Turkish-Islamic urban planning in the 16th and 17th century in Croatia

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Turkish-Islamic urban planning in the 16th and 17th century in Croatia
Zlatko Karač

Alen Žunić,

University of Zagreb, Faculty of Architecture

Croatia, 10 000 Zagreb, Kačićeva 26

The least researched period in the history of Croatian architecture and urbanism, with a sparce fund of preserved monuments, includes heritage dating from the Turkish-Islamic Period. (Szabo 1929; Pelc 2009; Karač 2010b).

This layer is predominantly associated with the Ottoman Empire and its occupation of Croatian regions in the 16th and 17th century. However, numerous objects of Islamic art and art of oriental provenance (which also influenced the architecture and physiognomy of borderlands and towns) continued to be built within these regions up until the end of the 19th century and were influenced from across the Bosnian border, which was the Western ‘limes’ of the Ottoman Empire up until the Austrian reconquest in 1878 (Omerbašić 1999).

Historical and period framework – Turkish Period in Croatia
The commencement of systematic Turk conquests of Croatian regions began at the Battle of Krbavsko Polje in 1493, whilst, exactly one century later, the Battle of Sisak marked the end of Turkish expansions in 1593. In 1552, the borders of the Ottoman Empire had already been extended as far as a mere 48 km east of Zagreb, to the Česma River in Čazma, and, with the subsequent establishment of the Turkish town of Petrinja to the Kupa River, they spread even closer to Zagreb. At the end of the 16th century Ottoman invasions had attained their westernmost point deep within the regions of Croatia (and also of Europe) at a time when reliquiae reliquiarum olim regni Croatiae… extended over only about a third of modern-day Croatia (Holjevac, Moačanin 2007). The following two centuries, and up until the 'Passarowitz Peace Treaty’ and the final separation and establishment of borders with the Turks, were marked with constant minor squirmishes and major warring for the liberation of Croatian lands. This lasted until 23 December 1795 when the border with Bosnia, as we know it today (then part of the Turkish Empire), was finally delineated (Mažuran 1998; Moačanin 1999; Moačanin 2000).

From the moment that the town of Imotski in the east part of the Dalmatian hinterland first fell under the Turks in 1493 and up until 1795, when Ottoman divisions finally left the last border towns of Banovina and Kordun, the Turks had ruled over Croatian regions for 302 years, although Slavonia, the largest occupied Croatian region, was under Turkish rule for a mere century and a half (approx. 1530-1680).

Centuries of coexistence, warring, but also of close trade relations between Croatia and the Islamic world and contact with oriental arts, at a time when (sometimes only a stone’s-throw away) the Renaissance was flourishing in Dalmatia, helped to shape one of the greatest cultural counterpoints in the development of Croatian architecture and urbanism (Karač 2010b).
Status of Turkish settlements – towns, market towns and villages
During the initial decades of Turkish rule in Croatian regions indigenous inhabitants fled and abandoned most of the settlements that had fallen under Turkish rule. In the first wave of colonisation, the Turks settled the towns, chiefly through the establishment of askers (military troops), while immigrant traders and artisans from Bosnia came later, and many of the villages marked as being defters (fiscal cadastre lists) were listed in the 16th century as being mezras (uninhabited).

There was a shift as far as centres within the medieval urban network at the time were concerned. Towns-forts that were not close to the serhats (battlefields), which constantly advanced westwards lost their military importance, and towns in the hinterland, advantageously positioned in view of communications (for example, Osijek due to the bridge on the Buda road), or new administrative centres, like Požega and Ilok (sandžak centres with large territorial units) flourished.

Within the Turkish nomenclature settlements (Moačanin 2001) were mostly first noted and attributed as being a varoš (semi-urban market town with a Christian majority), and after their conversion to Islam and the advent of Bosnian Muslims after 1550 largely Muslim džemats (religious and ethnic congregations) were established so that many settlements became kasabas (Muslim market towns). The first to achieve the status of šeher (a 'real town') within the conflux of the River Drava, the River Sava and the Danube was Mitrovica (according to the defter as early as 1566/68), while Osijek, Požega and Ilok were only denoted as such later during the 17th century. On the other hand, the chronicler Evlija Čelebi terms Drniš and Cernik as being šehers around 1660 (Čelebi 1979).
The size of Turkish towns
At the end of the 16th century not one settlement in Turkish Croatia numbered more than 500 houses, and only Požega and Ilok in Slavonia (sandžak centres) came close to having as many houses, according to which they could be termed towns in view of the set criterium. If, on the other hand, one includes a second, functional criterium (administrative and trading centre, urban facilities and activities), then there might have been at least two dozen towns within the conflux of the rivers Sava, Drava and the Danube, as well as a further dozen in the Dalmatian hinterland where Knin and Klis (also sandžak centres), and later Drniš, were important and large settlements throughout the entire Turkish period in the region. Initially, not even the administrative criterium could “improve” the urban status of a settlement as up until 1545/46 as many as 74 settlements in Slavonia and Srijem became nahijas (municipality centres), whereas there were no towns, not even those registered as being kasabas, earlier than 1560. Only later was kadiluk (a Sharia legal county) used to rank and designate a settlement in view of its urban character (Moačanin 2001).

In the 17th century, the numbers of inhabitants in towns grew substantially, while the architecture changed due to dilapidation, fires and other disasters. Before the fall of the Turkish Empire, in 1680 there were around 1 000-1 500 households in Požega in Slavonia, and when one factors in that each household had at least six members, then this means it was a settlement with 6 000 to 9 000 inhabitants (Moačanin 1997). Osijek, also in Slavonia, which was, up until the turn of the 16th century, only a small settlement strategically important for its bridge and road communications with Hungary, quickly began to grow into a trading centre with a large panađur (fair/market) after the end of warring after 1606. At the end of Turkish rule, it had over 2 000 households and 12 000 inhabitants (Mažuran 1993) – far more than any town in the free regions of Croatia of the time, including the largest Dalmatian centres – and was the largest Croatian town in general.

Urban transformation and Turkish urbanisation processes
During the initial decades of Turkish rule, the Turks did not introduce significant changes to the appearance or the urban structure of the Croatian towns they had conquered. They conquered most of the settlements without any conflicts or destruction, so that there was no need for re-building or extensive new building. The demographically reduced populace, up until a rise in the population around 1600, did not find it necessary to extend existing town areals as such, so that a medieval urban layer continued to exist during the entire 16th century (Obad Šćitaroci; Bojanić 2003). The picturesque oriental iconography of Croatian towns, as depicted on numerous landscapes and slightly romantic works of graphic art dating from this period were predominantly influenced by the specific silhouettes of minarets and mosques (place of worship), türbes (‘mausoleum’), cupola-shaped hammams (baths) and similar edifices which – although they only appeared in isolation amongst the old urban structure – are the only authentic Turkish contribution to the medieval urban construct (Zdravković 1956).

The reorganization of towns into mahalas (residential neighbourhoods or quarters) built up around a mosque or more frequently around a mesdžid (smaller place of worship) should not be viewed as being primarily a physical process, but more as a confessional grouping (Muslims-Christians), or professional grouping of local džemats. As far as the criteria concerning the appearance and size of mahalas are concerned, these were not altogether clear and tended to be modified during Turkish rule. For example, in Vukovar where the number of houses did not change significantly until the end of the 16th century, the number of mahalas registered varied according to consecutive defters: in 1566/68 there were ten; in 1578 there were three; and in 1588/95 there were seven. According to a comparative list from the 1580s, Osijek and Vukovar had seven mahalas, Ilok had eight, Požega had twelve, Mitrovica had fourteen... and each mahala had an average of 35-50 houses (Karač 2010a).

The Turkish system of land parcelling has not been preserved in modern-day regions of Croatia; however, based on land tapijas (purchase and sales documents) in Vukovar, it is evident that over 70% of the parcels within the town extended over an area verging on ½ dunum (544 m2), which may be considered as being the average size of a town landplot in Slavonia (Karač 2010a).
Newly established Turkish towns
The only completely new town that the Turks established in Croatia is Petrinja south of Zagreb, which developed from a palanka (a frontier camp or settlement fortified through wooden palisades and earthen bulwarks) called Yeni Hissar (New Fort). It was built within three weeks (more precisely, from 12 April to 2 May 1592) by Hasan-Pasha Predojević. This Turkish Petrinja burnt down completely on 10 August 1594. According to illustrations from the time, it had a rectangular groundplan with rectified dimensions and measured 190/120 m, with four angle towers, one at each corner. It was protected by a moat and earthwork, it had a drawbridge across the River Petrinjčica, and there was a džamija (mosque) in the middle of the settlement. (Steinman 1942).

The nucleus of Gospić, a town in Lika situated in the hinterland of Velebit, is also a Turkish settlement that was founded by Rizvan-Aga Senković in the mid-17th century, but the urban profiling of the town as it stands today was carried out after the Turkish period, so that there is no indication of its Ottoman urban development within its modern planimetry.

Forts in Turkish towns
Due to Ottoman invasions and the constant shifting of borders to the west, forts and fortified towns left in the hinterland of the Turkish serhat (battlefield) soon became less important and so they were not renovated, nor did they grow in size. Within the town castels where the local forces resided only makeshift wooden residences were built for the askers (soldiers) and a number of more durable buildings for the warehousing of ammunition. Even when a Turkish layer was added to existing fortifications, it was, as a rule, in the form of improvised wooden palisades and earthworks (for example, at Vukovar or at the Osijek panađur in the south suburbs of Tvrđa).

Only on rare occasions did the Turks reinforce the towns they invaded through a system of strongwalls and towers, as carried out in 1568 in Makarska on the Adriatic Coast by Sinan’s pupil Hajredin the Younger (also the builder of the famous bridge in Mostar). The remains of a round, brick angle tower (called the Fillibelli Fort) still stands at the entrance to Tvrđa in Osijek and is the only remains of the Turkish city walls that extended between the settlement and the panađur fair area (Mažuran 1993).

Some fortified settlements continued to be important up until the beginning of the 17th century as they were situated on communication routes; these were places where there were ferries, inns or menzilas (stations affording a change of horses), especially along the Buda Road, which is why they were fortified by rectangular-shaped stake palisades, thereby attaining the status of palankas, for example Petrinja (in Podunavlje these included Dalj, Tovarnik, Sotin, and others).

Today, the most noteworthy and also earliest fort to be built by the Turks in Croatia (as early as 1500 and built by Hodža Mustafa-paša Ušćuplija) is the monumental round Kula Norinska (Norin Tower) and the remains of its bulwark, which lie in the marshy Neretva River Valley (Karač 2010b).

Bridges and road infrastructure in Turkish towns
Although they do not bear the typical Islamic code due to their utilitarian design, bridges are, without doubt, the most monumental structures left by the Turks within the territory of Croatia. They were initially built along communication routes as part of the military infrastructure (often constructed by Italian engineers, or Nassadists, employed by the Turks), and later served as civilian structures, which were protected and maintained by units of derbenđijas (Zirojević 1987).

During the attack on Hungarian Mohács in 1526, Vezier Ibrahim-Pasha commissioned a wooden bridge measuring 550 metres to be built across the marshlands of Vuka near Vukovar. The chronicler Čelebi notes that... “this bridge was built (...) within three days and three nights at the orders of Sultan Suleyman, so that the Turk army could cross during attacks on the town of Osijek. Many esnafs were employed and thousands of craftsmen...” (Čelebi 1979). Although it was made of wood, this was no improvised structure as it served its purpose for the next 261 years – an entire century after the Turks had already left these regions (Karač 1994).

The wooden bridge at Osijek was almost mythical among its contemporaries and was an oft depicted motif in illustrations of this Turkish town. It ran from the banks of the River Drava by the Tvrđa town gates and across the Baranja marshlands and was almost eight kilometres in length. Certain sections were supported by oak pylons, whilst others were supported by pontoons consisting of lashed boats. Although it was also initially built during military attacks launched on Mohács in 1526, it burnt down several times, and was rebuilt and repaired (Matasović 1929).

In 1592 Hasan-Pasha Predojević had a bridge built across the River Kupa near Petrinjski Brest. The stone Atlagića-most Bridge stood on the River Krka at Knin up until WWII. Two stone bridges (Vukovića and Dragovića most) were recently submerged under the waters of the Peruča Lake, so that the only Turkish bridge that remains in Croatia is that across the Krupa, a stream beneath Velebit.

As far as communication routes within settlements are concerned, the chronicler Čelebi provides a picturesque description in his notes from 1663 on the small settlement of Rača on the River Sava: “All the roads are paved in planks. Moreover, all the streets are paved in planks and logs” (Čelebi 1979).
Water supply systems within Turkish towns
Water and a steady supply of water was an essential part of any Islamic town, and to this day there are still numerous fountains and wells in Croatian towns that date back to this period.

The picturesque stone fountain of the ‘Three Kings’ with a curlicued arch and niche characteristic of the mihrab-česma type has been preserved beneath Klis near Split (Zdravković 1958). There are also ‘romantic’ renovated stone Turkish fountains in Slavonia: in Oriovac, Požega (indicatively named Tekija), as well as at Slavonski Brod (the Rozinka Fountain on Brodsko Brdo), and at Karlovci. Up until recently, there was also a Turkish fountain in the parks of Cernik manor. The remains of Kasim-Pasha’s fountain with double arched niches were excavated at Osijek close to the road to Baranja, and the fountain (perhaps a sebilj?) by the Kasim-Pasha mosque complex on Križanić Square in Tvrđa (Minichreiter 1984) has also been excavated by archaeologists, while the remains of a further fountain are kept at the Museum of Slavonia in Osijek. The fountain of Vizier Mustafa-Pasha Jahjaogluu the Senior are mentioned in the town records of Požega. Čelebi states that “...there is a fountain that contains the water of life” near Arslan Bey’s džamija (mosque) at Ilok.

The same chronicler notes that there are twelve sebiljs ('pavilion' or kiosk-shaped public fountain with running water) in Osijek, among which Serdar’s, Ćehaja’s and especially Kasim-Pasha’s sebilj protected by a wooden cupola are noteworthy. Until recently, there was a sunken well with characteristic Turkish architecture at the Franciscan monastery at Ilok (Radauš 1975), and Turkish wells may still be seen at Zagvozd in the Dalmatian hinterland, and at Vrgorac (the Muminovac and Dizdarevac Wells). It is interesting to note that in 1663 at Tovarnik, where the large Turkish army spent the night, Čelebi noted “...four hundred wells from which water was drawn by a winch” (Čelebi 1979). To this day, the stone arch-shaped pavilion or šadrvan (a fountain for ritual cleansing - abdest) is the striking and distinct feature of the monumental Mašković han in Vrana near Zadar (Traljić 1962; Petricioli 1971).

Wooden and ceramic pipes belonging to the Turkish water supply system or aqueduct are preserved at museums in Vukovar (Horvat 1970) and Požega, and are also to be found in situ at the aqueduct next to Kasim-Pasha’s mosque at Tvrđa in Osijek.

Turkish toponomastics

Certain Croatian settlements bear witness to their Turkish heritage; for example the villages Alaginci, Ašikovci, Alilovci, Dervišaga, Eminovci, Prnjavor... all in the environs of Požega in Slavonia, or Mustafina Klada near Kutina, while the local toponomastics of many Slavonian towns and their oldest quarters still preserve Turkish names, like Čaršija, Čajira and Turska skela in Ilok, Donja ma(h)ala in Vukovar, Meraja in Vinkovci, Arslanovaci and Tekija in Požega, or Tursko groblje at Pakrac. Beneath Klis in Dalmatia there is a site called Mejdan, and in the Imotska Krajina there are numerous hamlets bearing Turkish onomastics (Buljubašići, Ivanbegovina, Arambašići, Okmadžići, Begovići, Kasaba…).

In the 16th and 17th century the westernmost limits of the Ottoman Empire extended as far as the lands of a divided and occupied Croatia, shaping the region through Islamic and Turkish culture which coexisted with Renaissaince art from the West. During the ‘Turkish Period’, numerous Croatian towns received an Islamic layer of architecture and were transformed through oriental influences, including their urban matrices (the forming of mahalas). Although little has been preserved to this day, there are numerous graphics and illustrations, town plans, precise cadastre lists and other sources available for the research of Turkish urban development.

By researching Turkish-Islamic urban development it has been possible to establish and define links between the medieval and post-Turkish (Baroque) stages in urban development that were unknown to date, and the Turkish layer from the 16th and 17th century, which was, up until recently, quite wrongly considered a period of destruction with discontinuity in settlements and a decline in urban culture, has been reaffirmed as a new value in the transformation of Croatian towns, also important within the context of an evaluation of the new Islamic architecture to appear in Croatia during the 20th century (Žunić 2011).

References (selected)
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HOLJEVAC, Ž.; MOAČANIN, N., 2007: Hrvatsko-slavonska vojna krajina i Hrvati pod vlašću Osmanskoga Carstva u ranome novom vijeku. Zagreb: Leykam International.

Horvat, V., 1970: Muzeološki prikaz turskog razdoblja za područje zavičajnog muzeja u Vukovaru. Glasnik slavonskih muzeja 13, 1-107.

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MOAČANIN, N., 1997: Požega i Požeština u sklopu Osmanlijskog carstva (1537.-1691.). Jastrebarsko: Naklada Slap.

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ŽUNIĆ, A., 2011: Islamic Architecture in 20th Century in Croatia – Issues of Assessment and Architectural Interpretation. The importance of place [Proceedings of 4th H&mH International Conference]. Sarajevo: CICOP (in prep.).

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