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Fight of a century: Where in Kayseri was Mimar Sinan born?

KAYSERİ - Hürriyet Daily News | 11/30/2009 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU - FIRST PERSON

Ağırnas and Mimar Sinan, two villages in the central Anatolian province of Kayseri, have been fighting each other for nearly 100 years over their competing claims to be the birthplace of Ottoman architect Mimarbaşı Sinan. As a result, one resident says, families have gone so far as to forbid marriages between young people from the two villages

An entire century has proved an insufficient amount of time for residents of two neighboring villages in the central Anatolian province of Kayseri to determine which town was the birthplace of Turkey’s most renowned architect.

Kayseri’s Ağrınas village is officially recognized as the hometown of Mimarbaşı Sinan, the chief architect for the Ottoman Empire, who is often referred to as simply Mimar Sinan, or architect Sinan.

A member of a family from Kayseri, according to history books, Sinan is said to have created his first works as a child using kevenk, a volcanic stone unique to Kayseri, which sits amid the foothills of the extinct volcano Mount Erciyes.

During the time of Yavuz Sultan Selim, Sinan was taken into the guild of the janissaries, an Ottoman infantry corps. Sons of Christian families living within the borders of the empire were taken from their families, converted to Islam and educated in the guild of janissaries.

Before Ağırnas sits the village of Talas, which still maintains its historical character. We felt like time travelers as we visited the village’s abandoned and ruined churches and ancient streets.

The most interesting stop in Talas was undoubtedly the historical Talas American College and Hospital complex. The structure, which is affiliated with Erciyes University and makes a strong impression with its unique architecture, almost defies the years from its perch overlooking the village.

Ağırnas-born botany expert Sinan Demiroğlu, who guards the historical building and bears the same name as the famous architect, guided us throughout the day after learning that one person from our team has roots in Kayseri.

[HH] Fight to claim ownership

All historical sources cite Ağırnas as the birthplace of Mimarbaşı Sinan, but some Kayseri locals believe that the legendary architect was born in the nearby village of Mimar Sinan, just a few hundred meters away. The residents of the two villages have quarreled for decades over ownership of their most famous son.

“Mimar Sinan villagers say that he was born there; Ağırnas villagers say their village is mentioned as the birthplace in all records and thus claim ownership,” Demiroğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “According to my 93-year-old grandmother, this fight has been continuing for nearly 100 years.”

As a result, Demiroğlu added, families have gone so far as to forbid marriages between young people from the two different villages.

[HH] Cell towers changed the village

While visiting the villages one by one, we also passed through Germir, just a few kilometers from Talas and the birthplace of internationally renowned American director Elia Kazan. Demiroğlu said he had hosted Kazan in his grandmother’s mansion when the late director visited the village several years ago.

Unlike Talas, Germir has failed to preserve its historical fiber. The entrance to the village resembles a construction site; seven- or eight-story buildings rise from everywhere. There is nothing left in the village, which was famous for its vineyards and orchards.

Although rapid growth is cited as the cause of the changes in Germir, Demiroğlu says the main factors are the mobile phone towers placed in the village.

“The villagers went to court because of the towers,” he said, adding that they had filed suit in an ongoing case to have the mobile phone towers removed. “Germir was also famous for walnut trees, but like the vineyards and orchards, they are no longer producing.”

[HH] The story of the golden bell

The final destination on our tour with Demiroğlu was a ruined Armenian church in Germir. “I grew up playing in this church. We used to throw stones at the portraits of saints on the walls,” he said, adding that he now regrets this.

The church’s historic bell had been stolen, and Demiroğlu said he believed the legend that his grandmother tells about how the bell was taken away.

“A big airplane came close to the bell tower. My grandmother says that it was a German airplane,” he said. “Those in the plane took the church’s golden bell and flew away.”

[BOX]

[HH] Who was Mimarbaşı Sinan?

According to historical records, Mimarbaşı Sinan was born in Kayseri’s Ağırnas village and was taken into the guild of janissaries at the time of Yavuz Sultan Selim.

Sinan’s ethnic roots remain a matter of intense debate to this day, with some claiming he was of Armenian or Greek origin and others saying he was a Turk.

Earning the title of chief architect of the palace, Sinan decorated the empire with his works, including the Hüsreviye complex in Aleppo, Syria; the Çoban Mustafa Paşa complex in Gebze; and the Haseki complex, built for Hürrem Sultan, in Istanbul.

Three of his works built after he became chief architect can be viewed as steps displaying the development of his art.

The first is the Şehzade Mosque and complex in Istanbul. The Süleymaniye Mosque, built a few years later, is considered the architect’s most magnificent work in Istanbul. Lastly, the Selimiye Mosque, in the northwestern city of Edirne, is widely considered to be Sinan’s masterpiece.

The Selimiye Mosque, which he built while in his 80s, has a dome that is higher and deeper than that of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

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