Hagia Sophia Museum’s latest addition: a sundial

8th, 2013
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Setting aside all the heated debates over whether or not Hagia Sophia ought to be opened for prayers, what sort of reverberations will be caused by other changes to this ancient site?
A sundial that has been painstakingly designed over the past year by İstanbul Technical University Professors Atilla Bir and Burak Barutçu as well as İstanbul University Professor Mustafa Kaçar was recently installed in Hagia Sophia’s garden.
While it remains unclear whether the installation of a sun dial in the museum’s garden will spark any serious controversy, any complaints that might be voiced have already been answered, in a sense, by these words from electrical engineer Professor Bir: “I am neither religious, nor am I a historian. Mathematics, however, does attract my attention and sundials are based on mathematics. Sundials not only meet daily needs, they can also be used to see the hours for namaz [prayer]. We are following up on the placement of sundials not only in the garden of Hagia Sophia but in the courtyards of other mosques as well. I would like to see people who visit mosques reintroduced to sundial culture. This was a culture that persisted until the 19th century.”
Muvakkithaneler, or sun rooms, made an important contribution in Ottoman times. These were sites, generally built right next to the mosque, where the motion of the sun could be tracked to determine the time for prayer. These special rooms were always run by qualified individuals who had received training in a madrassah, who had passed special palace astronomy tests and who knew much about astronomy and mathematics in general. Though the muvakkithane of the Hagia Sophia Museum is now being used as an administrative building, it is slated to open soon as a museum exhibit of this original tradition. When we asked Bir where the idea first came from to put a sundial in the Hagia Sophia gardens, he told us about the famous Italian architect Gaspare Trajano Fossati, who took on the restoration of Hagia Sophia that occurred in the 1800s, as well as many other projects.
Fossati’s task
Hagia Sophia had been damaged by earthquakes before Fossati’s restoration efforts and when the main project was completed, Fossati gave himself another task, noting, “All of these mosques have muvakkithane, let’s do the same for Hagia Sophia.” Saying this, the famous architect designed an octagonal muvakkithane that faces the exit gates. During the early years of the republic, however, the building was taken over and converted for other purposes, its contents emptied out and divided among other museums. Other mosques’ muvakkithaneler were to face the same fate.
The new sundial placed in the gardens at Hagia Sophia was engraved in glass by archaeologist Ahmet Demirtaş. The production, design and calculations involved in the creation and completion of this sundial had all three professors — Barutçu, Bir and Kaçar — involved from start to finish.
During the Ottoman era, clocks were designed in two ways, vertically and horizontally. Vertical sundials were engraved in stone walls and horizontal ones were placed on pedestals. In designing Hagia Sophia’s sundial, trends and styles from past eras were kept in mind, although it is completely new. Barutçu explains: “Most likely, Hagia Sophia had a horizontal sundial that belonged to its muvakkithane. That type of a pedestal was found, but the lines on it are no longer clear. In other words, it has basically disappeared. We can’t do anything to alter the original stone that had been engraved, since it belongs to the museum, so instead we decided to place an engraved glass face over it that will illustrate its function. We used the horizontal sundial at Topkapı for the basis of the design.”
Fatih Mosque’s sundial is mistaken
Fatih Mosque’s long restoration was completed one year ago and included a sundial that stands at its western entrance. This sundial was cleaned up and the rods that create the sun’s shadows were replaced, since they had broken. But unfortunately, the sundial does not show the proper time. There were some miscalculations made during the restoration, says Bir. Aware that a mistake had been made, the careful Professor Bir told the heads of the restoration project about the error but was unable to convince anyone that it should be fixed. Bir and Barutçu are both members of a team formed to see the reintroduction of sundials into mosque courtyards and gardens around Turkey. The two professors are responsible for three such sundials envisioned for the gardens of the Beyazıt Mosque, but Bir warns: “I am still very angry with the restorers. If they don’t fix the mistake at Fatih Mosque, I will not be drawing anything up for Beyazıt.
Resource: Today’s Zaman

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