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Islamic architecture and Orientalizing style in Habsburg Bosnia, 1878-1918

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - THEKAISERSMOSQUES (Islamic architecture and Orientalizing style in Habsburg Bosnia, 1878-1918)

Reporting period: 2019-08-01 to 2021-01-31

The project ERC 758099 highlights an understudied experiment at the intersection of nineteenth-century European and Islamic architectural histories. It draws attention to a significant body of buildings designed by architects trained in Central Europe for use by Muslims in Habsburg-ruled Bosnia-Herzegovina (1878-1918). They include mosques, madrasas, and other buildings corresponding to a traditional Islamic formal and functional typology. The composition and decoration of their façades, however, is the product of nineteenth-century European Historicist conduct. Quoted are elements from assorted Islamic artistic heritages, with prominence given to Egypt and Andalusia.
The Orientalizing style developed for these buildings also spread to others outside this typology. It became a prominent style for town halls and residences; on occasion, it was also used in the design of railway stations, schools, or hotels. The spread and concentration of buildings in this style in Bosnia is extraordinary, yet remains little-studied. The very existence of a heritage of buildings for use by Muslims in a Habsburg-ruled land is practically unknown.
The project’s primary intention is to validate the assertion that these buildings must be considered a distinct group of architectural monuments, and that they, in consequence, constitute a phenomenon that demands separate appraisal and study.
Intertwined with this architectural phenomenon is the stylistic phenomenon traditionally (yet inaccurately) called ‘pseudo-Moorish’ in Bosnia. This study explores its historical sources and the channels of their reception, as well as the logic and aesthetic of these sources’ paraphrasing in a nineteenth-century Central and Southeast European context.
By documenting and analysing this heritage in the necessary detail, the project will fill a significant gap in published scholarly research. It will also contribute to our understanding of European powers’ historical responses to the challenge of cultural diversity in territories under their control.
The research team (and its collaborators) has, in various fieldwork campaigns, surveyed the country for buildings previously uncharted, searched various archives for documentation related to architectural projects, and analysed historical texts and drawings as well as buildings in situ with the intention of better understanding the logic(s) underlying their design. This has enabled the insertion of new information and novel hypotheses into the discourse about this phenomenon.
The proposal for the project had deplored that no truly new insights on the relevant buildings had been produced since pioneering researches of the 1980s. Since the beginning of the project, much has been achieved in improving this situation – especially with regard to the understanding of individual structures and the deliberations, in matters of both visual identity and ideological substructure, of which they were the product. A large body of archival plans has been unearthed and analyzed. This has in many cases enabled us to make the connection between prominent features of these building’s exteriors (asymmetry, structuring of masses and space, towers, etc.) and spatial-functional requirements that must have been identified at the onset of planning and design. That said, most cases appear to not have followed a simple logic of ‘form following function’. Instead, the study of the mentioned documentation indicated that the negotiation of form and function is probably better understood as a process, the eventual outcome being the product of careful deliberations.

Case studies have also shown that ‘second-row architects’, such as construction officials dispatched to the provinces, often lacking a training in architecture in a fine arts context, brought forth remarkably original responses to the challenges of architectural designs that were to be both functional and representative. They were generally appointed to less monumental projects, but the volume of their work and the finesse of individual solutions had us recognize their role in the dissemination of Orientalizing forms in Habsburg Bosnia.
Sarajevo, former City Hall (1892-5)