Although later denied by religious authorities, there were claims that the unique architecture that ensured an equal distribution of sound throughout Mimar Sinan’s Süleymaniye Mosque was altered by recent restorations. Media reports said the number of loudspeakers used in the mosque had been increased by officials in order to make up for the problem. However, prior to the restoration project, the simple voice of an imam was able to reach all the corners of the historic mosque whenever sermons were delivered or the Quran was read, without the aid of loudspeakers.
State officials have been trying to find the formula for a “perfect restoration” for years, as many works of art that have been neglected throughout the history of the Turkish Republic have begun to be restored in recent years.
According to experts, Turkey has significantly raised its standard of restoration work, and there is no longer any problem regarding lack of budget, staff or suitable materials.
Yet art historians are still finding restoration work on some historic buildings unsatisfactory on the grounds that the wrong materials have been used or the original form altered.
According to art historian Ahmet Vefa Çobanoğlu, an associate professor, mistakes were made during the restoration of the Gök Medrese in Sivas when restoration officials used cement instead of stabilized lime.
He further stated the collapse of the newly renovated section of Hüsrev Paşa Mosque in Van, after the province was hit by several powerful earthquakes last year, shows how terrible a restoration can be.
Çobanoğlu also noted that restorations conducted in too much haste could create problems.
“Sometimes it is said that the prime minister wants the restoration of a certain building to be completed as soon as possible. We want this too, but when you restore a building quickly it is impossible for you not to make any mistakes,” he said.
How does the restoration process begin in Turkey?
After experts come to an agreement that a historic building, monument or site needs restoration, a tender is initiated for the project. This tender evaluates the needs of the building or the site in relation to technicalities such as electricity, illumination and so on.
An application is then made to the Supreme Council of Monuments for permission for the restoration. The council examines the project and inspects the proposed site, in addition to obtaining experts’ reports relating to the proposal. If approved, implementation of the restoration project begins.
A further tender is launched to decide which company will carry out the restoration work. Circumstances of the tender change according to the value of the historic site or monument. For instance, if a very special historic site or building is to be restored, specific companies are invited to join the tender, and not all companies wishing to apply for the tender are accepted.
Officials examine the former restoration conducted by applicants, their staff and equipment before awarding the tender to any company.
Expert advisory boards continue to communicate with company officials at the restoration site and exchange views with them at weekly meetings. However, many historic buildings in different parts of Anatolia are not monitored by advisory boards during restoration; expert boards come together for the restoration of monuments only.
According to Sevilay Uludağ, an architect, expert advisory boards should be involved in all restoration of historic buildings or sites to prevent problems. She further added that contractors carrying out the work should have knowledge and experience in the field of restoration.
Uludağ noted that the word “restoration” has begun to be overused in Turkey over the past years and that even a small renovation is now called a restoration.
Restorations last as long as a century in Europe
The restoration of historic sites, monuments and buildings of Europe has a similar tender process to that of Turkey: The company with the lowest pitch -- provided it has the necessary skills -- is awarded the contract. However, Europe does not apply a deadline to restoration works, and there are some that have lasted as long as a century. Restoration works relating to the ancient period may take this length of time. Research must be conducted and possible problems relating to the restoration process discussed before the works can begin.
However, according to some architects, long restoration processes can bring their own problems. Critics of this method say that the duration of a restoration should change according to the nature of works to be conducted on the historic building, site or monument. If the aim is strengthening, it is better to complete the restoration as soon as possible, but in the renewal of stone or wooden decorative items work can progress more slowly.
İstanbul 1st Regional Director İbrahim Özekinci has told Sunday’s Zaman that the duration of restorations is very reasonable in Turkey compared with those of Europe. He said political authorities do not impose any pressure on the relevant institutions to complete restorations in the earliest time possible, although the public may sometimes exert such pressure, particularly when the building to be restored is a mosque.
“Mosque-goers who are used to visiting that mosque five times a day want the restoration works to be completed as soon as possible, to have the mosque opened again,” said Özekinci.
Kaya Üçer, a master of hand carving from Mimar Sinan University’s fine arts faculty, has remarked that he believes it is wrong to award such important tenders to companies offering the cheapest prices.
“This is not like the construction of a hospital or school. Duration of restoration sometimes lengthens, the cost increases. The diplomas of the restoration workers and their work experience should be the criteria,” he said.
Üçer also noted that Turkey should train people to work specifically on restorations, and that companies should work in harmony with specialist departments in universities during the conduct of restoration works.