Islamic Architecture in Bulgaria


The Islamic cultural sphere is quite extensive, stretching from Spain in the extreme west to Indonesia in the extreme east, spread on occasion by military conquest, sometimes through peaceful trading, or through Sufi propagation. Therefore, it is not easy to grasp the architectural culture of the entire Islamic sphere; each area formed its own characteristic architecture, absorbing local traditions from pre-Islamic ages.
Accordingly, as it is impossible to comprehend all areas when depicting a history of Islamic architecture, an author is obliged to select the areas in accordance with their historical or artistic importance; he should emphasize the most essential current in the development of Islamic architecture from its beginning until modern times.

Arch. de l'Islam
Japanese edition of "Architecture de l'Islam"

The book gArchitecture de lfIslamh written by Henri Stierlin in 1979, which I translated into Japanese and published in 1987, can be said to be the best one volume edition of the history of Islamic architecture. For the reasons mentioned above, it omits some areas entirely in spite of them being in the Islamic sphere, such as sub-Saharan Africa, China, Indonesia and Eastern Europe. Central Asia is treated, but only a little, even though not nil.

The fundamental cause of this is that in comparison with Arabia, Persia and Egypt, which are historically important as the cradle of Islamic architecture, and India, Spain, Maghreb and Turkey, which produced masterpieces in its mature ages, architectures in these eoutlying areasf are regarded as being inferior in respect of cultural value and importance. As for Central Asia, the reason was the difficulty of research due to the then repressive Soviet regimes, and Islamic buildings were left in desolation because of the oppression against religion.


This neglect of the outlying areas is the case not only in Stierlinfs book, but also in almost all works on Islamic architecture. So, even though being able to understand the main trunk of the history of Islamic architecture, readers are left to wonder what the architectural branches and leaves in those neglected areas are like, and so did I as a translator. After researching and photographing the main Islamic regions in a general way, I made an effort to visit these unknown areas to research and record buildings in photos.
In this website of gArchitecture of Islam,h I took up masterpieces of Islamic architecture from as wide a variety of regions as possible, and in addition to that, I researched and photographed Islamic architecture of, as a whole region, China including Xinjiang Uighur and Mali representing sub-Saharan Africa, putting them here, on this site, for the public. Now, I will finally turn to Islamic architecture in Eastern Europe.

It is written in books on the general history of Islam that in Southern Europe Islamic power subjugated Spain, even making inroads into middle France at one time, and in Eastern Europe it conquered the Balkan Peninsula, even assailing Vienna. However, while Spanish Islamic architecture has been fully introduced, that of Eastern Europe has received almost no coverage so far.
When Eastern Europe, which had been ruled by the Islamic Ottoman Empire for several hundred years and been considerably Islamized, became independent from the declining Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, most of the countries returned to their former religion of Christianity (Orthodox churches). Therefore, innumerable Islamic buildings constructed during Islamic period were abandoned, demolished, and converted into different uses, and the majority of them have been thoroughly lost.

Entering into the 21st century, in accordance with the stabilization of the countriesf conditions, those remaining Islamic buildings came to be recognized as valuable historical legacies and their restoration and preservation work started. Researchers have appeared and published a few books, relying upon which I was able to travel to Eastern Europe at length.

The sphere of Eastern Europe is so extensive that it is not easy to travel around multiple countries, all the more so since former Yugoslavia was disunited into many nations through long-continued conflicts. So, I chose Bulgaria, a country neighboring Turkey, as an area representing Islamic architecture in Eastern Europe to research and record in photography. I will introduce the outcome here, arranging the material in geographical order.


The largest mosque in Bulgaria, Shumen

Eastern Europe was conquered by Islamic power; it was done by the Turkish Ottoman Empire alone, not related to the Persian Empire or the region of Andalusia, Spain. The Ottoman Dynasty, which had got hold of Anatolia, also called Asia Minor, captured Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453, overthrowing the Byzantine Empire.
Nearly 90 years before that, in 1361, the Ottomans took the town of Adrianople (current Edirne) on the European side and, until their relocation to Istanbul, made it the Ottoman capital, from where they enlarged their territory throughout Eastern Europe.

Edirne is still now the westernmost city of the Republic of Turkey, only 10 km from the Bulgarian border. It embraces the magnum opus of Ottoman architecture, Selimiye (the mosque of Selim II), designed by Mimar (architect) Sinan. It is natural to suppose that the Ottomans also extended architectural influence from here to Eastern Europe, along with their military campaigns. The Ottoman Empire subjugated the majority of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece by 1345 and defeated the Serbian Empire in 1389.

The Selimiye in Edirne, Turkey

Suleiman I (1495-1566), who led the Ottoman Empire to its zenith, sieged Vienna in 1529, but at this time and again in 1683, under another Sultan, Vienna did not fall. Therefore, the area of Western Europe ruled by the Ottomans was largely the Balkan Peninsula, including Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, former Yugoslavia (current Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina), and the Ottomans occasionally ruled Rumania, Hungary and southern Czechoslovakia and Ukraine.
Naturally, the further away one gets from Turkey, the fewer architectural legacies of the Ottoman Empire there are. I supposed that the regions retaining the most were Bulgaria and northern Greece neighboring Turkey, but a recently published book on the Ottoman inheritance in Greece shows only a few extant Islamic buildings. Much less would be found in old Yugoslavia and northward from Rumania. It does not seem too extreme that getting architectural legacies in only Bulgaria represent the Islamic architecture of Western Europe.


The area of Bulgarian territory is about one fourth of Japan, a little larger than Hokkaido. Its capital, Sofia, with a population of 1.5 million, is located in the west. Makka (Mecca) is in the southeast direction from Bulgaria, so all mosques are erected in that direction. However, most monumental buildings in this state are not Islamic mosques but Christian churches, as the Republic of Bulgaria is a country that mainly embraces Bulgarian Orthodox Christianity (about 84 % of the people).
Although it was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for 500 years, tolerant Islam did not ban Christianity or forcefully convert people to Islam. Even so, a multitude of people spontaneously became Muslim and prodigious Christian churches were not built for the duration. The conspicuous churches and monasteries that one can see nowadays are comparatively recent constructions or reconstructions on the whole.

The best example of that situation is the Rila Monastery, which has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and is the best known touristic legacy in the country. The monastery church was built in the Byzantine style with numerous traditional paintings on the walls and ceilings. It looks like a mediaeval edifice and in fact its foundation goes back to its small 10th century oratory, but the current church was actually reconstructed mainly in the 20th century after destruction by fire in 1833.
As even that monastery, which was treated favorably through Ottoman ages in spite of being considered heathen, is a substantially modern building, there remains only a few antique edifices of Bulgarian Orthodox, such as some churches in Nesebar and the Boyana Church near Sofia, both from the 11-13th centuries.

Rila MonasteryRila Monastery
Rila Monastery of Bulgarian Orthodox Church

On the other hand, as for Islamic mosques and madrasas, predominant in the past, there now remain few in number, as they were demolished in the 20th century after the end of the Ottoman domination. Although such a situation resembles the fate of Chinese Islamic buildings, Bulgarian Islamic monuments are far fewer than Chinese ones, which are shown on my web-page gIslamic Architecture in Chinah in a large quantity.
It is accounted for by the absolute number of Muslims. Chinese Muslims count for about 23 million, while in Bulgaria Muslims make up only 580,000 from a total population of 7.5 million, which is one fortieth of Chinese Muslims. The number of mosques needed as worship places for daily life would be in the same ratio, though there are various estimations as to the exact percentage of Muslims, such as 10%, 12% and 13%, or 900,000.


As for the architectural variety of Islamic legacies in Bulgaria, while most of them are naturally mosques, there are also Hamams (public baths), Bedestens (covered markets), Tekkes (Sufi monasteries), Cheshmas (fountain buildings), clock towers, forts and fortresses, and so forth.
A Tekke was a monastic facility for a Sufi saint and his followers for study and religious practice. It now usually remains only as a mausoleum of the saint of brick or stone, having lost other buildings, due to it probably having been built of perishable wood.

A mausoleum for a saint, indicating an approval of worshipping a subject other than God, is fundamentally contrary to the doctrine of Islam, so Muhammad forbade erecting them. However, combined with pre-Islamic local traditions and customs, it gradually came to thrive in the Islamic world.
Since a mosque is basically a place for men to worship God, women often visit saintsf mausoleums to pray for their wishes. In Bulgaria too, there are many Tekkes well maintained and often free of religious differences, also allowing Christians to visit. The Ak Yazili Baba Tekke in the village of Obrochishte even has a small Christian altar niche on an inside wall. It is a symbol of the mixture of religions in Bulgaria.

Another conspicuous sort is a Bedesten, or roofed Bazaar, among which that in Yambol is most beautifully restored. Nowhere else in the Islamic world can one see another Bedesten from the 15th century in such a good state of preservation. It is also interesting to find other Islamic secular architecture as Hamams, cheshmas and modern clock towers in many cities.


 mosque in Van
An Ottoman mosque in Van, Turkey

As for religious architecture, it is regrettable that no madrasas (Koranic schools) worth seeing are extant. Mosques and their Minarets and Minbars (pulpits) are all of the Ottoman-style without any audacious variations. Moreover, most mosques are single domed Turkish-type, leaving only two large scale mosques with multiple domes: the Buyuk Mosque (now the Archaeological Museum) in Sofia and the Jumaya Jamiya (Friday Mosque) in Plovdiv

Ottoman architecture made its way in a distinctly different direction from that of Armenian-like architecture in the time of the Seljuk Dynasty. Its most characteristic outcome was the development of domed space. No other architecture other than Ottomanfs used domes so freely, widely, and adherently in the world. It is at the opposite extreme of the Arabic-type hypostyle worship hall, airily covering an astylar space with a thin membranous dome, as if it were a fabric tent structure in spite of being made of stone.
(A mosque is called a eJamiyaf in Bulgarian, derived from eJamiyii,f in Turkish, but the latter is accented on eja,f while the former is on emi.f)

In Bulgaria, though there remain no pure wooden mosques as in Turkey, mixed structures of wood and stone or brick are often seen. Bulgaria is climatically in the cold area as Turkey is, having much rain and wood; there had probably been many wooden mosques. The current usual ways to use timber is mainly in outer entrance porticoes and inner mezzanines for women.

The Bulgarian minaret is fundamentally of the sharp pencil-like Ottoman style. Since there are no extremely high ones as in Turkey, even the tallest minaret, belonging to the Tombul Mosque in Shumen, has only a single balcony. As compared with the Turkish great mosques, such as the Suleymaniyie in Istanbul and Selimiye in Edirne, even the Tombul Mosque, the largest in Bulgaria, is much smaller. Bulgarian mosques can be said to be fundamentally a miniature edition of Turkish Ottoman architecture, although it is unclear if there would have been far grander or unique edifices among the great number of demolished mosques.

Perfectry restored Jumaya Jamiya in Plovdiv

After the independence of Bulgaria, it became difficult to maintain mosques as worship places due to the dramatic decrease of Muslims, there are, even nowadays, many wrecked or half demolished mosques waiting restoration but yet to find new use.
While the Banya Bashi Mosque in Sofia and the Tombul Mosque in Shumen are currently being restored, the Jumaya Jamiya in Plovdiv has been resuscitated most splendidly among the restored mosques.

I shall present Bulgarian Islamic architecture in the following three parts, western, middle, and eastern Bulgaria, from north to south.

i 01/02/2013 j

Map of Bulgaria
Map of Islamic Architecture in Bulgaria





Vidin is the north westernmost city in Bulgaria, fronting the Danube River, across which is Rumania. Of the citadel constructed in the Ottoman period, only a little remains, among which the best preserved part is the Fortress of Baba Vida. It was strongly defended on the east side by facing the river. Although it is said that there was a fortress here from Roman times, the current Ottoman one is from the 13th century and later. Its overall composition is made up of a small central courtyard doubly surrounded by various rooms, and the whole is enclosed by very robust walls with many square watchtowers, further encircled by ramparts and moats. As there are no living quarters for citizens, this was not a citadel but the monarchfs palace-fort.




Walking in the quiet park along the riverfront of the Danube from the fortress, one encounters this early 19th century mosque, Osman Pazvantoglu Jamiya, the only one to have escaped the destruction of mosques in the 1970s and 80s. This mosque was well restored and again functions as an actual mosque, with an Imam always in attendance. There is a standard minaret which is whitewashed, but the worship hall is not surmounted with a usual dome but a tiled hip roof with a gentle slope, preceded by a portico with three arches.


In the precinct of this mosque is a Kitabhane, Koranic Library, built in 1802/3. This is capped with a dome covered with lead. Though small, it is a lovely piece of Ottoman architecture, minutely elaborated, with a small domed porch.



In Turkish a mansion is called Konagi (pronounced ko-naa-u), corrupted into Konak in Bulgarian. Large Ottoman Konaks in various cities have often been converted into museums, called Konak Musei. The one in Vidin is from the 18th century. It has white walls surmounted with a tiled roof as others, but uniquely has a passageway running through in the center. B




Close to 50km south from Vidin, the town of Belogradchik retains an Ottoman citadel with a backdrop of curious high rock mountains, just as in Meteora or Mount Athos in Greece. However, apart from the scenery, there remain only a few buildings such as the long continuous stone ramparts and its picturesque gateways.



At the foot of the citadel in Belogradchik, there is a small mosque named the Huseyn Pasha Mosque, also called the Hadji Husein Mosque. Its grand protruded wooden roof supported with four columns forms an entrance porch (portico). A floral patterned painting remains on the wall above the portal. It is said that mosques in northern Bulgaria often had almost flat wooden roofs, in contrast with domed mosques in the Thrace region.




The capital of Bulgaria is Sofia with a population of 1.5 million, a quiet city with only a few high-rise buildings, instead it has many large and small Christian churches and a Jewish Synagogue in its central area, giving itself a historical dignified presence. The Banya Bashi Mosque by its main thoroughfare, coexistent with Christianity and Judaism, is not huge but well known by tourists.
It was constructed in 1576 upon the design of Sinan (1576-1588), the greatest architect in Turkish history, and designated after the neighboring hot spring bath (banya). In front of the single domed worship hall, the typical form in Bulgaria, is a stone portico with three successive small domes. It was restored in the 1970s to come back to life as a mosque, but under further repair when I visited it, with scaffolds inside and in the portico, making photography difficult. Most of Sofiafs mosques, more than 30 in the Ottoman age, were destroyed after the countryfs independence, leaving only three, among which this alone is in religious practice now.




The Buyuk Jamiya (meaning great mosque), larger and older than the Banya Bashi Mosque, is preserved as the Archaeological Museum belonging to the National Institute of Archaeology. Construction started in 1451 under the command of the Great Vizier (minister), Mahmud Pasha Angelovich, and was completed in 1491.
It is a large scale mosque equal in rank with the Jumaya Jamiya in Plovdiv, with four pillars dividing its interior into nine bays, placing a line of large domes on the central row and a line of middle sized domes on both side rows. There are few decorations inside, making it a great whitewashed exhibition hall. It was used as a military hospital in the Soviet period, and then converted into a library, but has now functioned as the National Museum since 1905.



The Christian church of Sveti Sedmocislenitse, does not look like a mosque, but was originally the single domed Imaret Jamiya (Mosque) designed by Suleiman the Magnificentfs royal architect, Sinan. Its original name was the Bosnali Mehmed Pasa Jamiya, also called the Black Mosque because of its finishing material, black granite. The founder, Bosnali Mehmed, was the governor of Rumelia. He established an Imaret (kitchen for the needy) at the rear of the mosque, making the entire complex a Külliye including a Madrasa, a library, a Caravanserai, and a fountain. It was completed in 1547/8.
Evliya Chelebi, an Ottoman Turkish traveler in the 17th century, praised this mosque as the best example to understand Sinanfs artistic achievement. When it was converted into a Christian church during 1903 to 05, the portico of five continuous domes and the two minarets were destroyed, and a narthex cum bell tower was added. Since it became an entirely Byzantine style church, it does not retain an appearance of a mosque apart from the large dome with a diameter of 18.3m.

Reconstructed plan of Sinan's mosque and the current state of the church




Ahmed Bey Jamiya gives an impression of more or less verticality in its inner space derived from its high domical ceiling, although it is a standard single domed mosque. In spite of the fact that it was finely restored, it is used as a temporary history museum, due to an insufficient number of Muslims in the city.
It is located at the site of the remains of a Roman bath, from the tradition of which there is a Turkish-style bathhouse, Chifte Banya, at the adjacent site, operated even nowadays.



One more old mosque, the Fetih Mehmet Jamiya, narrowly survives in Kyustendil. It is older and more dilapidated than the aforementioned Ahmed Bey Jamiya. Its portico with three aches is supported by a scaffold of steel and wood. The balcony of the brick minaret is also half wrecked, but the honeycomb pattern on its shaft is unique.




In Dupnitsa, the center for the tobacco industry in Bulgaria, there is a 16th century mosque, the Ahmed Bey Jamiya. It is a single domed mosque made of roughly piled stone, surmounted with a tiled roof. The restoration work is complete and it now functions as an art gallery.
The four corners of the whitewashed interior have Muqarnas-like pendentives, but they are nothing but decorations, since the load of the dome is actually held by arches. Though the minaret has been lost, an entrance to its spiral staircase remains in a strange form.




Although there were numbers of mosques in Samokov, an industrial city since the Ottoman age, only the Bairakli Jamiya has been conserved until now. It is a single domed mosque, first constructed in the 15th century, and reconstructed in 1845 with a two storied portico of seven spans. The dome is made of wood and supported by four inner columns. At an adjacent small square is a fountain with Ottoman-style curved lines.
Pictorial paintings on the eaves and walls of the portico indicate Samokov was a town of artists, and even shows a cultural mixture of Islam and Christianity. Another interesting element in the large portico is an independent stairwell leading to the mezzanine for women, accessed not from inside the building but directly from outside. This is probably the only extant example for this methodr. The mosque was completely restored in 1960 and a pencil-like minaret was also reconstructed, decorated with a brilliant brick spiral pattern on its trunk.



The Golyamata Cheshma (meaning a great fountain) was erected in about 1660 in the center of the town to supply water to citizens. It is a cubic building made of precisely cut ashlars, surmounted with a tiled square wooden hip roof. It had a spout of running water from the mountain on each side, now replaced with a faucet of the city tap water. A close by clock tower and a Hamam (public bath) from the Ottoman period have been destroyed.




Veliko TarnovoVeliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo was the capital of the Second Bulgarian Empire in the 13th and 14th centuries. It is now a famous tourist town with scenic beauty surrounded by three hills, but it does not have any historic mosques. The house for the Ottoman governor-general of Veliko Tarnovo, designed in 1872 by the Bulgarian architect, Nikola Fichev (1800-81), was previously used as the town hall, and now is a Konak Musei (museum) for the National Revival Period.
It is a typical konak (Turkish-style mansion), with a protruded central part on the facade and frequent use of curved lines. While ashlars and stone columns are used for the ground floor of the protruding part, the building overall is made of timber.





In the central park of a tranquil city constructed in the 15th century by Turks, Karlovo, is preserved a single domed mosque, the Kurshun Jamiya. While its worship hall is built of brick, the extensive front portico, with five by three spans, is of timber along with its tiled roof. Such a large portico indicates that the dome of the worship hall itself is also quite extensive. The axial dissonance between the blind arches on the wall of the worship hall and the porticofs columns would suggest the different times of construction. When I visited it, the repair of its interior had not started, making it only possible to take photos of the Muqarnas of the Mihrab through a keyhole. The brick minaret in its ordinary position, on the far right of the facade, has been lost apart from its lower part.




17km from Karlovo is the small idyllic town of Kalofer, on the outskirts of which can be found the ruinous remains of a Hamam (Turkish bath) made of brick and stone.




Kazanlak, with a population of about 80,000, is the famous center for the rose industry in Bulgaria and contains the World Heritage site of the Thracian Tomb. Next to that is a small Türbe (tomb) of Lala Shahin Pasha. It is one of the earliest Islamic tombs in Bulgaria, supposed to have been erected in the middle of the 14th century. It is made of burnt brick, surmounted with a dome, and its four sides are open, forming the simplest form of a mausoleum. Lala Shahin Pasha was the Ottoman governor general of Rumelia, subjugating the greater part of Bulgaria.



Stara ZagoraStara Zagora

Stara Zagora

The city of Stara Zagora, which has a history from before the Common Era, became a territory of the Ottoman Empire in the 1360s under the name of Eski Zagra, meaning old town. When Evliya Chelebi visited here in the 17th century, there were 47 mosques in the town. The Eski Jamiya (Old Mosque), constructed by Hamza Bey in 1408/9, was so called even since early times. In 1875 during the Russo-Turkish Wars this town became a battlefield with a great massacre carried out by the Turkish army, and was demolished and burnt to the ground. The only one surviving public building was this mosque.
The Austro-Hungarian architect, Lubor Bayel, who undertook the reconstruction of the city, made a grid plan based on this surviving monument, so the city streets accord with the axis of the mosque. However, this axis is not in the direction of Makka but is on the east-west axis of a Christian church, on the base of which the mosque had been built.
This brick mosque is surmounted with a shallow single dome with a diameter of 17m and three small domes on its portico. The influence of Seljuk architecture in Bursa on this composition has been pointed out. The mosque is currently used as a Museum of Religions nowadays.





Plovdiv was an ancient town known by the name of Philippopolis in the Ancient Greek Era, now the richest city in the Bulgarian Thrace region, and was the second-largest city in Bulgaria after Sofia, having a population of 340,000. It was called Filibe in the age of Ottoman rule from 1364 to 1878, and was the largest city in Bulgaria during the 19th century. It embraces a large number of historical legacies such as an ancient Roman theater.
In the central Jumaya Square is an excavated Roman stadium and in front of that is the Jumaya Jamiya (Friday Mosque), which is said to have been built in 1425 in the age of Murad II or earlier under Murad I. The mosque suffered immense damage by an earthquake in the 18th century, but was restored in 1785. Further desolation after the independence of the country was also nicely restored in recent times. It is a grand-scale mosque consisting of 9 bays (33m x 27m); the central row of the roof is a line of large domes and the rows of both sides are wooden cloister vaults, just as at the Büyük Mosque in Sofia.
One more mosque in the city, the Imaret Jamiya, constructed in 1440 (1445/6 in another opinion), is now closed, making it, along with surrounding thick trees, difficult to photograph. The area along the main street connecting the two mosques was called Filibe, this area was made by the Ottomans outside of the preexisting Christian quarter that prospered until then. It is said that there were 24 Friday Mosques in Filibe around 1873, but most Muslims left here after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish Wars and the mosques were abandoned or demolished except only these two.





The Chifte Hamam is a large public bath (the largest in the Balkans) constructed in about 1460 by, it is said, Isfandiyaroglu Ismail Bey, who had retired from Kastamonu, Turkey. It consisted of two wings, for men and women, hence the name Chifte (double). It is now used as the City Cultural Centre, but is closed and seemed to have been in a state of disrepair when I visited. It is the only one still in existence from among 12 Hamams that were there in 1874.



The current Regional Ethnographic Museum (left) is the most imposing building among many Konaks existent on the hilly old area in Plovdiv. It was constructed in 1847 by a builder named Haj Georgi, from Istanbul, adding a Baroque twist to the Bulgarian National Revival style.
The Konak currently used as the Regional Historical Musei (right) was built in 1846 by a wealthy Greek merchant, Dimitris Georgiadi, hence called Georgiadi House. It was repaired by the architect, Christ Beef, in 1958.




Haskovo, 78 km southeast of Plovdiv, was a established town by the Turks as Hasköy in about 1394/5, just after the Ottoman conquest. There is a small mosque, the Eski Jamiya (Old Mosque) that is said to be the oldest in the Balkan Peninsula, but it is hard to find and can be recognized only by its minaret, due to being closely surrounded by shops and tea houses. The original part is only the skeleton and everything else are later supplements. It has a wooden mezzanine for women on the entrance side, and a Mihrab on the Qibla wall. The ceiling is not a dome but a flat wooden one. It has been preserved as a cultural monument since 1967 and is used as a mosque still now.


(Former MOSQUE)


A mosque in the village of Uzunjovo, shortly east of Haskovo, has been preserved and well maintained thanks to having been converted into a Christian church. The Ottoman minister, Koja Sinan Pasha (1506-96), constructed a Külliye (a complex of public buildings) including the mosque, a Caravanserai with 350 rooms, a stable for 1,000 horses, a Hamam, and a Imaret (kitchen for the needy) to develop this village into a commercial town. In the precinct of the current church, there remains a stone arch as a vestige of the Caravanserai, which Evliya Chelebi wrote about visiting, along with the mosque, at the end of the 17th century. An antique document that Ibrahim Tatarli procured says that this Külliye was designed by the architect Sinan, but this is not certain.




Osman Baba (1389-1478/9) was a Sufi of the Alevi sect, which had a close relation with the Bektashism. Leaders of Bektashi order often have an honorific title of Baba (originally meaning father or grandfather). Osman Baba headed a Tekke (Sufi monastery) at Teketo village, west of Haskovo. Because most facilities were wooden structures, there remains only a mausoleum of the Shaykh (leader) in most Tekkes.
The Türbe (mausoleum) of Osman Baba was built in 1505 to 07 in almost the same architectural form as a mosque: a single domed tomb chamber with a small domed porch. However, the tomb chamber does not have a Mihrab but a tomb laid in the center. It is regularly well maintained by a caretaker and pilgrims, with flowers offered continuously. In the precinct, there is another smaller Türbe accommodating multiple tombs. They might have been Osman Babafs disciples.




The largest stone arch bridge in Bulgaria on the Arda River deep in the mountains is too magnificent to be considered a work of human power (!), so it gained the popular name of eSeytan Kopruf (Devilfs Bridge). It is 56 m long and 3.5 m wide and the height from the river is 11.5 m at the center. As the water flows slowly nowadays, the central arch is reflected on the surface of the water, making an image of a circle.
In spite of few decorations, the view of this medieval-like handwrought bridge, harmonized with its surrounding landscape of verdurous mountains, gives a feeling of nostalgia to tourists. It is said to have been constructed by the builder Dimitar from Edirne under the order of the Ottoman Sultan, Selim I (r. 1512-20), on the main route connecting Plovdiv to the Aegean Sea. However, the highway along with the bridge became obsolete in the middle of the 20th century and had been forgotten until it was rediscovered by tourists. This bridge 10 km from the small town of Ardino was repaired and designated as a cultural monument in 1984, gradually becoming more of a tourist attraction than a utilitarian traffic facility.





Silistra, which was called Durostorum in the Roman era, is the northernmost city in Bulgaria, facing the Danube River, the border with Rumania. 3km south of the city is the Fort of Mejiditabiya, constructed on a hill between 1841 and 1853 in the Ottoman age, taking its name from Sultan Abdul Meji who visited the fort and admired it in 1847. A few extant fortress buildings, which describe an arc in plan, are currently used as the Military Museum. The fort became the beginning stage of the Crimean War in 1853, just after its completion, assailed by the Russian army in which Leo Tolstoy took part.




There remains one single-domed mosque in the heart of Silistra: the Kurushunlu Jamiya, construction of which goes back to the early 16th century. It has records of repair in 1630 and in the latter half of the 18th century and was also restored with the assistance of America in 2004, but its interior is still in a state of dilapidation because of the indetermination over its function.




Though it had a front portico with three domes until the 19th century, it was destroyed during the Russo-Turkish Wars. The outside of the mosque has been restored but the inside has not yet been set to work on a full scale. Around the central single dome, there are four turrets, with not a domed roof but a conical in this case, on the four corners of the roof. Such form resembles Indian eFive-shrined-typef temples, leading us to ask about the origin of this mosque form, which is rare in Bulgaria.
The Turkish-type minaret is 21m in height. It is said that there were eleven mosques in this town in the 19th century, but now, apart from this, only one remains, the Ahmed Bey Jamiya.



Time was announced in the Islamic world by the call for prayer for group attendance in a mosque five times a day from its minaret, while in modern times, in the wake of the progress of manufacturing technology, it gradually became popular to construct a clock tower in a city square or on a high ground to let people know the time more easily; there remain some fifty clock towers from the Ottoman period in Bulgaria.
Razgrad retains a stylish one in a park near the Ibrahim Pasha Mosque. Although it was first build in the 18th century, it is said to have been rebuilt by a mason named Todor Tontchev. It has as is usual a wooden framed observation booth with a curved faceted octagonal dome, over the stone masonry square tower.
Another Islamic building in the city, a large scale Ottoman hamam (public bath), which a person I met remembered seeing in his boyhood, was demolished in the 1970s.





Targovishte is a commercial town that prospered in the 18th and 19th centuries, embracing an 18th century mosque and minaret, Sahat Jamiya. Sahat means a clock tower, which was built in the 1860s in this neighborhood, but is not extant, leaving the name only.
While the mosquefs outer walls are made of stone, the interiors of the antichamber and the mezzanine for women are wooden. The recent restoration completely replaced the finishing tiles on the inner walls with new ones, making the interior quite opulent.



 Tombul MosqueTombul Mosque

Tombul Mosque

Shumen is a city with a large number of Turkish inhabitants. While there were 47 mosques in the 1880s, it decreased into eight in the 1980s and only three in 1989. The Tombul Jamiya among them is the largest mosque in Bulgaria, and was the largest in Europe north of Edirne till recent years. Sherif Halil Pasha from Shumen, who was promoted to all the way to Vizier (minister) in the Ottoman Dynasty, donated a Külliye including this mosque as a public fund in 1744/5. The interior of this mosque was decorated in the brilliant Turkish baroque style in the eLale Devrif (Tulip Era); possibly an architect was invited from Istanbul. The restoration work of the mosque has been continuing for many years. When completed, it will be applauded as a splendid mosque representing Bulgarian Islam.
Its minaret is also the tallest in Bulgaria, as high as 40m. However, while the grandest mosques in the suzerain, Ottoman Turkey, had two, four, occasionally six minarets, with two or three balconies each, to which a Muezzin went up, in Bulgaria, even the largest Tombul Mosque has only one minaret with a single balcony.
The Madrasa (Koranic school) next door has a courtyard with a fountain and a library on the second floor of the northern cloister. The fountain pavilion in the courtyard is the only extant example in Bulgaria.

 Tombul MosqueTombul Mosque



At short distance from the Tombul Mosque is an unused Bedesten (covered market) and a half destroyed Hamam (public bath). The large Bedesten, constructed by Dubrovnik merchants in 1592, is one of the oldest Islamic edifices in Bulgaria. It was used as an armory after 1878 and as a restaurant in the Soviet period. The Hamam was built in the 19th century, abutting on the Bedesten, but now ruined.



There remains a fountain building in a city park and a clock tower with a fountain on the rear hill of the Tombul Mosque. The stone Kurshun Cheshma (Fountain) is covered with a tiled hip roof with interesting ornamentation on the walls. It is a highly skilled masonry building constructed in 1710.
The stone Clock Tower (Sahat) from the 18th century provides a waterspout underneath surmounted by a cantilevered wooden roof. Its top floor is an octagonal wooden belvedere as other clock towers. Formerly there was a mosque by the clock tower called Sahat Jamiya (Clock Tower Mosque) as at the aforementioned mosque in Targovishte.





The single domed ashlar mosque in Suvorovo is considered to have been built in 1573, but there is another view that it was designed by the master architect Sinan in the 16th century. Its interior space consists of four walled arches and four corner arches, forming an octagonal drum capped with a dome. The dome is covered with an octagonal tiled roof. In front of the mosque is a heavy enclosed building with two stories instead of an open portico. It must be a later addition.





Ak Yazili Baba Tekke (Sufi monastery), established in the first half of the 16th century, is regarded the largest of the Bektashi order in the Balkans. Apart from the Turbe (mausoleum) of Ak Yazili Baba erected in 1866, its extensive compound embraces the ruins of the Meydan Evi (a hall for devotional ceremonies) with an Imaret (kitchen for the needy) constructed in the same period. A village formed around the tekke was called Tekeci, and renamed Obrochishte in 1942.
On one of the seven walls of the heptagonal tomb hall of Ak Yazili Baba is set a small Christian altar niche. It indicates the occasional mixture of Islam and Christianity in Bulgaria.






The city of Yambol was established after the Ottoman conquest of 1365 midway between Stara Zagora and the current city of Burgas. Its Eski Jamiya (Old Mosque) was erected between 1375 and 1385 (also said to have been in the 1420s). It is a Byzantine-looking building made of mingled brick and stone, surmounted with a single large dome of 25m in diameter. Its minaret from the 15th century is also well preserved.
When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1878, Bulgaria became an autonomous principality, and Yambolfs many Islamic buildings, such as the Sofular Mosque (1481), a library and a Tekke (Sufi monastery) were demolished. The Eski Jamiya was converted into a Christian church, but has now been completely restored and is used in Islamic practice.



This is the best repaired and preserved Ottoman Bedesten (covered market) in Bulgaria, constr ucted by the grand vizier (minister) Hadim Ali Pasha, in the 15th century. Evliya Chelebi admired it as an unparalleled Bedesten when visiting here in the 17th century. The proceeds from this Bedesten were set aside for the maintenance of the Eski Mosque. While it had been used as a warehouse for armory or tobacco since 1878, it was restored to its original form in 1972. Now it faces Yambolfs Central Square, surrounded with a line of stores and coffee shops, making it a place of relaxation for the citizens. The Eski Jamiya stands diagonally opposite across the square.


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