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  • Writer's pictureTerry Richardson

A Brief History of the Tiled Kiosk in Istanbul

What is the Tiled Kiosk?

The Tiled Kiosk is an attractive structure built as a pleasure palace for the sultan that’s now a museum of ceramics.

Tiled Kiosk

José Luis Filpo Cabana, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Tiled Kiosk History

Once standing in the vast grounds of the sprawling Topkapi Palace complex, this Persian-style kiosk was built in 1472 during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror. The fields in front of the kiosk were used for sports popular at the time, such as grease wrestling and an equestrian game called cirit, in which two mounted teams attempt to strike their opponents with a blunted javelin. The latter activity had emerged, like the Turks themselves, from Central Asia, and clearly had its origins in warfare. Cirit became the most popular sport in the Ottoman Empire, drawing huge crowds, until it was banned by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826 owing to the number of injuries suffered by both players and their mounts. Today, it’s still played by a small number of aficionados, especially in the remote east of Turkey.

A rectangular building of two storeys, the kiosk is constructed from red brick and pale grey limestone, its simplicity leavened by decorative blue-on-white tile panels. The main visual feature of the façade is a loggia on the second floor, fronted by a colonnaded arcade formed of pointed Gothic-style arches resting on slim marble columns. From here the sultan and his entourage could watch the exciting events taking place on the sports field below and in front of them. Entry to the principal, second floor is through a door set in a deep arched recess or eyvan. It’s completely covered in deep blue and turquoise tiles set in geometric patterns, but dominated by a long Persian inscription in the angular calligraphic script known as Kufic.

Today, the Tiled Kiosk forms part of the splendid Istanbul Archaeological Museums complex. The loggia no longer overlooks a sports field but offers views of the grand Neoclassical façade of the late-19th-century structure designed by Alexandre Vallaury, the complex’s main building.

The interior of the pavilion is home to a well-displayed and comprehensive collection of Turkish ceramics. Those from the Seljuk period, mainly tiles, are the oldest. These 12th-century tiles are highly prized because they feature seven colours. The dominant turquoise, green and blue hues were applied to an underglaze and fired, with an additional four colours added in an overglazing and refiring process. Some of the 13th-century Seljuk tiles come from the now-destroyed Kubadabad Palace on Lake Beyşehir in Central Anatolia, featuring animal and star motifs. One standout exhibit is the mihrab (or prayer niche) taken from the mosque of Ibrahim Bey in distant Karaman, which is composed entirely of finest period Iznik tiles. Also taken from a mosque, this time the exquisite Sinan-designed Sokollu Mehmed Paşa in Istanbul, is a pair of mosque lamps, dating to the late 16th century.

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