Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Restoration of the Gül Baba Mausoleum

 Perhaps the most prominent remnants of Ottoman Hungary are the few remaining Ottoman structures that sparsely dot the map. This blog entry focuses on one such structure in Budapest and its complex life from a cultural heritage and preservation point of view. It is based on a term paper written for Dr. Cynthia Jacob’s course on art and law at Rutgers University.
The tomb of Gül Baba rests on the southeastern face of the Rose hill (Rószadomb) in one of Budapest’s picturesque and affluent residential neighborhoods in the second district.[1] The limestone hexagonal structure measures 10.85ft (3.31m) per side with a 20ft (6.10m) diameter at the base of the dome, which measures 18ft in height (5.5m). The original lead roof and interior frescoes with Qur’anic inscriptions and geometric patterns[2] are long gone. Only fragments of text peak through the whitewashed walls which are now mounted with modern decorative motifs of brightly colored tiles based on surviving examples from sixteenth century Istanbul. The interior furnishings, changed frequently over the tomb’s 450 year history, now mimic the original sixteenth century devotional items, including a traditional Ottoman coffin[3] and rich Oriental carpets.
                Gül Baba was a mysterious sixteenth century historical figure renowned as a poet, monk, and imperial advisor. The patron saint of Ottoman Buda, his name means “Father of the Roses.”[4] According to Evliya Çelebi, a seventeenth century Ottoman traveler, Gül Baba died on September 2, 1541 immediately following the capture of Budapest. A trusted advisor of Suleiman the Magnificent, Baba supposedly collapsed following the first prayer in the newly appropriated Friday mosque, the former Church of Our Lady (now Matthias Church).[5] The powerful sultan apparently participated in carrying the dervish monk’s coffin to its resting place.[6] Most scholars regard Çelebi’s version of the truth with skepticism, and suggest that the historical figure of Gül Baba has been conflated with other legends from the Ottoman Balkans.[7] According to more reliable sources, Jahjapaszáde Mehmed Paşa (the third Pasha of Buda) built the shrine of Gül Baba in 1543-1548,[8] and little else is known of the saint’s life and death. Over the following years a dervish cloister for Bektashi monks grew around the tomb, housing at least 60 permanent monks by the seventeenth century.[9]
                Prior to the birth of architectural restoration in Hungary, multiple alterations changed the character of the structure to fit its appropriated uses. Immediately following the fall of the city of Buda to the Austro-Hungarian powers in 1686, Jesuits converted the Muslim shrine into a church. After white washing the walls in 1690, workmen hired by the Jesuits replaced the lead dome with a shingle roof and altered the Ottoman lines of the arched window openings to create baroque oval shaped recesses, making the structure appear less “oriental.” The shrine remained a small church for three-quarters of a century until the disillusion of the Jesuit Hungarian church in 1773, after which the entire hill was put under the Buda town authority and subsequently became private property. A lexicon from 1786 still referred to as a chapel.[10] By 1830 it rested on the property of Janos Thoma, though the keys to the monument itself remained in the possession of the magistrate of Buda and it received a steady but small number of Muslim pilgrims each year.[11] During this period, travelers to the region described the eclectic interior, where a mixture of objects hung as offerings from the pilgrims: including flags and embellished swords.[12] In 1861, Lajos Wagner attempted to purchase the property and the city council of Buda interceded, declaring that he could only purchase the property if he kept it accessible to pilgrims.[13] In 1864 the land officially became the property of Wagner; however official property registers from 1870 indicate that the tomb structure itself was the property of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.[14] Philosophies of reconstruction and restoration began developing around the time the property transferred to Wagner. From the late nineteenth century on, public policy and law became intimately involved in the maintenance of the building and the role of the building shifted from adaptable structure for reuse to preserved historic monument.
                As part of the survey of buildings of historical value conducted by the Provisional Commission for Historic Monuments in the 1870s, a detailed engineering report was made of the structure in 1878,[15] after which the Turkish government hired Lajos Grill to renovate the monument. At the time, the shrine rested on the property of the private citizen Lajos Wagner. Grill wrote this of his restoration efforts: “On this tomb, I fixed the walls inside and out, added new stairs, door, and windows, and tore down the wooden ceiling and roof together, and replaced it with a new wood shingle roof, so this tomb will not need to be repaired for a long time.”[16] The permits given to Grill and the Turkish government to conduct restoration works on his land made Wagner unhappy, because prior to granting Grill a permit, the council turned down Wagner’s own requests to build on his land. Thus, immediately following the completion of Grill’s restoration work, Wagner erected a villa with the shrine nestled inside its courtyard.[17](Figure 5)  This occurred in spite of the conditions under which he purchased the property in the early 1860s. Wagner evaded any legal complications by making the shrine technically accessible to pilgrims, even if this meant they had to physically walk through his foyer to arrive there.
                In 1914 the Ministry of Religion and Education declared the shrine a historical monument to be preserved[18] in an attempt to improve political negotiations between the Turkey and Hungary.[19] Part of the agreement reached between the two entities was the re-affirmation of Turkish ownership of the structure,[20] plans for more extensive restorations, and the promise of developing the surrounding properties into a mosque and Qur’an school. This designation was questioned in a formal complaint filed by the Wagner family, whose villa still enclosed the shrine, in which they argued that the shrine was considered a monument by local officials without historical evidence or official designation.[21]  Ignoring their complaint, an excavation team led by Dr. Lajos Bartucz, Dr. Gyula Mészáros, and Dr. Antal Hermann examined the site in 1915 and discovered three skeletons and a number of grave good pits that were looted in the nineteenth century. On July 1, 1915, they held a ceremony attended by a number of Turkish and Hungarian governmental officials in which they replaced the bones of the saint.[22] Restoration work continued after the excavations were completed.
                Following the outbreak of war and severed international diplomatic ties, all future development plans for the Gül Baba tomb and Wagner property were suspended. During the inter war period, the Wagner villa became an apartment building, and was later destroyed during the bombing in World War II. Gül Baba’s shrine escaped with only minor damage.  Some hastily conducted salvage excavation work accompanied the partial demolition of the remains of the Wagner villa in the 1940s, but the slow moving governmental agencies did not return to the site until the 1960s.[23]  During this period, Hungarian Muslims attempted to raise funds for an Islamic cultural center and a mosque designed by Loránd Lechner, but their efforts did not produce the necessary funds to purchase the surrounding land and were likely stifled by the Nazi and subsequently Soviet occupations.[24]
                Restoration of the damage from the bombings during World War II began in earnest in the 1960s when the Capitol city Monument Authority utilized plans made by Egon Pfannl to restore the monument and the grounds nearly cleared garden surrounding it.[25]  During this restoration the dome was replaced and the two window openings were walled in. The last remaining sections of the Wagner villa were not torn down until the 1970s.[26]              The hotel industry became interested in turning the site into an amusement center, which was rejected by the Municipal Council based on its incompatibility with the character of the historical site.[27]
                In 1987, an International Workshop Seminar accepted proposals from 84 young architects from 23 countries for the restoration and development of the shrine and its surrounding area.[28] At the time, the politically unstable position of the government and lack of funding led to this project’s abandonment.
           Following the fall of the Communist government, the newly established agencies sought repair those medieval and renaissance buildings in dire need of stabilization. In an effort to improve diplomatic relations with Turkey, the executive branches of the two governments used the Gül Baba shrine as the poster child for their efforts. In the mid 1990s, construction began on implementing a mixture of proposals from the 1987 workshop that were developed further by Tamás Pintér and financed by the Turkish authorities.[29] During this phase of development, the colonnade and decorative fountains joined the main structure. The entire restoration was celebrated in a publication by the Turkish government.[30]  Currently, the site has two armed guards and still attracts the occasional tourist or bus load of pilgrims. It is accessed from an awkward stairwell between two private homes or a dirt parking lot marked only by a small sign for the Gül Baba café.


[1] Literature on the tomb is relatively extensive in terms of the otherwise bleak state of Ottoman Hungarian art and architecture. The most recent publication which details the history of the structure is in Gábor Ágoston and Balázs Sudár, Gül Baba és a magyarországi bektasi dervisek [Gül Baba and the Hungarian Bektasi Dervishes] (Budapest: Terbess Kiadó, 2002), 71-83. For a brief English language introduction to the monument’s history see Balázs Sudár, “Bektasi monasteries in Ottoman Hungary (16th-17th centuries),” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientarum Hungaricae 61,1 (2008): 229-232.
[2] For more on the mostly lost frescoes of this and other monuments in Ottoman Hungary, see a brief discussion by Győzó Geró, “The Relics of Turkish Wall Painting in Hungary,” in 9th International Congress of Turkish Art. Summary of Contributions Volume 3. Edited by Nurhan Atasoy. (Ankara: T.C. Kültör Bakanliği Míllî Kütüphane Basimevı, 1991), 157-166.
[3] These coffins are symbolic only, because the figure they represent is not housed inside of the stone structure, but instead under the ground beneath the floor of the tomb.
[4] For the most recent interpretation of the literature on Gül Baba the figure see Ágoston and Sudár 2002, 55-71. For an in depth discussion of his name and the historical figures with that name see Gyula Németh, “Der Name Gül Baba” [The Name Gül Baba],  Kőrösi Csoma Archivum 2 (1930): 379. Also see the earlier article Lajos Némethy,“Ki volt a Gyul Baba?” [Who was Gül Baba?] Századok (1884): 608-612.
[5] Today’s Matthias Church is the product of early twentieth century restorations in the style of Violet Le-Duc’s romantic restoration at Chartres.
[6] For Evliya Çelebi’s descriptions of the events and monument see Evliya Çelebi, Imre Karácson, and Pál Fodor, Evlia Celebi török világutazó magyarországi utazásai 1660-1664 [Evliya Çelebi, Turkish world traveler’s Hungarian travels] (Budapest: Gondolat, 1985), 265.
[7] Tihomir Đorđević, “Još nekoliko turbeta i legende o nijma” [Several other shrines and legends about Nijma]. Naš Narodni Život 3 (1984): 127-129.
[8] Georg Wernher, De Admirandis Hvngariae Aqvis Hypomnemation (Vienna, 1551).
[9] Celebi - Karácson - Fodor 1985, 265.
[10] Ágoston and Sudár 2002, 74. The name of this lexicon is not provided and the author did not have the opportunity to consult examples published in 1773.
[11] Ágoston and Szudár 2002, 74.
[12] See a first person account from 1842 published in Béla Tóth, “Gül Baba sírja,[Gül Baba’s tomb]” Magyar ritkaságok [Hungarian rarities], 1907, 174-176.
[13] Ágoston and Sudár 2002, 76. Although they do not cite the exact location of this source, they do quote it, and thus it can be assumed to be reliable.
[14] Ágoston and Sudár 2002, 76. Again, no citation is provided, but it can be assumed to be reliable.
[15] This was preceded by a short article in the Sunday newspaper in 1873, which frequentl published short reports on monuments of historic importance. Béla Erődi, “Gül Baba sírkápolnája Budán” [Gül Baba’s funerary monument in Buda], Vasárnapi Újság (1873): 416.
[16] Author translation, for original text see BFL (Budapest City Archives]: IV. 1407.b: Budapest Székesfőváros tanácsnak iratai [Budapest capitol city council documents]: 27297/1885-III. Partially transcribed in Ágoston and Sudár 2002, 77.
[17] It is unclear if he sidestepped the permit procedure or not. Ágoston and Sudár 2002, 77.
[18] Vallás és Közoktatásügyi Minisztérium, For original document see BFL: IV 1407. b: 15095/1914.
[19] Ágoston and Szudár 2002, 78.
[20] Andor Medriczky, “A budapesti magyar mohamedán egyházközség megalakulásának jogi előzményei” [The Budapest Hungarian Muslim religious formation’s legal background], Városi Szemle 20 (1934), 117.
[21] For original document see OmvH: MOB 20/1915. At this time scholars had basic questions about the structure itself and little was known about its history.
[22] These events are all described in a log OMvH: MOB 288 and 357/1915. A transcription of this log can be found in Ágoston and Sudár 2002, 95-96.
[23] Ágoston and Sudár 2002, 79.
[24] For more on the tension between Ottoman Hungarian heritage and the Communist government see Paul Hanebrink, “Islam, Anti-Communism, and Christian Civilization: The Ottoman Menace in Interwar Hungary.” Austrian History Yearbook 40 (2009): 114-124. Also see “The Remains,” 1998.
[25] Győző Gerő  was the art historian in charge of this endeavor and he published a few articles on the monument before and after his involvement in its restoration.  Győző Gerő,. “Gül Baba et le Bektasi derk´ah de Buda. ” Acta orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 1-3 (1954): 1-18.
[26] Jószef Molnár, “Gül Baba turbéje” [Gül Baba’s mausoleum], Műemlékvédelem 4 (1970): 227-230.
[27] Polónyi 1988, 30.
[28] Polónyi 1988.
[29] “Rósza apó siremléke: A megújult Gü Baba türbe” [Father of the Roses Funerary Monument: the restored Gül Baba Tomb], Szalon, Műemlék, szépművészet, műipar 1 (1997): 41-46.
[30] Mehmet Özel, Restorasyonu dolayısıyla Macaristan - Budapeşte Gül Baba Türbesi = Due to its restoration Hungary - Budapest Tomb of "Gül Baba" (Ankara : T. C. Kültür Bakanlığı, Güzel Sanatlar Genel Müdürlüğü, 1998).


(1997 Rósza)
1997. “Rósza apó siremléke: A megújult Gü Baba türbe” [Father of the Roses Funerary Monument: the restored Gül Baba Tomb]. Szalon, Műemlék, szépművészet, műipar 1: 41-46.

(1998 Remains)
1998. “The Remains of Islamic Budapest.” Q-News International 284, accessed September 9, 2010,

(Ágoston and Sudár 2002)
Ágoston, Gábor and Balázs Sudár. 2002. Gül Baba és a magyarországi bektasi dervisek [Gül Baba and the Hungarian Bektasi Dervishes].  Budapest: Terbess Kiadó.

(Çelebi - Karácson - Fodor 1985)
Çelebi, Evliya, Imre Karácson, and Pál Fodor. 1985. Evlia Cselebi török világutazó magyarországi utazásai 1660-1664. Budapest: Gondolat.

(Đorđević 1984)
Đorđević, Tihomir. 1984. “Još nekoliko turbeta i legende o nijma” [Several other shrines and legends about Nijma]. Naš Narodni Život 3: 127-129.

(Erődi 1873)
Erődi, Béla. 1873.Gül Baba sírkápolnája Budán [Gül Baba’s funerary monument in Buda]. Vasárnapi Újság 1873: 416.

(Foster 1905)
Forster, Baron Gyula. 1905. Magvarorszag muemlekei, 5 vols. Budapest: .

(Gerő 1954)
Gerő, Győző. 1954. “Gül Baba et le Bektasi derk´ah de Buda. ” Acta orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 1-3: 1-18.

(Gerő 1957)
Gerő, Győző. 1957. Buda török műemlékei [Buda’s Turkish Monuments]. Budapest: Képzőművészeti Alap Kiadóvállalata.

(Gerő 1980)
Gerő , Győző. 1980. Az oszmán-török épitészet magyarországon [Ottoman Turkish architecture in Hungary]. Művészettörténeti füzetek, 12. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

 (Geró 1991)
Geró, Győzó. 1991. “The Relics of Turkish Wall Painting in Hungary.” in 9th International Congress of Turkish Art. Summary of Contributions Volume 3. Edited by Nurhan Atasoy. Ankara: T.C. Kültör Bakanliği Míllî Kütüphane Basimevı, 157-166.

 (Hanebrink 2009)
Hanebrink, Paul.2009. “Islam, Anti-Communism, and Christian Civilization: The Ottoman Menace in Interwar Hungary.” Austrian History Yearbook 40: 114-124.

(Medriczky 1934)
Medriczky, Andor. “A budapesti magyar mohamedán egyházközség megalakulásának jogi előzményei” [The Budapest Hungarian Muslim religious formation’s legal background], Városi Szemle 20.

(Molnár 1970)
Molnár, Jószef. 1970. Gül Baba turbéje. Műemlékvédelem 4: 227-230.

(Némethy 1884)
Némethy, Lajos. 1884. “Ki volt a Gyul Baba?” [Who was Gül Baba?] Századok: 608-612.

(Németh 1930)
Németh, Gyula. 1930. “Der Name Gül Baba.” Kőrösi Csoma Archivum 2: 379.

(Özel 1998)
Özel, Mehmet. 1998. Restorasyonu dolayısıyla Macaristan Budapeşte Gül Baba türbesi = Due to its restoration Hungary Budapest tomb of Gül Baba. Ankara: T.C. Kültür Bakanlığı, Güzel Sanatlar Genel Müdürlüğü.

(Polónyi 1988)
Polónyi, Károly, editor. 1988. Gül baba '87: International Workshop Seminar for Students of Architecture. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

(Sesgör 1988)
Sesgör, Turgut. 1988. Islamische Baudenkmäler in moderne Stadtstruktur (mit speciel Referenzen zu Gül Baba Türbe in Budapest). PhD Tesis an der Fakultät für Architecktur der Universität Budapest.

(Sudár 2008)
Sudár, Balázs. 2008. Bektasi monasteries in Ottoman Hungary (16th-17th centuries). Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientarum Hungaricae 61 (1): 227.

(Tóth 1907)
Tóth, Béla. 1907. “Gül Baba sírja,[Gül Baba’s tomb]” Magyar ritkaságok (1907): 167-181.

(Wernher 1551)
Wernher, Georg. 1551. De Admirandis Hvngariae Aqvis Hypomnemation. Vienna.