Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Cross Rising Above The Turkish Crescent Moon

The Djami of Pasha Gazi Kasim is the symbol of the city's cultural diversity. It was built during the Turkish rule in the 16th century, then was turned into a church by the Jesuits.

Link (here)

In 1543 the Turks occupied Pecs (pronounced Paych), and turned what had been an important ecclesiastical center and home of one of Central Europe's oldest universities into a trading hub and one of the westernmost outposts of Islam.

Churches became mosques, cathedral spires became minarets. The sloping central square was turned into an Oriental bazaar filled with the dust and noise of camel caravans on their way to Yemen and India. A detailed account of the Turkish building boom the north in Buda -- where Suleiman the Magnificent put the capital of his new province -- listed 35 mosques, 3 monasteries, 6 elementary schools, 5 high schools and 4 thermal baths. The evidence suggests a similar, though smaller spurt of construction in Pecs.

But Hungary has a special way of swallowing and digesting its past, and, from the mixed legacy left by defeated armies and vanished cultures, regurgitating a jumble of styles. Some of this is self-conscious; for instance, Budapest's array of neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque and neo-Renaissance monuments, or the dreamy medieval reveries of early 20th-century Hungarian artists.

Pecs is another place where different influences came and went, like waves across a tidal pool. In the heart of the wine-growing Baranya region, this sleepy city of 180,000 is known for its art galleries and its streets -- many closed to motor traffic -- lined with 18th-century houses and churches painted mainly in harsh yellow but also in softer pinks, blues and even purples. The city still boasts of its Roman antiquities, its medieval lineage, even its German heritage: the city is still known among local Swabian Germans as Funfkirchen, or Five Churches. Yet here, too, memory of the Turks has receded, leaving little to suggest their long rule.

The best example of the city's cultural blend lies at the top of the main square, now called Szechenyi. In the Middle Ages, this commanding space was occupied by the Gothic church of St. Bertalan. It was torn down under the Turks, and its stones used to build the djami (mosque) of Pasha Gazi Kassim. After the Turks were expelled, the mosque was taken over by the Jesuits, who turned it back into a church, adding a chapel and sacristy, tearing down the minaret and the Turkish entranceway. Now, it is again a Catholic church, the Inner City Parish Church, and the only hint of its exotic past is its shape, two surviving prayer niches facing Mecca and an ecumenical symbol atop its cupola: a cross rising above the Turkish crescent moon.

Link (here) to the full NY Times article from 1991

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