‘Heaven is the abode of the generous’

Although Ottoman architecture makes heavy use of cut stone and rarely has decorative elements such as ceramic tiles adorning the outer walls, Yesil Turbe is almost completely covered in turquoise tiles.

Examples of such decoration are abundant in the former lands of the Seljuk Empire such as Iran and Uzbekistan, but more difficult to find in Turkey. The Sircali Medrese in Konya was once upon a time covered in similar tiles, but very few of them remain today. The minaret of the Sahib-i Ata Mosque, also in Konya, and those of the Cifte Minare Medrese and Gok Medrese in Sivas are more intact examples, but on a much smaller scale.

The glistening turquoise tiles are joined by flowing Arabic calligraphy placed above the seven windows that are at ground level of this octagonal structure. Similar to the calligraphy above the entrance and the calligraphy on the cenotaph of Sultan Mehmed I inside, thuluth script is used on a floral background.

The inscription above the three windows to the right of the portal reads: “[Line 1] God, most exalted and high, said: [Line 2] Every soul shall taste death, then to Us is your return [Quran 21:35]. [Line 3] The Prophet [Muhammed], peace be upon him, said: In the world, greatness is measured by wealth; but in the Hereafter, greatness is measured by [good] deeds.”

Line 1 alerts us to the fact that line 2 is a verse from the Quran, as the Quran is considered the word of God. This verse, slightly abridged, is commonly employed in the calligraphy used to decorate mausoleums. The full verse reads: “Every soul shall taste death, and We try you with evil and good, as a test, and then to Us is your return.”

The window directly opposite the portal and blocked by the mihrab on the inside is covered in square turquoise and white tiles, but does have calligraphy above it. It reads: “[Line 1] God, most exalted and high, said: [Line 2] Every soul shall taste death, then to Us is your return. [Line 3] He [Muhammed], peace be upon him, said: The world is a prison for the believer and heaven for the unbeliever.”

This same composition is used for the next two windows, while the last window (first to the left of the entrance) returns to the composition of the first three.

The windows also have calligraphy above them on the inside, and much more varied, but the tiles are not of the same high quality. Hadiths, sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, are the main theme in this calligraphy.

The calligraphy above the first window to the right of the entrance reads: “[Line 1] And he, peace be upon him, said: [Line 2] Recital of the Qur’an is a cure for the hearts. [Line 3] A whiff of knowledge is better than many deeds/actions.”

The next window over has above it the following: “[Line 1] He, peace be upon him, said: [Line 2] He who guides to good will also have some of that good spill on him. [Line 3] And he, peace be upon him, said: Heaven is the abode of the generous.”

‘Good’ a liquid that fills a vessel to the brim

Line 2 has a tile at the end that is out of place as it cuts off the end of the hadith mid-word. To understand this hadith better, consider “good” to be a liquid that fills a vessel to the brim. Anyone who attempts to carry that vessel to someone else will inevitably have some of that liquid spill on him or herself. Line 3, likewise, near the end appears to have a tile that belongs elsewhere.

The next window over does not suffer from this defect. The calligraphy above it reads: “[Line 1] He, peace be upon him, said: [Line 2] In the world, greatness is measured by wealth; but in the Hereafter, greatness is measured by [good] deeds. [Line 3] And he, peace be upon him, said: The world is a corpse and those who desire it dogs.”

Above this is a framed piece of calligraphy that reads: “Verily, God’s help is near.”

The window to the left of the mihrab also has a framed piece of calligraphy, this one containing the tugra (seal) of Sultan Mehmed I. Below it, written on tiles, is the following: “[Line 1] He, peace be upon him, said: [Line 2] Heaven is the abode of the generous … [Line 3] And he, peace be upon him, said: Life is but an hour, [so] live it in obedience [of God].”

Line 2 does not appear to have any misplaced tiles, but the second half includes a word that is neither Arabic nor Turkish and is hence incomprehensible. This may simply be a mistake introduced during one of the many renovations of the building.

The calligraphy above the second window to the left of the entrance reads: “[Line 1] He, peace be upon him, said: [Line 2] The world is a prison for the believer and heaven for the unbeliever. [Line 3] And Ali, may God ennoble his face, said: There is nothing better for the people than a selam [greeting].”

Ali was the fourth successor to the Prophet as well as his son-in-law.

Above the first window to the left of the entrance is the following: “[Line 1] He, peace be upon him, said: [Line 2] He who guides to good will also have some of that good spill on him. [Line 3] And he, peace be upon him, said: The best of people are those who help people.”

Yesil Turbe has undergone renovation multiple times, the first being in 1647. It was renovated again over a century later, in 1769. A devastating earthquake in 1855 left it in need of major work, to which Léon Parvillée, a French architect and ceramicist, was assigned. He stayed on this project between 1864 and 1867 but could not restore the exterior as too much of the decoration was missing.

The next renovation took place at the turn of the 20th century, in 1904, and another in 1945. The most recent, bringing the building into its current state, started in 2006 and ended three years later.

Three pieces of faience that covered Yesil Turbe can today be found in the Louvre in Paris; one of these, brought to France by Parvillée, has written on it “My God, forgive me my fault.”

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN