Though many Turkish architectural remains were demolished, nevertheless the cultural heritage is still rich and full of amazing stories. Diplomacy and Trade found an excellent guide in Mihály Ráday to explore this topic.
SURPRISINGLY, Turkish relics in Hungary, apart from the buildings of the world famous Turkish steam and thermal baths, are not overwhelmingly considerable. From the one and a half centuries of Turkish conquest (1526-1686) no common houses were preserved, and the edifices that stood the tide of time can be grouped into two types: places of worship (mosques, djamis, minarets, mihrabs) and burial places (turbe). On its tour to Turkish monuments, Diplomacy and Trade was guided by an expert, Mihály Ráday. He is a film director, cinematographer, actor and educator, whose versatile career includes a television series that was broadcasted for an almost thirty-years
– between 1981 and 2010 – on monument protection in Hungary. In this program, Ráday used to list all the good and bad examples. The passion of preserving culturally and historically important buildings originate from the recognition that he had at the beginning of his career as a cinematographer.
At film shootings in Hungary, wherever he went, there was not a single place left intact. In his developing passion for preserving architectural values, he had to take the field many times and go into bitter struggle with great corporations to prevent them from using and impairing monuments for short term commercial interests. He, like the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, with a praiseworthy resemblance to the concept of chivalry, protected the Chain Bridge, for instance, and as a result of his efforts, no advertisements can be placed on its side. He takes pride in achieving an observable change in attitude towards monuments that is embodied in such incidents as the Jewish cemetery in West Hungary renovated by a Muslim community. Apart from his oeuvre, which comprises directing, acting in comedies, documentaries, game shows and dramas, he is most proud of having the candelabras on Andrássy Street renovated.
Involuntary symbiosis of cultures
The twists of history lead to interesting combinations at times like catholic churches that were built around ‘Allah’s outer ear’, (mihrabs). Mihrab is a semicircular niche in the wall of the mosque, to indicate the direction Muslims should face when praying, the direction of Mecca. The most famous mihrab in Budapest is in the Downtown Parish church (Nagyboldogasszony-templom or Belvárosi Plébániatemplom), which is the oldest Catholic church in Hungary. The mihrab has a remarkable history of its own and several questions arise regarding its authenticity. This relatively simple mihrab has a richly decorated inscription; several lines of writing in Arabic letters, under them a line and an impressive calligraphy. There is nothing else that would guide the visitor or explain the meaning of the lines. According to historical research, the first data that mentions this inscription originates from 1996, so there is no question of authenticity, it is not authentic. However, it seems that the idea of inscription has much to do with Julius Germanus, who lived in the first half of the 20th century as a professor of oriental studies and an islamologist. It is a quotation from the Qur'an in Arabic, but unfortunately the lines are not in order. The scripter started to write in the middle of the niche, and then probably realized that he had no room to write the whole line, and therefore continued above. It is different from the usual inscriptions of mihrabs in content too. It is a reference to the last judgment, while mihrab inscriptions usually say ‘in the name of merciful Allah'.
After the occupation, Turkish memories went through a nostalgic beautification. The burial chapel of Gül Baba, a Turkish scientist and philosopher, preserves the cherished memory of ‘the Father of Roses’. His grave represents one of the two examples turbes that were preserved in Hungary, one in Buda and one in Pécs. The turbe is an octagonal, domed tomb chapel. This type of burial building was only raised for leaders of high rank. Another rarity is the minaret. Only three minarets remained from old times in the country: in Eger, Pécs, and Érd. The Minaret in Érd was built in the 16th century beside the Roman military road and its religious function is still alive. When Diplomacy and Trade visited this sacred place of Allah, a Muslim family from France prayed there.
In front of the War Museum in Budapest, there is the shrine of Abdurrrahman pasha who was the leader of the Turkish army that defended Buda against a Christian army of about 80,000 soldiers led by Prince Charles of Lotharingen. The pasha was then seventy years old and had only some 12,000 soldiers. He fought with so much heroism that he was even acknowledged by his enemies, after he was shot.
There are some rare momentums in Hungarian history that depict Turks in favorable light as Mihály Ráday explains. One of these has to do with the portrait of a sultan. The staircase of an Alajos Bucsánszky house at Õsz utca (now 30 Szentkirályi Street) was decorated by Lajos Gaál in 1873, when Pest, Buda and Óbuda were united as Budapest. The paintings depicted legendary figures, Hungarian rulers, Transylvanian monarchs, the 13 Martyrs of Arad. The pictures that portray full figures are of Attila, the Hun on a horse, coronation symbols and guardian angels, and the scene of blood brotherhood. On the side walls, 64 portraits commemorate Hungarian leaders from the earliest ones to Ferenc Rákóczi II (Hungarian aristocrat, who was the leader of the Hungarian uprising against the Habsburgs in 1703-11). Between his picture and that of the 13 Martyrs of Arad (the rebel generals who were executed after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848–1849), there is an image of a sultan. It depicts Abd-ul-Medsid, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, who refused to surrender Kossuth, ‘the father’ of the Hungarian nation, and his followers to Austria when they sought refuge in Turkey after the defeat of the Hungarian uprising in 1849. The house was later reconstructed and the staircase was turned into a room.
In turn, among the noble gestures, one of the most notable Hungarian contributions to Istanbul is the first fire service that was established by Ödön Széchenyi, the builder of the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular. Most architectural relics from the Turkish era fell victim to the rebuilding of cities in the 17th century and the urban planning of the 19th century. Turkish monuments from the age of Turkish conquest might be scarce in number and variety nowadays, but only as long as one does not start to ravel out the tapestry of rich cultural history.