From Dönme to Biennale: The "New Mosque" in Thessaloniki
by Emily Neumeier
published 13 December 2013
| Gal Weinstein's installation Fire Tire (2010) for the Thessaloniki Biennale. |
The piece to the right is over 4 meters tall. Exhibited in the Yeni Camii (New Mosque),
constructed 1902 in Thessaloniki, Greece. Photo by author.
| Yeni Camii. Early 20th-century postcard.|
| The Yeni Camii under construction, with scaffolding|
around the minaret that was eventually torn
down. 1902. Photo from the site of Baki Sarısakal.
| Maps illustrating the expansion of Ottoman Thessaloniki beyond the walled city, from 1850 to 1809. The Yeni Camii lies at the center of the new Hamidiye neighborhood, which appears in the right-hand map as the large area south-east of the city center, next to the shore of the bay. The Salname (Yearbook) of Thessaloniki in 1907 CE (1325 H) refers to the Yeni Camii as the "recently constructed Hamidiye Mosque." [p.565, available through ISAM]|
| Yeni Camii (New Mosque). Photo from |
the Vakıf Genel Müdürlüğü (Ankara),
Defter No. 2219. Courtesy of Sotiris Dimitriadis.
| Plaque located on the facade of the Yeni Camii, naming|
Vitaliano Poselli as the architect in both Ottoman Turkish
and Italian, with the year 1319 AH (1902 CE). Author's Photo.
| Facade of the Yeni Camii. Photo by Author.|
| Close-up view of the facade of the Yıldız Mosque in Istanbul (1884-86),|
the imperial mosque of Sultan Abdülhamid II. Photo by author.
| Original mechanism for the double-clock|
towers. Photo by author.
A brief glance at the facade shows that the Yıldız Mosque also features a six-pointed star embedded in the center of the upper decorative crest, as well as on the marble bands wrapping around the building (to the right of the crest)--this all suggests that the same craft specialists who worked on the mosque at Yıldız may very well have been brought in to decorate the facade of the Yeni Camii in Thessaloniki. In short, if stars of David prominently feature on the imperial mosque in Istanbul (as well as in many mosques throughout the world), it becomes tricky to ascribe their appearance in the Yeni Camii to the mosque's particular relationship with the Dönme community. Suffice to say that the wealthy and influential residents of the new Hamidiye neighborhood preferred to construct their new mosque in an eclectic style because they wanted to access the latest fashions in architecture. The Yeni Camii also reflected in many ways the aggressive push toward modernization that at the time affected almost every aspect of urban life in Thessaloniki. The mosque not only included a sundial fixed to the outside of the building with Ottoman Turkish instructions on setting personal pocket-watches according to the markings ("Saatlerinizi on dakika'ya geri olarak dönleriniz," "Turn back your watch 10 minutes [from the indicated time on the dial]"), but also a double-clock tower that was operated by a complex mechanism that is still in situ, and, even in a state of disrepair, still a work of fine craftsmanship. 
| One of the double-clock towers of the|
Yeni Camii, with Greek soldiers
billeted on the top of the roof, 1915.
If you get the chance to visit Thessaloniki, don't miss the Yeni Camii--a fin-de-siecle gem that speaks to the urban transformation of the late Ottoman port city, and continues to play center stage as an arts venue as well as a bargaining chip in international relations.
The 4th Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art is on view until January 31, 2014.
BAER, Marc. "Globalization, Cosmopolitanism, and the Dönme in Ottoman Salonica and Turkish Istanbul." Journal of World History 18/2 (June 2007): pp 141-170.
MAZOWER, Mark. Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950. London: HarperCollins, 2004.
Sabah 4616 (7 Eylül 1902). Found in SAKAL, Baki Sarı, "Selanik'te Yaptırılan Son Cami Hamidiye Camisi (Yeni Cami)."
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