MOSQUE By David Macaulay Houghton Mifflin, 2003 96 pages. 0618240349 Hb

Author of the immensely popular Cathedral, City, Pyramid, Underground The Way Things Work, and many others, David Macaulay applies his expertise to the architecture of Islam and its centerpiece, the mosque. Motivated in part by the 9/11 tragedy, this book is successful in refuting the “us and them” dichotomy espoused by some world leaders that paints all Muslims with the brush of terrorism. By bringing to life something of Islamic history, Macaulay reveals the benevolence and beauty of traditional Muslim culture.

Scrupulously researched and masterfully illustrated, Mosque manages to tell a story while illuminating so many of the eye-catching and intriguing details of classical Ottoman architecture. It is important to remember that Macaulay is not only an award winning author and illustrator, but also a trained architect This gives him the unique ability to penetrate even the finest details of his subject and then to explain them to readers of all ages. With illustrations that could serve as a craft manual, Macaulay answers, one by one, many of the questions evoked by this breathtaking architecture. “How did they build that gravity-defying dome?” or “How did they make stairs inside that towering minaret?”

When Admiral Suha Mehmet Pasa decides to build a charitable foundation the ultimate expression of gratitude and piety for the affluent of 16th-century Istanbul – he hires Akif Aga, senior member of the Court Architects and student of the legendary architect Sinan. The story and characters are fictional, but the buildings in the Admiral’s complex are based directly on some of Sinan’s magnificent structures.

The story leads us through the design of the entire complex and presents a colorful and realistic picture of what the process of construction must have been like, from digging the foundations, to building the central dome, to the final touches and details of Muqarnas, decorative tiles and calligraphy. Macaulay’s celebrated color illustrations, coupled with concise and lucid text illuminate even the most mystifying technical elements of this great architecture.

Going beyond the details and construction techniques, Macaulay seeks to explain is the social and religious significance of the mosque complex or kulliye. Perhaps the one institution that best exemplifies the Ottoman spirit the kulliye, a charitable foundation or woof, was a means for wealthy people to extend their charity into perpetuity. Most kulliyes were centered around a mosque, and generally included a madrasa, a hamam or public bath, a soup kitchen or imaret, a tomb, and often a hospital. The Beyazit Kulliye in Edirne, for example, is said to have housed the world’s first psychiatric hospital. Built by Sultan Bayazit II in 1488, mental patients were treated with music therapy.

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    A piece previously published in the print issue of Islamica Magazine between 2003-2009. The following has been an effort to digitize and archive as a free service. Author citations can be found at as we continue to work on improving the digital archives here.

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