Geeks ch 7 verse 1 (King Ston Version)
Following on from the post about Akdamar and the Church of the Holy Cross where I’d resurrected a few old 35mm photos I thought it would be interesting to do the same for the delightful Ulu Camii (Grand Mosque) at Birgi near Ödemiş in İzmir Province.
Birgi is a really appealing, largely unspoilt little town that offers more than enough to hold your interest; from quiet, tree-lined streets full of old houses to the wonderful painted Çakırağa Konak, a few ruins upstream and, of course, the mosque.
Birgi was conquered by Ayınoğlu Mehmet Bey, founder of the Ayınoğlu Emirate, in AD 1308, making it his capital. Mehmet Bey ordered the building of Ulu Camii (aka Ayınoğlu Mehmet Bey Camii) in AD1313 – he died in 1335 and his tomb (turbe) can be found in the courtyard.
Originally built in the Selçuk style with massive beams supporting a flat earth-covered roof; the mosque was ‘desecrated’ by having an ugly pitched and galvanised replacement. Whereas once the building was cool in summer and warm in winter, now the reverse is true; locals I have spoken to say they are determined to restore it to its former glory and comfort. (İnşallah!)
Ulu Camii, Birgi – showing roof ‘restoration’
That said, nothing can detract from what you will find inside.
There are fine examples of early tilework and glazed brickwork inside and out. The minaret and the dome of the turbe are decorated with turquoise glazed and unglazed bricks and tiles. Inside the mihrab is a fine example of late Selçuk – early Ottoman tiling in aubergine-purple and green.
Ulu Camii – mihrab
The mimbar (pulpit) is a wonderful example of 14th Century craftsmanship – constructed from walnut, with intricate carving in the shape of three-, five-, eight- and ten-pointed stars and four-, six- and eight-sided polygons. The technique is known as Kündekari and involves using interlocking pieces of wood without resorting to the use of glue or nails. Built in 1323 by Master Muzafferadin bin Abdülvahid, this example of his skill in Birgi will take your breath away!
Ulu Camii – mimbar c1323
The beautiful doors of the mimbar were stolen in 1993, disappearing without trace for about 2 years (courtesy of British Airways Cargo to Bulgaria). When they resurfaced at Christies in London they were spotted by a member of staff and Interpol were informed. Five months later they were returned to Ulu Camii where you can see them for yourself.
Ulu Camii – mimbar doors
There is much more detail to see and admire such as the window shutters, so take your time. An additional ‘gem’ (if he is still there) is the young imam; a lovely guy and an enthusiast for his mosque who leaves his phone number by the entrance so you can have him come to unlock and show you around. Remember to drop a few lira in the collection box on the way out – you never know!
Ulu Camii, Birgi
Ulu Camii – detail of mimbar (kundekari – no nails or glue)
Ulu Camii – window shutters
Ulu Camii, Birgi – a beautiful place to visit
Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü