During the 16th century, Bosnia and Herzegovina was under Ottoman rule. It was the start of a new era, marked by Islamic art that flourished until the 19th century. With the Ottoman conquest of most of the Balkan peninsula, Islamic art began to exert a strong influence on popular creativity, especially in areas where the population converted to Islam. An important role was played by craftsmen whose products were intended for the rural as well as for the urban market.
With the arrival of the Ottomans existing trades rapidly evolved, introducing new techniques that the Turks brought. In the same guild Muslim, Christian, and Jew artisans worked together. Christians continued to apply old motifs, Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, and they combined them with new motifs that were brought to them by the Ottomans. The church remained to use the works of artistic craftsmanship staying true to the Byzantine and Gothic motives. There is no doubt that the brought oriental ornamentation had made a number of new trades and that it gave a new feature to the oriental decorative art.
Ornaments made by the Ottomans partly originated from the pre-Islamic era coming from China and the Turkestan area. On the other side the motifs were borrowed from the Persians and Arabs. In both cases, motifs were adapted to Ottoman taste. Simplified geometric arabesques relied on Arab culture and painting miniatures and floral ornaments relied on the Persian culture. Arab ornament were basically mathematical, the line is led by imagination, but the ornament has geometrical exactness whereas Persian ornament were treated lyrical. In the Ottoman ornaments you see various motifs, ranging from prehistoric symbolic, zoomorphic, floral, ideographic and geometric.
Not so much attention was paid to ornaments in Bosnia and Herzegovina except for the Aladža Mosque in Foča. On the interior wall and the porch of the mosque the original ornamentation was discovered beneath newer coats. The Aladža (meaning ”painted”) Mosque was built between 1550 and 1551 in Foča.
Because of its architecture, structural proportions, and both engraved and painted geometric and floral decoration, Aladža Mosque was one of the most important monuments in Bosnia and Herzegovina and beyond. It was a single-space domed mosque built in the classical Ottoman style, with an open exterior portico and a minaret abutting the right-hand side.
The finest and most interesting decorative stone fittings inside the mosques of Bosnia and Herzegovina were those of the Aladža Mosque in Foča. The mosque was destroyed in the period of the war, 1992-1995, in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the aggression of Serbia and Montenegro. The mosque was a masterpiece of Ottoman classical architecture. Construction works for its rebuilding officially began in 2014.
The architectural and artistic values of the mosque have a profound importance for the Bosnian Herzegovinian identity. The Aladža Mosque was famous for more than its architecture and decorative sculptural features. It was renowned above all for its wall paintings. Apart from part of the molded decorations, the painting covered the spherical surface of the dome. The entire wall painting was carried out on soft, porous plaster with a high proportion of lime using the secco, the so called dry technique, and very diluted tempera pigments. The wall paintings of the Aladža Mosque were probably made immediately after the building was completed, before the founder, Hasan Nazir, died in 1553.
This article is written by Selma Pandzic. | Selma Pandzic is from Bosnia and Herzegovina. She studied a MA degree in Art studies at the University of Tehran. She currently works as a translator in Tehran. Her interests are Islamic art, history and culture.