Ottoman Architecture Deja Vu

On a recent visit to Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace I experienced the most extraordinary case of architectural deja vu.

Ottoman Architecture, Istanbul

Court of the Favorites, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Entering the final section of the Imperial Harem, the Courtyard of the Favorites, I immediately recognized the building, or thought I did. Turns out it wasn’t the building itself I recognized but the form of the building. I was face to face with an Ottoman doppelgänger!

Adventures in Preservation has been working in the city of Gjirokastra, Albania for many years and for the past two or three years I have been regularly seeing a photo of a particular section of the Skenduli House with an overhanging roof supported by large, angled timbers.

Skenduli House, Gjirokastra Albania

Skenduli House, Gjirokastra, Albania, in 2010

In Istanbul, a mere 450 miles away, I was seeing the dressed up version of that structure. It made me wonder what Gjirokastra looked like in its heyday, reflect on how much the city has lost, and appreciate that much more the ongoing preservation efforts to return that sort of elegance to the city’s tower houses.

For context, Topkapi Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1856, much of their 624-year reign. The Courtyard of the Favorites was built during an 18th century expansion of the Imperial Harem, one section of private apartments within the palace complex that in itself contains more than 400 rooms.

The majority of the existing buildings in Gjirokastra (sadly many have been lost) date from the 17th and 18th centuries, roughly the same time the Courtyard of the Favorites was built.

The question then becomes, which came first. Did the Balkan style influence the imperial architects, or were the people of the Balkans emulating the high style of the capital? I’ll leave that to the experts, but I’d love to learn more.

You can be part of restoration efforts in Gjirokastra. Support local preservation training efforts by making a donation via GlobalGiving or rolling up your sleeves and joining AiP’s hands-on preservation project at the Skenduli House in 2014.