The Zincirli Mosque in the Greek northern town of Serres, one of the oldest Ottoman mosques in Europe, has opened its gates for public, non-religious use after nearly a century of neglect.
Built by Mimar Sinan (1490-1588), the famous Ottoman chief architect serving three sultans and responsible for more than three hundred major Ottoman structures, the monument is among the most important of its kind for the history of Islamic architecture.
The Zincirli Mosque, also known as “Mosque of Chains,” took its name according to the first version “from the chains by which the main chandelier was hung from the roof,” as mentioned by archeologist of the 12th Greek Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities Stavroula Dadaki. Another version attributes its name to the zincirli coins minted in the mid 18th century, a period during which the mosque underwent extensive restoration.
According to Dadaki’s description, it is a medium-sized mosque with a central quadrangle space, which on three sides (eastern, northern and western) is surrounded by a two-story lodge abutted by columns. The Islamic pulpit, called minbar, is richly decorated and in excellent condition.
The mosque, whose vault ceiling was initially covered with sheets of lead, became a lumber warehouse after the town’s liberation in 1913, and served as an army depot during the Second World War (when the lead was removed and melted for weapons), while later becoming a municipal warehouse. Through the years of neglect, plants began to grow even on the roof.
“When work began, the mosque was literally a ruin, with water coming into the building from everywhere. The gaps in the vault and the falling pieces of the cornice were temporarily taken care of with a thin layer of cement, which was removed with the progress of work,” notes archaeologist Lila Sampanopoulou.
The extensive restoration lasted due to lack of funding over ten years. The prestigious central ground floor was renovated from 2010 to 2012.
The opening of the renovated historic monument was part of the commemorative events for the 100th anniversary of the liberation of the town of Serres. Its premises will host the exhibition “Serres 1913-fiery town: pictures before and after the disaster,” which displays findings excavated by the 12th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities and dating back to the period before the great destruction of the Greek town caused by the Bulgarians in 1913. The additional photo material of the city courtesy of the Greek General State Archives, the local town archives and private collectors, show pictures of the period before and after 1913.
“With this exhibition we are launching the Zincirli Mosque as a new place for arts and culture,” mentioned Dadaki in her opening remarks. The mosque is planned to host the temporary exhibition “Architecture of Medieval Serbia in The Balkans” in March 2014, as well as several music events.