The inscriptions at the Topkapi Palace may be divided in three ways: by the time when they were made, by the content and by the style of the script. The time range is from the end of the 15th century until the half of the 19th century.

This article is a part of the project 'Promotion of the Ottoman Cultural Heritage of Bosnia and Turkey' which is organized by Monolit, Association for Promoting Islamic Arts and supported by the Republic of Turkey (YTB - T.C. BAŞBAKANLIK Yurtdışı Türkler ve Akraba Topluluklar Başkanlığı / Prime Ministry, Presidency for Turks Abroad and Related Communities).

image Calligraphic inscription, Topkapi Palace / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

Istanbul is true treasure of inscriptions that are made exceptionally. The largest opus of such art is located on mosques. However, the inscriptions also exist on many public monuments. We should especially mention the inscriptions that decorate one of the best known architectural complexes in world, the Topkapi Palace. There are numerous inscriptions and the reason for that is that all the buildings in Topkapi were dedicated to the sultans or to the certain ceremonials and court protocols. In order to mark and perpetuate that, the inscriptions were made a way that we can describe them as official consecrations, as the religious content proves the strong relationship between the religious and profane, respectively, the religious and political in the life of the Ottoman court were interwoven. It should not be forgotten that many processions in the court had extremely religious character and was required even for sultans.

The inscriptions at the Topkapi Palace may be divided in three ways: by the time when they were made, by the content and by the style of the script. The time range is from the end of the 15th century until the half of the 19th century. Namely, Topkapi was built gradually throw the centuries and it is very interesting to observe the changes of the artistic styles, in the architecture as well as in the decoration and calligraphy. Certainly, the inscriptions from 16th century are not the same as the ones from 19th century. The change of the style and approach through the time is obvious, and some differences are very noticeable. When it comes to the inscriptions from the earlier periods, the ones that dominate are short inscriptions of Qur'an chapters in the thuluth or jeli-thuluth script. They were all made by the standards of the reformers and artistic geniuses of that time Ali bin Yahya Sofi, Sheikh Hamidullah and Ahmed Karahisari that were commissioned for in the creating the calligraphic designs for inscriptions.

image Calligraphic inscription, Topkapi Palace / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

It is interesting to notice that the inscriptions from the later periods, especially the ones from 19th century are textually voluminous with the poetic dedications to the certain social or political event that a sultan participated in. They are usually written with taliq script. In decorative sense, they are very interesting and characterized by the header with sultan's tugra that makes them recognizable. Older Islamic ornaments are almost completely lost here and the way is given to the medals, volutes, stylized sheets and similar motives that are characteristic for the later Ottoman art. From another point, the quality of taliq script remains exceptional. The author of some of the best inscriptions of this kind in the Topkapi Palace is the famous calligrapher from 19th century Mustafa Rakim. Besides of being master of the taliq script, he specialized in creating the tugra that made him exceptionally famous.

image Calligraphic inscription, Topkapi Palace / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

Two most famous inscription compositions in the Topkapi Palace are on its famous entrance gates. First door is called Bab-us-Selam or imperial door. The inscriptions are on the both sides of this stone building. The most dominant inscription of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is attributed to one of the greatest Turkish calligraphers Ali bin Yahya Sofi. It is one of the most difficult calligraphic composition in the entire history of Ottoman art. The inscription is made in jeli thuluth, which, according to many people, is the most brilliant style of Arabic script. The artist brought the harfs into the maximal expressive relation, accentuating the artistic effects of the elif. The contemporary observer finds this inscription attractive considering that the expressed abstract sensibility is very close to the contemporary taste, which shows the degree of originality at the time of its creation. Although its composition is dual (mirror effect), favourite composition of the Ottoman artists at the time, there is no fixed visual point rather there is dynamism of form that is expressed everywhere. Simply, Ali bin Yahya Sofi showed us an exciting experience of Ottoman art that has not been repeated in the art of inscription anymore, but it will be kept with other forms of calligraphic writings, the one on the paper above all.

image Calligraphic inscription, the first entrance, Topkapi Palace / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

image Calligraphic inscription, the second entrance, Topkapi Palace / Photo © Islamic Arts Magazine

On the other gate of this complex, above the entry itself, there is another famous inscription with the words „La illahe iIlallah Muhammedu resulullah“ (There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.) written on it. This religious text written in jeli thuluth script represents the essence of Islam and that is why it was placed on this public place. In the artistic sense, the script is brought to the perfection and it will present the model for many calligraphers for centuries.


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