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Reflections of change at the crossroads of different cultures: a 700 year old building: St. Nicholas Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque) – N.Cyprus



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Keywords: change, conservation, cultural landmarks, reuse, values of
Located at the heart of the medieval walled city of Gazimagusa
(Famagusta)1, St. Nicholas Cathedral is a building which encapsulates
significant moments in the history of Cyprus.
Figure1: The West Front of St. Nicholas Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque)
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The characteristic Gothic forms of the period of the building’s initial
construction, its decorations and enrichments, show great similarities to
some of the finest European cathedrals of similar dates. However, its
turbulent history has meant the cathedral has undergone changes and
transformations in such a way that today it has many differences from its
northern relatives. The most striking example is the addition of the minaret
at the western doorway, which was built by the Ottomans immediately
after their conquest, and its conversion for Islamic use. Turning the
building into a mosque, it has been argued, placed the building at the
centre of the lives of the city's new residents "a fact to which it owes its
preservation today" (Luke 1965).
This paper aims to question issues related to the 5th article of the Venice
Charter by exploring the survival of a building through centuries. The
main reason for choosing that specific building is its difficult history
which is reflected as transformations related to the character of the island’s
constantly changing rulers.
The paper will discuss the building’s survival during all those periods of
the island, in order to explore the topic of conservation of monuments
through a real example. Investigating the building’s evolution will
underline the value of transformations over time and the paper will argue
that the limits of modifications stated in article 5 needs to be reconsidered.
The question of what should be the criteria for evolution and eventual
conservation of historical monuments will be discussed.
There are many disputes about how we should approach historic buildings,
principally related to the conflict between the preservation of the authentic
character of environments and ‘change’. It can be argued that the main
conflict of conservation is when it becomes a process of isolating
buildings instead of using them.
The theory of ‘what has been can never be again’ and that in the cycle of
development, everything is irreplaceable and irremovable, which was
raised by Riegl (Riegl 1903, republished in 1982) suggests that we have to
accept the passage of time. Isolating buildings from functionality and
everyday use is not preserving them but it is the process in which ‘ruins’
are produced. This theory indicates the power of age as a potential for new
developments. Wigley (2005 ) suggests that “to save something is to
Reflections of Change at the Crossroads of Different Cultures
redesign it!” underlining the ‘not-that-innocent’ process of conservation of
historical buildings.
Adaptive reuse is a conservation process through proper utilisation of built
environments, it involves new design -reductions or additions- on
historical accumulation, and in fact many buildings have undergone this
process in some way throughout history. At the end of this process, the
product is “a multi-layered complexity which is impossible to replicate in
a new building” (Brooker and Stone 2004: 9).
This paper focuses on issues of conservation based on those disputes. It
has been suggested that conservation can never be neutral and throughout
the paper contemporary methods of conservation are discussed through
examining the history of St. Nicholas Cathedral, a monument in which the
changing architectural languages are apparent.
Analysing St. Nicholas Cathedral’s survival
With its massive structure, the largest medieval building in the walled city
of Gazimagusa, St. Nicholas Cathedral is a significant landmark rising
above the roofs of the traditional core of the city, and has therefore
continued to be of symbolic importance.
The building and the great square in front of it (Fig. 2) have witnessed
many turning points and important events in the history of Cyprus,
beginning with the coronations of the kings of Jerusalem and of Armenia
(Peter I-1360), the 1472 marriage of the Venetian aristocrat Caterina
Cornaro to James the Bastard (James II), and her solemn abdication in
1489 when the island was ceded to Venetian control. In 1571, the
Ottomans conquered the island and converted the cathedral into a mosque,
a function it retains to the present.
The cathedral dates back to the early 1300s with a possible completion
date of 1400, therefore it is a product of the occupation of the island by the
French Crusaders and the Lusignan Dynasty (1192-1489). The
characteristics of Gothic which form the building, typical of northern
France, indicate the Latin Christian presence on the island. In the case of
Gazimagusa, although the religion of the inhabitants of walled city was
changed to Islam during the Ottoman occupation (1571-1878), this
significant example of Gothic architecture survived.
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Figure 2: The Namik Kemal Square
During the siege of the city in 1571 by the Ottomans, the cathedral’s north
and south sides were damaged, however the east and west ends were better
preserved due to the position of the building. The west front is the most
impressive part which is compared to some famous cathedrals of Europe.
St. Nicholas Cathedral has been compared to the Notre Dame de Reims in
many historical documents by some historians like Gunnis (1947) and
Enlart (1987). It should also be noted that the cathedral was called “the
daughter of Notre Dame of Reims” in some documents (Famagusta 1985;
Walsh 2004). Nonetheless the circumstances with which the two
cathedrals deal have been dramatically different from each other which
resulted in physical changes in buildings through centuries. Because of the
political circumstances, the Notre Dame de Reims is much more widely
known; however St. Nicholas Cathedral is not much recognised, but its
survival as a mosque, including the incorporation of a minaret on the
Reims inspired front expresses a similarly interesting history.
The east end (Fig. 3), is significant in terms of the window arrangement,
which consists of tall, narrow, and double windows one on top of the
other. On the north and south sides of the cathedral, the upper portion of
the nave (clerestory) has been completely destroyed, and the flying
buttresses were damaged during the siege. Jeffery mentions that “the nave
Reflections of Change at the Crossroads of Different Cultures
vaulting has been fairly well reproduced in harmony with the ancient work
but the clerestory windows are mere botched attempts to replace the
original; fortunately the Turks refrained from any hopeless effort to
reproduce the tracery, and the misshapen arches are filled in with the
pierced gypsum slabs which commonly decorate Turkish mosques”
(Jeffery 1983: 121), states the preservation approaches during the Ottoman
Figure 3: The East End of the building
During the British period, the building was protected according to the
‘Antiquities Law’ (Cap.31, enacted in 1935) and considered as a part of
the Government land as it was listed in the First Schedule. It should be
noted that during the British period, according to Cap. 96 of the laws, the
building heights in the walled city were restricted to two floors, which
supported the continuation of the building’s conservation as a landmark
for the walled city.
Today, the building is protected by the ‘Historic Monuments Law’ (Eski
Eserler Yasasi) of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and it
is declared as a part of the conservation area which covers the walled city
and the moat of Gazimagusa. The restoration attempts for the cathedral
which was in fact started at the late 1960s were completed in 1997 due to
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continual interruptions. At the present moment, the building is one of the
249 listed buildings of the walled city (extended after the British Period).
St. Nicholas Cathedral is only one of the potential and unrecognised world
heritage monuments of Northern Cyprus. The city walls, Salamis ancient
roman city and many more built environments deserve to be designated
World Heritage properties. As it is also suggested by Hyland, the
formation of a TRNC chapter of ICOMOS would be an effective first step
in realisation of country’s potential for architectural and archaeological
conservation (Hyland 1999).
Discussing the value of the monument and revisiting the 5th article of the
Venice Charter accordingly:
ARTICLE 5: The conservation of monuments is always facilitated by
making use of them for some socially useful purpose. Such use is therefore
desirable but it must not change the lay-out or decoration of the building.
It is within these limits only that modifications demanded by a change of
function should be envisaged and may be permitted.
The above fifth article of the Venice Charter under the “conservation”
heading is addressing the re-use of historical monuments. The article
claims that the functional changes can only be permitted if the lay-out or
decoration of the monument does not change. It can be argued, this
approach decreases the discipline of architectural conservation into a field
that considers buildings only as shells.
If the St. Nicholas Cathedral’s evolution is studied, we can see that the
most significant change after the Ottoman occupation was in the interior of
the building (Fig. 4) which is distinguished by its well defined proportions.
In the interiors, the paintings and frescos of the building were
whitewashed according to Islamic strictures of decorations. Gunnis (1947:
94), unlike Enlart (1987), argues that the changes in the interior
decorations of the building after the conversion is nothing worse than
some ‘restorations’ some European Cathedrals have gone through. He
states that, those alterations actually reduced the building to its modest
elements, which might also be related to the modernist taste of the period
in which Gunnis was writing.
Reflections of Change at the Crossroads of Different Cultures
Figure 4: The building’s interior
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Crucial questions of what to conserve and how to conserve are directly
related to the values of conservation and there is a real need to identify
them before taking any action. At the end of the 19th century, the conflict
of values with respect to conservation of monuments started. Alois Riegl’s
1903 essay on the issues of conservation of monuments was in a context
ahead of his time. Discussing the value of the building after the
conversion, Alois Riegl’s approach is taken as a basis.
Riegl’s approach can be summarised as a critical analysis of monument
types and identification of values with respect to their conservation. Riegl
analysed the subject by distinguishing between two kinds of monuments:
intentional and unintentional and two groups of values as memorial and
present day. Riegl describes intentional monuments mainly as a
phenomenon of antiquity, “a human creation, erected for the specific
purpose of keeping single human deeds or events (or a combination
thereof) alive in minds of future generations” (Riegl 1982:21). The
‘unintentional monuments’, which are much more numerous, are
considered as monuments that “recall a specific moment or complex of
moments from the past”, and thus make “a claim to immortality, to an
eternal present and an unceasing state of becoming” (Riegl 1982: 24 - 38).
Unintentional monuments are considered as ‘not-imposed’ monuments
that were built for a utilizing purpose and only afterwards have been taken
as having a historic value. Unintentional monuments can be identified as
historical monuments, principally in the 19th century, and artistic
monuments that can be considered as the most contemporary category.
After the definition of the monuments, Riegl analysed the subject by
identifying two groups of values accordingly, as memorial and present-day
values. Memorial values are ‘age’, ‘historical’ and ‘intended memorial’
values where present-day values are identified as the ‘use’, ‘art’ and
‘newness’ values. Riegl suggests that there is a need to find the right
balance of values; however the main conflict in terms of achieving the
balance of conservation is between the use value, the historical value and
the age value of monuments. The reason for that is the determination of
the ‘historical value’ as the level of preservation of the monument as close
to the original as possible, therefore ‘historical value’ of monuments
supports maintenance of monuments as authentically as possible; whereas
the use value refers to the benefits to people actually using monuments for
utilitarian purposes. Age value can be defined as the knowledge of age and
change caused by weathering and the use over time and therefore supports
the decay of monuments. When it comes to the issue of conservation of
Reflections of Change at the Crossroads of Different Cultures
monuments which had not kept their original form, one can find oneself in
the middle of the conflict of values. According to what ‘historic value’
suggests, all the later additions of the building must be removed and the
original form should be established. This process is in fact against all that
age value represents and may also be against the utilisation of the building
and therefore the use value of the monument.
Thus, the decision of which value should be the dominant one concerning
the long term benefits of conservation is vital. When we consider the
transformation of the St. Nicholas Cathedral into a mosque, we can accept
that the use value was the more dominant one comparing to age or
historical values. It can be argued that the ‘age-value’ of the St. Nicholas
Cathedral is reduced due to the additions like the minaret. However
considering the possibility of abandonment since 1571, one could
speculate on the physical decay the building would suffer. Obviously,
these additions help an increase in use value of the building under the
changed circumstances. As Luke (1957) suggested, the conversion of the
building into a mosque is the main reason building survived till our own
Exploring St Nicholas Cathedral imparts the knowledge of the history of
Cyprus and silently addresses the issues related to contemporary
conservation studies. It can be stated that the most important lesson we can
extract from this building is that there is nothing new about conservation
through re-use and remodeling. Change associated with historic buildings
should involve adaptive reuse and reconstruction in order to survive
structurally and functionally in accordance with changing social needs.
As it is one of the aims of the Venice Charter, conservation should
consider monuments as documents of historical evidence and not just as
works of art. In order to achieve this aim, ‘historical documentation’
should involve all the periods and changes that the buildings have
undergone and should aim for the continuation of the built environment
concerned to be utilised in the future. The danger of the charter is the
possible neglect of different, unique architectural languages, or mixture of
styles, for the sake of indicated legislation. In order to avoid this situation,
we have to accept that buildings change over time; understanding the
architectural language and allowing variety should be essential.
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Brooker, Graeme and Stone, Sally (2004), Rereadings : interior
architecture and the design principles of remodelling existing
buildings (London: RIBA Enterprises).
Enlart, Camille (1987), Gothic art and the Renaissance in Cyprus
(London: Trigraph in association with the A.G. Leventis Foundation).
Famagusta, Chamber of Commerce (1985), 'Famagusta: Town and
District', (Nicosia), 52.
Gunnis, Rupert (1947), Historic Cyprus : A guide to its towns and villages,
monasteries and castles (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.) 495p.
Hyland, A.D.C. (1999), 'Heritage: Conservation of the Architectural
Heritage of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus', Journal of
Architectural Conservation, (1), 59-74.
Jeffery, G. (1983), A Description of the Historic Monuments of Cyprus
(London: ZENO Booksellers & Publishers).
Luke, Sir Harry Charles (1957), Cyprus: A portrait and an Appreciation
(George G. Harrap & Co.: London).
—. (1965), Cyprus ... Revised and enlarged edition (George G. Harrap &
Co.: London).
Riegl, A. (1903, republished in 1982), 'The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its
Character and its Origin', in Kurt Foster (ed.), Oppositions 25 (New
York: Rizzolli, passim).
Walsh, Michael (2004), 'Saint Peter and Paul Church (Sinan Pasha
Mosque), Famagusta: A Forgotten Gothic Moment in Northern
Cyprus', Inferno IX.
Wigley, M. (2005 ), 'Unleashing the Archive', Future Anterior, II (2), 11-
1 Famagusta in English, Gazimagusa in Turkish, Turkish version will be used in
the text
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The re-use of existing structures has been a common practice since the first buildings were constructed and yet very little theoretical analysis of the subject exists. At the start of this new century, in an attempt to preserve our cultural heritage, large numbers of existing buildings are re-modelled in preference to demolition. Often, rather than an approach being taken that promotes a sympathetic and symbiotic relationship between new and old, contemporary statements of construction and environment are being imposed upon these buildings. But an approach based upon a perceptive and discriminating reading of the existing can produce both dynamic and appropriate results. The discovery and recognition of the embodied meaning of a place can be interpreted through building. The architect has the opportunity to reflect upon the contingency, usefulness and emotional resonance of particular places and structures through their-use of existing buildings. This paper proposes a theoretical framework for architects and designers involved with the interpretation and adaptation of buildings. It attempts to respond to remodelling as an artform, making sense of the considerable structural, aesthetic, environmental, contextual and programatic challenges of re-using buildings. This process can be broken down into a number of different sections, although in practice the separate factors inevitably merge. These stages are; the analysis or the revealing of the existing building which leads to the development of a strategy that will provide an overall plan for the design of the building whilst the tactics provide the detail of what the remodelling actually feels or looks like. It is through the understanding of the pre-existing that the remodelled building can become endowed with a new and greater meaning. An investigation of the archaeology of the original can reveal previously hidden or obsolete characteristics that contain the possibility of being exploited. The place can be activated.
A brief survey of the historic monuments and sites of Northern Cyprus, from the Neolithic to the British Colonial period, is followed by a review of past and present provision for their custody, conservation and maintenance, and presentation to the public. The role of the principal agencies with responsibilities in this field—Evkaf (The Commissioners for Religious and Charitable Foundations) and the Department of Antiquities and Museums—is examined, and their objectives, operational procedures and achievements analysed. Their major conservation achievements—St Nicholas Cathedral (Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque), Famagusta, and Kyrenia Castle—are reviewed, and major problems and weaknesses are identified.
Gothic art and the Renaissance in Cyprus
  • Camille Enlart
Enlart, Camille (1987), Gothic art and the Renaissance in Cyprus (London: Trigraph in association with the A.G. Leventis Foundation).
Historic Cyprus : A guide to its towns and villages, monasteries and castles
  • Rupert Gunnis
Gunnis, Rupert (1947), Historic Cyprus : A guide to its towns and villages, monasteries and castles (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.) 495p.
A Description of the Historic Monuments of Cyprus
  • G Jeffery
Jeffery, G. (1983), A Description of the Historic Monuments of Cyprus (London: ZENO Booksellers & Publishers).
Unleashing the Archive
  • M Wigley
Wigley, M. (2005 ), 'Unleashing the Archive', Future Anterior, II (2), 11-15.