“Three years ago the first Aga Khan Architectural Awards were announced in the fabled Shalimar Gardens of Lahore. Today we are honoured that the Turkish Government has so generously invited us to hold the second prize giving at the no less legendary Topkapi Seray, the grand palace from which, for over four centuries, the Ottoman dynasty ruled most of Western Islam. To be here is particularly significant for us because from the start of the search for excellence with the Award represents, we have felt that the recognition of contemporary architectural achievement is strengthened by association with major examples of the Muslim heritage, in which both Istanbul and this country as a whole are so very rich.”
His Highness the Aga Khan
Istanbul, Turkey, September 4, 1983
Speech at AKDN
Founded by Osman, the Ottoman dynasty (1281-1924), consisting of Turkmen tribes, controlled western Asia, northern Africa, and eastern Europe from their court in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, which was captured from Byzantine rule in 1453.
Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman empire and a major centre for culture, sciences, and scholarship. The city hosts some of the most prominent monuments of the Ottoman dynasty including the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque due to the colour of its interior tiles, and the Topkapi Palace which was the official residence of the rulers and the seat of the government.
The unrestrained enthusiasm of the Ottoman rulers for ceremonial monuments, the immense financial strength of the empire, as well as an inexhaustible source of ideas which flowed from the master builders, artists, and craftsmen from various religious backgrounds, all helped Ottoman art flourish.
During his reign, Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1451 to 1481) summoned painters from Europe and employed numerous writers who copied Turkish, Persian, and Arabic manuscripts at the newly established libraries, producing some of the most magnificent illustrated Qur’an manuscripts. The court studio at the Topkapi Palace took in not only native artists, but also numerous Persian artists who had a wealth of experience based on the long tradition of Persian book arts. Artists of diverse traditions congregated at the court and created indigenous styles that influenced neighbouring states. Increased trade with Europe resulted in demand for Ottoman goods particularly rugs, but also ceramics and textiles.
In the sixteenth century, the Ottoman Empire’s workshops at the Topkapi Palace had nearly 900 artisans from across the Mediterranean world and beyond — from painters, engravers, weavers and tile makers to bookbinders, goldsmiths, ivory craftsmen, manuscript illuminators and musical instrument makers.
Today, the Topkapi palace is a museum, rich in collections of jewels, silk gowns, and Ming porcelain.
About the Aga Khan Award for Architecture
The Aga Khan Award for Architecture is given every three years to projects that set new standards of excellence in architecture, planning practices, historic preservation and landscape architecture. Through its efforts, the Award seeks to identify and encourage building concepts that successfully address the needs and aspirations of societies across the world, in which Muslims have a significant presence. More information at Aga Khan Development Network.
Esin Atil, “The Arts of Islam,” The Muslim Almanac Edited by Azim A. Nanji, Gale Research Inc., Detroit, 1996
Markus Hattstein, “History of the Ottoman Empire,” Islam Art and Architecture Edited by Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius, Konemann, 2000
Compiled by Nimira Dewji