the main room), into glazed windows or divisions. The layout plan of the buildings also evolved slightly as there was an increase in room types and numbers of rooms. All these changes were believed and are still believed to be temporary as technology, economy and other factors are still developing, this means that even the way buildings are now are still subject to change according to lifestyle.

Ottoman principles for household buildings have stayed similar and not changed or developed too much, the value of the house is mainly influenced but the level of class the society. Also, Turkish houses demonstrate the reflection of the Turkish history, culture, economy and lifestyle during the 18th and 19th Century. The elements of design and layout have generally not changed in household buildings today. As well as these buildings, larger buildings such as palaces and religious monuments similarly do not change.

The principle of respect is highly valued in the ottoman monarchy, traces of this

Some of the buildings did not show any change as the new owners of houses believed strongly that the houses were appropriate for the lifestyle they had because it was similar to their own village lifestyle, this includes the layout of the building and the layout of the town itself. The case study of Safranbolu is the biggest example of whether or not Ottoman architectural principles are still in use today. The land values of Safranbolu and Karabük as well as other cities in Turkey, were the only reason the Turkish community decided to consider changes to the original and traditional Turkish houses that they owned. Even still, if they are demolishing traditional buildings, the new apartments tend to consist of the same plan layout and characteristics of a traditional Turkish town as well as a traditional Turkish house.

6. Influence of Ottoman Architecture

The affects that Ottoman architecture has had onto architecture today is much greater than what is shown and studied. Examples can vary from the details of columns up until the structure of pitched roofs. What is curious is if architects in Turkey today consider using the Ottoman architectural principles whilst designing. To support this research an interview was carried out with a Turkish architect, the questions asked were answered accordingly:

What are your opinions on the Ottoman Architecture? Do you like the architecture, was it powerful and what are your views?

– Yes, of course I like the Ottoman architecture. However, I prefer the classical Ottoman architecture. I do not like it because I can see the hints of the civilisations which lived in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. I especially do not like the Baroque style used in palatial structures. Yet, Ottoman designs are usually far more intricate and subtle.

Have you been influenced by the Ottoman Architecture? In your projects? Or any minor concept ideas?

– I do not have a project which I have worked on in this subject. But as the Konya Metropolitan Municipality, we have designed a park which operates Ottoman and Seljuk Period styled architecture, according to its architectural features. It is under the name of Ecdat Bahçesi. You can Google for more information. The park includes; Yalılar (Waterside mansion), Osmanlı Sokağı (Ottoman streets), Osmanlı Kahvehanesi (Ottoman Coffee House), Mehteran Binası (Mehteran Building), Saltanat Kayığı (Royal Boat).

Do you think that the Ottoman (Byzantine) era should continue to todays time, so that the Ottoman designs don’t die out?

– I do not believe that the Ottoman style should continue. I believe that every architect is best at what they do during their time. As well as the structures and technology of the era. The Ottoman structures are existing anyway. Let me put it this way, even if we tried to recreate the same style of architecture, we would not be able to make it as aesthetically pleasing and as strong as the Ottomans did at the time.

Is there an architectural era which you liked the most? and why?

– I like the Andalusian Umayyad Architecture, especially the Elhamra Palace and Mosque of Córdoba. This is because they are very majestic and finely crafted buildings, in my opinion. I especially admire the ornaments which are made out of marble. I have been able to go and visit these buildings which meant I was able to see the designs and they are truly remarkable. I pretty much admire between the 8th and 11th Century.

The reason for this interview being carried out was to show whether Ottoman architecture has had an impact on architects and/or architecture in the 21st Century. The evidence shows that for this particular architect, he had some influence from the Ottoman era in which was used in one of his projects run by a company as they had included Royal elements, however he believes in summary that every style of architecture is better at its time and should not be replicated so that society now can appreciate the historical and traditional factors which are repressed in the architectural world.

7. Conclusion

From all the research taken place, focusing especially on the traditional Turkish houses in Safranbolu, there is an obvious and well considered theme running throughout. This theme consists of the strong culture and respect that the Turkish community contain. This respect and sense of culture reflects upon the behaviour in which the people and the government carry, this is demonstrated by the conservation of the Ottoman architecture which still exist today. The location of Safranbolu enables the classic traditional houses to be kept well preserved. This is due to the lack of transport and communication in and around the city. Another source of this is the simple fact that Safranbolu has never suffered through a major population increase, which meant that people did not have the opportunity to get to Safranbolu and make drastic changes. All of these principles encourage the city to remain a harmonious and very interesting topography. The economical aspects of a city greatly impact the architectural influence which is well shown in the Safranbolu case study.

This information collected all supports the fact that the way of lifestyle, economical growth, population increase and technical developments are the main causes for a city to change. Once the city then changes this means that the architectural or urban layout also changes. Due to the change in these factors it can be suggested that there was a deep impact on society which enabled this change to carry through. This study indicates that although buildings are created for people and human space and activity, they can be easily affected and altered depending on the economical and technical impact taken place. However, in the Turkish culture, once a large city exists or is created, it tends to have smaller cities built around it, using the larger city as a sense of reference rather than adjusting the existing large city. This is done to protect the authenticity of the current town and preserve existing buildings to avoid havoc for residence etc.

The traditions and principles in the Ottoman era has evidently managed to stay consistent into modern day Turkey, in the sense of building and plan layouts. Other than this the architectural language has differentiated as there was a large increase in population over the times and the ‘new fashion’ of architecture being apartment buildings. Those who still live in traditional Turkish homes strongly appreciate the historical aspects of Ottoman times and wish that this concept continues and influences society to keep the cultural history alive. Palatial Ottoman structures have been well preserved and then kept in use but with various functions such as schools, museums and restaurants as analysed in the case study of İzzetabad Kasrı and Çırağan Palace. Religious monuments such as large mosques have also been preserved and kept the function of a building of worship. When newer mosques have been built they have always been influenced by previous mosques but adjusted and altered depending on the location and modern era.

As a whole, Turkey has managed to preserve its traditional culture and principles as a sign of respect to the history of its predecessor, the Ottoman empire, and has only adapted the buildings and architectural aspects according to the state of modern day Turkey.

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