In this post, we will introduce and get to know the wooden mosques of a lost tradition starting Seljuk period, continued during the Beyliks period, which recently have been very popular. The mosques from the past to the date, tells the story of the human and the wood. The wood that has world of meaning; from sayings, all the way into the storytelling, has been an indispensable material of use in Anatolian geography of cultural history.
The reason is Turkic people using the wood as a material; bringing the craftsmanship to Anatolia along with them. The Turkish word “Ahşap” is the plural of “haseb” referring to the wood as a construction material. The usage of wood as building material is as old as the history of the humankind. The usage of wood for heating and cooking which then became a common material of the daily life caused; “Woodwork” to be used as a part of the architecture.
Therefore it has been used in mosques as well. We see the woodwork concept being carried from the early days of the Turkic Central Asian, Islamic cultures into Anatolia as a part of the tradition. The wood is a material that is easily effected by the weather conditions and deformed but used as a construction material due to its structure. During the years, effort has been spent to improve the lifespan of the wood and partially has been succeeded.
All our efforts are for the existence of the cultural values without failing to the time, nature, technology and humans. When understanding the woodwork of Turkish Art, specially analyzing from the material point of view, the hard and non-fiber trees are used both for ease of shaping and lasting purposes, either as architectural elements or removable items. The columns, column heads, shoulders, capitals, minbars, apses, door and window wings can be counted as the woodwork types.
Obviously the wooden artifacts that reached to our date are much less then, it should be. We can consider; humidity, the temperature difference, nature conditions, fire, disasters, wear out due to normal usage and war, as the destruction reasons. All these factors, cause the wooden artifacts, to reach to our date in much less quantity. Some of them, carry the inscription of the building they belong to, therefore they have historical document value as well.
We are unable to determine the craftsman of each of these precious artifacts. Because not all of them carry a master’s name. Some of them carry only the name and title and some also mention the master’s origin. Sometimes, we come a cross interesting examples that doesn’t mention names. Now, we’ll take you to two very special mosques, built in the harsh land to the east and the west of the country but have the traces of the same art form.
The first is the Camili Village of Borçka county of Artvin. The village by the Turkish-Georgian border is mostly known with it’s Georgian name “Maçahel”. Besides the lush green of the Karçal mountains, the sound of creeks, the occasional fog and the shades of the greenery takes you to a fairy land. As we learned from the warm hearted and the blue eyed people of the village; “Maça” meant “Wrist” and the “Hel” meant “Hand” in Georgian.
Right outside the village there is a border control connecting two countries. The people are using the border control point when the roads are blocked during the winter season. Camili Village is the first area in Turkey, that is protected under the “Man and the Biosphere” Programme of UNESCO. Also the village has Purebred Caucasian Bee observation center. Serious work is being done in the area to protect the Purebred Caucasian Bee. The log houses spreading out of the slopes of the village still keep the local tradition alive.
The decorations of the mosque built at Maçahel attracts the foreigners attention as well as the locals. The building date of original structure is unknown. Based on the warrant written at Hegira 1234 -Gregorian 1819 we can definitely say the mosque was built “prior to 1819”. The original mosque was left at the Georgian side when the border was established. Therefore, the villagers dismantled the mosque and rebuilt at the Turkish side. However, the mosque collapsed during the 1855 avalanche.
The villagers remove and donate the wood from their stables and granaries for the mosque. They bring craftsman from Arhavi and restore the mosque. The Maçahel mosque still operate today due to the fact, it has the royal warrant and it is the mosque used for the Friday prayers for the adjacent villages as well. It comes to life especially on Fridays with the participation of the people from the other villages. Due to the slanted land the mosque is built on the high stone subbasement.
In “Çanti” (interlocking log building) technique as locally called “Kurtboğazı”. The outside is quite plain. However, the intriguing designs inside creates a conflict with the outside. The door at the middle of the porch welcoming you into the harm is a french door. The designs in the middle of the triangle forms of the red and green painted door, remind the daisies of village with their enchanted scent. The first thing attracts attention in the harm is the influence of the Georgian architecture and painting.
It feels like the colorfulness and the variety of the wild life, trees and flowers of the nature dancing inside the mosque. The grapes and wine leaf motives in the wood carving are successfully applied. The apse niche right across from the entrance is pretty bland. Only a garland is noticed at the upper side. On the other hand the pulpit to the right of the apse is a celebration of colors and styles. The flower and leaf forms in embossing technique are noticed on each side. Resemblance of the leaf forms to the waves, brings the thought that the craftsman are also somehow related to the sea.
Pulpit contains multiple wood carving techniques applicable. The preaching pulpit to the left is also made of wood. It rests on the main columns carrying the roof. The pulpit that expends bottom to the top has one side open for easy access. When looking up to the ladies section we notice three sides. The heavy decoration and the vibrant colours start at the stairs done in Lattice technique and continue with the railing. The main hall has flat ceiling to the sides and dome in the middle made with a special wood-plaster mix called “Bağdadi” carried on four columns.
Inside the dome, the delicate tree and plant designs made of natural dyes painted on the plaster. In 1951 the single balcony minaret and at 1965 the two sides of the ladies section are added. In 1978 the roof protected with the addition of regular roof tiles on metal sheets. Camili Village is registered as a valued property in 2005 by the Trabzon Cultural and Natural values protection agency. It is our wish that this small but precious mosque at a distant corner of the country to be enjoyed by the future generations.
Leaving Maçahel to the west, taking you to Elmalı village at Samanlı Mountains; 30 km to Bursa, Iznik. You descend to the village square at the end of a sloppy path where the wooden mosque is, feeling that you arrived to an Alpen village. To our surprise; against the distance between Camili Mosque and Elmalı, they are almost identical. Çorbacıoğlu who came to Elmalı Yörük plateau from Batumi as an Imam during Ramadan, discovered this beautiful village. Later this relatives from Batumi area came to settle.
Hasan Efendi who first settled, distributed the land to the families equally based on the number of family members. As a result, it is observed that the population who is able to use the forest and trees more efficiently has increased. Besides the nature, the wooden mosque gives the village it’s specialty. It is the only example of Çanti (log) technique mosque in Southern Marmara area. The first settlers built a small masjid where the today’s wooden mosque stands, by bartering land and they starting a trust.
The masjid build at 1871, burns down in a few years. After building the outer walls of the mosque started construction at 1880, no funds are left for the mihrap (apse niche) and pulpit. Just about the Trabizonian carpenters leave the village, Lezgioğulları provide the necessary funds and in 1884 the first mosque’s construction is finished. During the construction 193 logs are used. The section originally used as the outer mahfil has been extended by 2 meters which created today’s portico.
The round portico that can be reached through 6 steps is covered with narrow and long wooden ceiling carried by 6 wooden poles. Therefore, in front of the portico a demi-circle water resistant “Keveke” stone staircase is built with steps getting smaller as you move up. The mosque doesn’t have an epigraph. The mosque was not only used for religious purposes but for the social gatherings of residents of the nearby villages.
The wooden minaret sitting on a cubic pedestal made of rag-stone and Horasan mortar at the northwest corner is made by the villagers. The outer wood panels are made of Juniper tree locally called “mada-purgure” and the main pole of the minaret is oak. The cylindrical body contains one balcony (şerefe). The nails are used only at the wooden beams to avoid the deformation of the Marseille tiles covered roof which was originally covered by old fashioned roof tiles.
The plain, unworked entrance door is as originally made. When you enter the mosque an unusual wood scent is noticed. The village residents explain this as the pine wood used at the ceiling and oak usage at the other parts of the mosque. It truly is a dazzling fragrance. The southern wall of the harim contains the demi-circle apse niche and on both sides one lower one upper windows.
Blue diamond shapes with green outer lines has been applied on the white background on the apse niche border. Originally saved pulpit’s plain sides and guards carved with knot motives are notable. Another issue worth attention is, the motives on the guards are being used at eastern black sea, specially Artvin and area. We see the same motives in Maçahel. This emphasizes the information about of the craftsmen.
The Harim is surrounded by women’s mahfil on 3 sides are supported with 8 wooden columns. The mahvil staircase on the northwest corner is in basic spiral form. The bottom of the wooden mahfil guards are decorated with a border with triangle and meander designs. The guard panels bare stylized branches.
Stylized leaves are used along with spiral forms in the center. At the lower level of the ceiling, circled by blind arches and a fake muqarnas frieze (ceiling raised by stages). An old mill was used for the expenses of the mosque until 1980’s however later it was abandoned due to the lack of business. Happily, the mosque is registered in the inventory of Directorate General of Foundations. We introduced you two mosques far apart from each other but close in style and we aimed to share the richness of the culture.