Islamic Spaces and Diplomacy in Constantinople (Tenth to Thirteenth Centuries C.E.)

Islamic Spaces and Diplomacy in Constantinople (Tenth to Thirteenth Centuries C.E.)

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Islamic Spaces and Diplomacy in Constantinople (Tenth to Thirteenth Centuries C.E.)

By Glaire D. Anderson

Medieval Encounters, Volume 15, 2009

Abstract: This article focuses on the built spaces, often described as mosques, of two Muslim communities in Constantinople between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. These Islamic spaces in the Byzantine capital originated pragmatic solutions to the functional requirements of accommodating Muslim prisoners and merchants. During this period one of these built spaces acquired political status as “the mosque of Constantinople” in diplomatic negotiations, serving as a counterpart to Christian monuments in Islamic territories.

By the end of the twelfth century the Muslim spaces of Constantinople had acquired social, economic and religious significance for an international Muslim community, becoming in effect Islamic monuments. The “mosques” of Constantinople thus illuminate a role for architecture within Byzantine-Islamic diplomatic exchange, and a process of medieval monument formation, based not on intrinsic artistic interest, but on meanings acquired through social processes.

Introduction: Constantinople’s status as a major Christian city and pilgrimage destination, and the tensions between the Byzantines and the various medieval Islamic dynasties, would seem to preclude the idea of Muslims living and worshiping in this medieval city. Yet, Byzantine and Islamic texts refer to buildings or complexes that Muslims in the Byzantine capital used as mosques. Unfortunately for the historian of medieval architecture and urbanism, there is no material evidence for the so-called mosques of Constantinople, and the primary sources that refer to the buildings are brief and dispersed in a variety of texts.

Despite references to these “mosques” in secondary scholarship on Byzantine-Islamic relations, scholars have not focused on them, nor is there consistency in basic information such as the number and chronology of the “mosques”, or indeed whether they existed at all.

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