Site vs. Religious Value
Sabrina Reyes and Rachel Min
This paper discusses how the site of a religious structure distracts from the value of the architecture and how it affects one’s experience during religious practice. By focusing on the history and site of three monumental structures, the Hagia Sophia, the Mahamariamman temple, and the St. George Maronite Cathedral, we have a better understanding of how the site may have a direct affect on the religious cultural value of the structure and how this, in turn, affects one’s experience. The Hagia Sophia and the Mahamariamman temple were closed down and demolished, respectively, as a result of their structures’ site. As the religious cultural value of both of these structures was directly effected, one’s religious experience was also affected as well. As we focused on the St. George Maronite Cathedral, a Catholic Church, constructed within close proximity to the Mohammad Al-Amin mosque, there has not yet been an affect, causing the St. George Cathedral or the mosque to lose significant religious value nor has the intermix of religions affected the experience one has during religious practice. Because the site of the St. George Cathedral is similar to the site of the Hagia Sophia and the Mahamariamman temple, if similar effects occur to the St. George Cathedral in the future, we have further support on our position regarding the idea that the site of a structure does have a direct impact on the religious cultural value of a structure, thus affecting how one experiences the architecture. The Hagia Sophia is the first being investigated, as we study how the closeness of another religious structure has an influence of the religious value of the former architecture.
The Structure’s Site is in Close Proximity to Another Religious Structure
The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, 1616, Justinian
The Hagia Sophia, built in Constantinople, now known as Instanbul, in the year 537 under the order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, served as a church, until 1453, when the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople. Under Sultan Mehmed II’s rule, the Orthodox Church was converted into a mosque. The Hagia Sophia was the principal mosque of Instanbul until 1616, when the construction of the nearby larger Sultan Ahmed mosque. And after a couple hundreds of years, the Hagia Sophia was closed down, and reopened 4 years later as a museum.
Due to the integration of cultures, the Hagia Sophia incorporates features of both Byzantine and Islamic architecture. After Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, Islamic features, such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets, were added while the, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels and other relics were removed and plastered over. Having both, Byzantine and Islamic architectural features, many during religious practice may have had a different religious experience, as a result of not resembling a traditional mosque and originally built to symbolize Orthodox faith. As one’s experience may have been one reason for the mosque to close down, another could be that the Sultan Ahmed mosque was constructed nearby in the year 1616. And so, the Hagia Sophia, no longer the primary mosque in Instanbul, was soon closed down. If the Sultan Ahmed mosque, larger in appearance than the Hagia Sophia but not grander regarding its qualities, was built further from the site of the Hagia Sophia, would the function of the Hagia Sophia still be used as a mosque today? This question poses the idea that, even though the original influence, causing the Hagia Sophia to lose religious value, was due to the unorthodox experience during religious practice as a result of the integration of religious architectural styles, the construction of the Sultan Ahmed mosque within close proximity was the primary influence that caused the Hagia Sophia to close down. The site of the Hagia Sophia and the close proximity of the Sultan Ahmed mosque to the Hagia Sophia is illustrated within the image below.
Aerial view of the Hagia Sophia (left) and the Suktan Ahmed Mosque (right).
Source: <http://opentravel.com/profile/ted/photos/12653/> (Accessed October 25, 2013).
The following structure introduced is the Mahamariamman temple, which like Hagia Sophia is affected due to the site’s location. However unlike the Hagia Sophia, the Mahamariamman temple was not closed down due to the construction of a nearby structure, but was destroyed as a result of being constructed on “government land.”
The Site of a Structure is on “Government Land”
The Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia, 1873, K. Thamboosamy Pillai
The Mahamariamman temple founded by K. Thamboosamy Pillai in 1873, is the oldest and reputed to be the richest temple in the country. The temple is well known for its impressive 5-tiered gopuram, or tower, which is decorated with depictions of Hindu gods. The Mahamariamman, a Hindu temple, is constructed in Malaysia, a Muslim-dominated country. The Mahamariamman temple is one of many temples that were demolished as a result of the Hindu-Muslim tension in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia. After a violent occurrence took place in March 1998 between Hindus and Muslims, the government announced a nationwide review of unlicensed Hindu temples and shrines. After the government commanded such orders, city hall authorities demolished several Hindu temples, the Mahamariamman temple being one of the many that were demolished, was demolished on October 30, 2007. Authorities argued that such temples were built illegally and on government land. HINDRAF, Hindu Rights Action Force, are fighting for the rights of the Hindu community within Malaysia. HINDRAF are protesting against the acts of the government, arguing that these temples have been around for centuries and that such atrocities shouldn’t be targeted towards the underprivileged Hindu community.
Although the cause of the Mahamariamman temple to lose value was not a result of the construction of another monumental figure nearby, the site of the temple was a great component in affecting the value of the structure. Because the site of the temple was built within a Muslim region in Malaysia, the temple was destroyed. Even though the temple is centuries old, would the temple still be standing if not constructed within Muslim territory? And being within proximity of a Muslim region, did this have an affect on one’s experience during practice? Like the Hagia Sophia, the site of the structure impacted the religious value of the structure, which then had a direct affect on how one experienced the architecture surrounding them. However, the site of the Mahamariamman temple affected one’s religious experience by exposing one to violence and unrest, unlike the Hagia Sophia, in which the site affected one’s religious experience so that it was untraditional and unorthodox. The image below is the aerial plan of Kuala Lumpar, and the location of the Mahamariamman temple in Islamic territory. The image captures how the structures surrounding the Mahamariamman temple are all of Islam background.
The Mahamariamman temple (point A) is surrounded by the Masjid Negara (point B), the Islamic Arts Museum (point C) and the Al Bukhary mosque (point D), all of Islamic background, show how the Mahamariamman temple is located in a Islamic-dominated region in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia.
Source: Google Maps. <https://maps.google.com/maps?client=safari&oe=UTF-8&ie=UTF-8&q=Sri+Mahamariamman+Temple&fb=1&gl=us&hq=mahamariamman+temple+address&cid=0,0,8015911833659882509&ei=Oi5sUumNLsmskAfWyYF4&ved=0CLQBEPwSMBA>.
The following structure, the St. George Cathedral, similarly resembles the Hagia Sophia and the Mahamariamman temple, regarding the location of its site. However, unlike the Hagia Sophia and the Mahamariamman temple, the St. George Cathedral has not had any direct affect as a result of the location of its site.
Close Proximity of Another Religious Structure and the Integration of Different Religious Cultures
The St. George Maronite Cathedral, Beirut, Lebanon, 1894, Monsignor Joseph Debs
The construction of the St. George cathedral, built in Beirut, Lebanon, was finished in 1894. The cathedral has a façade of neoclassical style, being built on the plan of a basilica with its nave and two lateral aisles separated by two rows of columns. Within close proximity of the cathedral, the Mohammad al-amin, a sunni mosque, was built in 2000 by the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The Mohammad Al-Amin mosque has an Ottoman inspiration, imitating the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Instanbul, which was mentioned earlier.
The mosque being built in very close proximity to the St. George cathedral raises concern regarding Christian-Muslim tension within Lebanon. Although, there has not been any direct effect on the religious value of the cathedral as a result of being in close proximity to a mosque, the site of the cathedral integrates the issues that were discussed regarding the sites of both the Hagia Sophia and the Mahamariamman temple. Like the Hagia Sophia, closing down as a result of the construction of another mosque nearby, the site of the St. George is in close proximity to another religious structure, the Mohammad al-amin mosque. And like the Mahamariamman temple, destroyed as a result of being built on Muslim territory, the site of the St. George Cathedral forces the integration of cultures, as it is built within close proximity to an Islam mosque. Like the Mahamariamman temple, could tension arise as a result of the cathedral being built within Islamic region? Does construction of the mosque distract from the religious value of the cathedral as the Sultan Ahmed mosque did when constructed in close proximity to the Hagia Sophia? Thus, will the people’s religious experience within the St. George cathedral be affected, like the Hagia Sophia and the Mahamariamman temple, as a result of the site being in close proximity to another religious structure, the Mohammad al-amin mosque, and located in opposing religious territory, Islamic region. The image below captures the site of the St. George Cathedral and portrays how it is located within close proximity to another religious structure and on opposing religious territory.
The St. George Cathedral (point A) is located right next to the Mohammad All-Amin mosque (point B).
Source: Google Maps. <https://maps.google.com>
The sites of the structures mentioned have a direct affect of the religious cultural value of the structure, and as a result affects the experience one has in relation to the built environment. Each structure represents different situations where the site has an affect on the structural and experiential value of the architecture. The site of the Hagia Sophia demonstrates how the construction of another monumental structure has a direct affect on the religious value of the original structure. The site of the Mahamariamman temple highlights how the religious value of the structure is affected due to the location of the structure built on territory of a clashing religious community. As the sites of both, the Hagia Sophia and the Mahamriamman temple, affected the religious value of the architecture, one’s experiential encounter with the architecture was directly affected as well. One did not encounter a traditional religious experience when inhabiting these structures, but rather faced a violent and unorthodox experience, respectively. The St. George Cathedral is an example that incorporates both of these incidents, in which the site of the cathedral is located in Islam territory, an opposing religious region, and constructed in close proximity to another religious structure, the Mohammad al-amin mosque. Although the site of the St. George Cathedral resembles the sites of the Hagia Sophia and Mahamariamman temple, which is shown within the images presented throughout the paper, the St. George cathedral has not yet encountered any effects on the religious and experiential value of the architecture as a result of the structure’s site. Solely focusing on the St. George Cathedral, we cannot say for sure that the site of an architecture has a direct affect of its religious and experiential value, but as we study the Hagia Sophia and the Mahamariamman temple, we see that the value of the structure had a direct effect from the location of the structure’s site. Looking at these structures, a surfacing question is posed: how close can the site of a religious structure be from another religious structure or opposing religious region in order to preserve the religious and experiential value of a structure’s architecture?
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