Oldest Byzantine church in southeastern Turkey to re-open as mosque

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The Ala Cami, the oldest surviving Byzantine monument in Kadirli (possibly ancient Flavias or Flaviopolis) located in the Cilicia/Çukurova plain in the Turkish province of Osmaniye, will now serve as a museum and mosque following the completion of restoration works.

Oldest Byzantine church in southeastern Turkey to re-open as mosque
View of the Ali Cami before restoration [Credit:TripAdvisor]

The building displays over a millennium and a half of local history in several building phases. In the late 5th – early 6th century the site was artificially terraced for the construction of a large basilical church, built in at least two stages from a variety of reused architectural elements and incorporating the hypogeum as a crypt. It later seems to have fallen into disuse until the medieval period when it was converted into an Armenian church. This involved some modification to the original structure and the addition of a small church that sits inside the former nave of the church and reuses the original apse.

During the era of Dulkadiro─čullar─▒, a Turkish chiefdom who settled in Anatolia after its conquest, the newly renovated Christian church was converted to a mosque and a minaret was attached to the original structure. It was renamed as the Aluddevle Mosque by Kas─▒m Beg, the son of Aluddevle Bozkurt Beg, also known as the “Yellow Tiger.”

Oldest Byzantine church in southeastern Turkey to re-open as mosque
The interior of the Ali Cami before restoration [Credit: Panoramio/Google Maps]

In 1924, the Aluddevle Mosque was closed to worshippers and placed under the conservatorship of the General Directorate for Foundations which oversaw new construction in the scope of a new restoration project that was eventually approved by the Board of Protection. Upon this approval, restoration works began on the historical mosque. The restoration project focused on excavation works that have since uncovered many historical artifacts and mosaics.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Osmaniye Deputy M├╝cahit Durmu┼čo─člu said that the Directorate has taken steps to allow the mosque to serve the local community without being subjected to any modifications of its historical condition, saying: “We launched the restoration works upon the approval of the Board of Protection and have endeavored to make this mosque the Hagia Sophia of ├çukurova. We hope to be able to open this mosque to worshippers in our community in a year and a half. This structure, which has stood since the historic times of Dulkadiro─čullar─▒’s chiefdom, was previously in very bad condition and now, as the result of our efforts, the azan can be heard from this mosque.”

Oldest Byzantine church in southeastern Turkey to re-open as mosque
Restoration works at the Ali Cami [Credit: TripAdvisor]

Provincial Deputy Director of Culture and Tourism Burhan Torun said, “The aim to open the mosque as both a sanctuary and as a museum will be a big step for the introduction of Osmaniye and the region to tourism.”

Muzaffer Erim, who is the owner of the company that will oversee the restoration works, mentioned that they will reconstruct part of the mosque’s roof which was previously destroyed. Implying that the historical artifacts and mosaics that have been found during excavations around the mosque will be covered by glass for protection and turned into an exhibition area, Erim added that the Ala Mosque will serve as a museum in this way.

Source: Daily Sabah [September 25, 2017]

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