Dobrudja, the territory between the Danube and the Black Sea was an Ottoman province for more than four centuries, between 1420 – 1878. After the Russian-Ottoman War of 1877-1878 Romania incorporated Dobruja together with a significant Muslim minority. Since then, the Muslim Ottoman heritage, understood in Romania as that part of material culture related to Turkish and Tartar minorities, has been, with some exceptions, neglected.
In Ottoman Dobrudja there were several small urban centers which usually benefited from detailed descriptions in various historical sources, while the rural area determined less attention.
Evliya Çelebi is considered in the literature the main source for the description of the Ottoman monuments in Dobrudja. In his accounts of Seyâhatnâme [Book of Travel] (17th c.) countless constructions (mosques, caravanserais, hamams…) are to be found. Today these monuments are much less numerous. Some of them are recorded in the official List of Historical Monuments (link) realized by the Romanian Ministry of Culture. Muslim places of worship are listed on sites dedicated to national heritage, such as National Institute of Heritage or other non-governmental sites. Esmahan Sultan Mosque in Mangalia (1575), buit during the reign of Sultan Murad III is considered as the oldest remaining Ottoman Muslim monument in Dobruja. It was certainly not the first mosque erected in the region, but the earlier ones vanished.
“A joke is circulating among Laz people, in the sense that if someone has no chance to go to Kaaba, they say: “You, the ignorant, go to Mangalia which is Kaaba of the wandering and poor.” They respect the city so much! (…) The most important mosque is that of Esmahan Sultan. It is a bright mosque with many believers, as it is not in these parts.”
(Evliya Celebi, ed. by Mustafa Ali Mehmet in Călători străni despre Țările Române, VI, București, 1976, p. 380)
(In)Visible Ottoman Heritage in Dobruja. Mapping Muslim Traces in a Borderland Region project brings to light what has survived from the Ottoman cultural heritage In Dobruja in an interactive concept. A digital map was created on which local Ottoman Muslim monuments, mostly mosques and cemeteries, are registered as silent witnesses of an endangered history and memory of a community.
Some of the mosques have been subject of legal regulations regarding their protection as historical monuments as well as “objects” of study, being considered as the most representative expressions of the Ottoman Muslim cultural heritage. Many other mosques, especially those in rural areas, have been ignored and remained unknown to the general public. In numerous situations, following the depopulation of villages, the mosques were abandoned and left to ruin. In other cases, their restoration did not take into account the specific architectural features, thus even renovated they kept very little of the original characteristics.
Ottoman Muslim cemeteries offer more evidence of the presence of the Muslim population in this region, even when the original villages disappeared from the map in earlier or recent times.
Our website (In)Visible Ottoman Heritage in Dobruja provides the opportunity for their identification in the field as well as their acknowledgment due to accurate their location.
The main objectives/aims of the project are:
- to contribute to increase visibility of Ottoman heritage in Dobruja.
- to map and inventory a sensitive heritage which is in permanent danger of destruction and disappearance.
- to create a research instrument for academics interested in Ottoman heritage in the Balkans.
- to raise awareness of local authorities to start projects of protection, safeguarding and assuming the Ottoman heritage.
- to provide information for the creation of cultural routes in a period when the interest for cultural-historical excursions dedicated to the discovery of the patrimony of Dobruja increased.
(In)Visible Ottoman Heritage in Dobruja is the outcome of long term research undertaken by the project team. The current presentation is not exhaustive, new results of the ongoing investigation will be added in the future.
The site is the result of the project (In)Visible Ottoman Heritage in Dobruja. Mapping Muslim Traces in a Borderland Region, funded by the Center for Culture and Governance in Europe – University of St. Gallen through GCE-HSG Research Dissemination Grant: Borderland Studies in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea Region (2020).