The tiles at the Edirne Selimiye

The Edirne’s Selimiye is Sinan’s most beautiful, most graceful construction.  It also sports arguably the finest, best-painted, most beautiful Iznik tiles ever.


Tiles at the Muradiye in Edirne

The Muradiye complex in Edirne — like the Muradiye complex in Bursa — was built by a pious Sultan (Murad II) for a religious community he always said he intended to join himself (and did — twice, each time abdicating in order to do so).

Both complexes were built well outside city walls – suggesting another calculation behind the foundation: religious communities of single men living together are famously troublesome and the Sultan may have been shipping the dervishes out of his way. Each foundation was a vast project for its time: a large, beautifully decorated mosque (which doubled as the dervish residence). a medresa (school), a soup kitchen.

As the cities grew, both Muradiyes became located downtown; but the dramatic shrinkage of Edirne in modern times (from perhaps 250K in 1600s to 20K today) means that the Edirne Muradiye once again lies outside the city walls. One reaches it via a dusty road with a few low lying buildings, an itinerant vendor selling fresh cheese out of a donkey cart, old men playing backgammon in the shade of a weeping willow. The mosque is locked, but in the summer the hoca gives religion lessons to seven ragged gypsy children; he lets you in and leaves you alone to do all the photographing and sketching you want; and if you speak two words of Turkish, he’ll treat you to the sweets from his lunchbox.

The tiles of the Edirne Muradiye are very special. They were clearly painted by a master painter; not every one is unique – there are several repeats – but most are; no similar Iznik tiles have been found anywhere else.

Iznik pottery at the Çinili Koşk, Istanbul Archeology Museums, Istanbul

The quality of design and painting on this plate richly deserved the painstaking gluing together of the thirty some pieces into which it had been broken. Other delightful pieces at the Çinili Koşk include this fanciful 16th century pitcher (missing a handle), dug up near the Grand Bazaar:

(what would you call this pattern? “Castles in the clouds”? “Earthquake”?)

and two very beautifully painted lamps:

A few Topkapi shards at the Kutahya museum

Two days spent with artists in Kutahya who are trying to revive the great art of Iznik pottery teaches you mainly one thing: how difficult the technique is. The art of making quartz pottery has been lost. Old Iznik was 85-90% quartz, making it not only incredibly durable – you can whack quartz pottery with stones and not even make a chip; but also strangely luminous: the colors on quartz pottery are richer, more vibrant, instantly recognizable, and irreproducible in any other material. Thus, one aspect of the project is to find the formula for the bicuit. Another is to find the right glaze to match it – quartz is water resistant and both paint and glaze stick to it with difficulty; meaning that they tend to run (“smear”) in the kiln. Then, there are problems with the painting technique. Unabsorbent and slow drying as it is, quartz presents special problems with color mixing (applying one on or next to another) and shadowing (applying different shades of the same color). Which in turn leads to problems with the paints themselves: it has been possible to get good results with green and blue; but the special red – the “Armenian red”, always a secret – remains elusive: there are problems trying to discover the precise shade of red; but also obtaining a semi-transparent color (which will allow shadowing) and which will lie flat on the surface (instead of forming round, three-dimensional beads).

So, you have spent two days looking at the modern experiments and then stumble onto a couple shards from the Topkapi – perhaps late 16th century – and you are stunned by the color, the precision, the quality of painting. The artists of the past were very special people – says one of the modern day artists. They were… – he looks for a word – inspired, he says.

Some Iznik tiles from the Hagia Sofia Mausoleums

Through an unassuming side gate one enters a small compound hugging the western wall of Hagia Sophia. The compound consists of five tombs, four purpose built and one adapted from the former baptistery. The two most beautiful (Selim II and Murat III) can be viewed in a special 3D program to be found here (do not miss this):

Tomb of Sultan Sultan Selim II – 3D Virtual Tour

Tomb of Sultan Sultan Murad III – 3D Virtual Tour

And since 3dmekanlar has done such a superb job photographing the interior, I’ll limit this post to a few tile shots.