Diyarbakır Ulu Camii

Alternative Names

The Great Mosque in Diyarbakır; Diyâr Bekr; Âmid


1091 AD

MMM Documentation Dates
Spring 2015
Site Type
Religious Buildings and Complexes
Diyarbakır (Turkey)
Diyarbakır Province (Turkey)

    The Great Mosque of Diyarbakır (Ulu Camii) is located within the walls of the Old City, integrated into the urban fabric northwest of the historic center. It is the oldest extant great mosque in Anatolia and one of the oldest in the Islamic world. Dating back in its present form to the late 11th or 12th century, the structure incorporated architectural elements from pre-Islamic times as it evolved from the Seljuk period on. It is a remarkable example of the region's stone-carving tradition. 

    Like most monuments in the city of Diyarbakır (formerly called Âmid), the Great Mosque was constructed predominantly from local volcanic basalt. This dark-colored stone was used to such an extent throughout the old town that the city was occasionally referred to as “Kara [black] Âmid” until the end of the 16th century.

    The mosque and its annexes are organized around a spacious, trapezoidal courtyard that measures 31.5 x 77 m (see the panorama). There are three entrances to this courtyard. The main entrance, taking the form of a low barrel vault, lies to the east. Its exterior facade bears an inscription, the second line of which is flanked by two mirror-image reliefs of a bull attacked by a lion. The inscription, as well as the remarkable animal-combat decoration, dates to the 12th century.

    The main prayer hall, dated to 1091/92 and 1155 by the inscriptions on its northern facade, is located to the south of the courtyard. It consists of three aisles intercepted by a transept aligned with the axis of the mihrab. Its form is therefore similar to that of the Great Mosque of Damascus, though it should be noted that the latter mosque is domed.1 The interior is dominated by arcades with pointed arches; it is lit mainly by the large window bays of the north wall, together with the clerestory windows of the transept and the smaller openings on the south wall (see the panorama). The structure's wall surfaces, once whitewashed,2 are now exposed, revealing the beautifully cut black basalt masonry throughout.

    The mihrab, the present form of which was constructed in the 18th century, has a pentagonal niche, a rectangular carved frame, and a five-lobed arch springing from columns with Corinthian capitals. At the level of the capitals, there is a band with an inscription in gold on a dark background; this band separates the gleaming white surfaces of the muqarnas above it from the unplastered masonry of the lower niche. The ceiling of the transept is covered with wooden panels (18th century) bearing delicately painted geometric and floral motifs, as well as some sumptuous muqarnas work. The ceiling of the müezzin mahfili is likewise decorated.

    In contrast to the modest northern facade of the main prayer hall, which is dominated by the gabled transept, the western and eastern wings present elaborately arranged structural and decorative features. The construction of the western wing is dated to 1117–18 (lower section) and 1124–25 (upper section), as indicated by two separate bands of Kufic inscriptions running across the facade.3 The entirety of the sculpted decoration, including the columns with Corinthian capitals and the entire entablature, was reused from a late antique building of the 6th or 7th century AD; the building in question may have been the church that occupied this area before the founding of the mosque.4 Of special note are the columns of the upper story, which have spectacularly carved shafts. The eastern facade was constructed around a half a century later (1163–64), as noted in the inscription on its lower story, and likewise adopts reused columns with Corinthian capitals. The rest of the decoration, however, is a 12th century imitation, or rather interpretation, of the western facade. Whether this should be interpreted as the “survival” of classical forms or a 12th century “revival” thereof is a matter of debate.5 The decoration of this facade also includes high-relief heads of bulls and lions, which protrude from the architrave above the portal columns (there are apparent traces of these heads above the upper story's columns as well).

    Two further buildings occupy the northern side of the aforementioned trapezoidal courtyard: Mesudiye Medresesi to the east and the Shafi’i prayer hall to the west. The former was built between 1198 and 1223 and is organized around a porticoed, two-storied courtyard with an iwan covering the eastern side. The remaining sides of the building's courtyard present an interplay of sculptural and structural decoration. For example, the western arches display delicately carved vegetal motifs and alternating black (basalt) and white (limestone) masonry. A band with an inscription wraps around the courtyard between the two stories, extending to the inside of the iwan. At the center of the south wall is an ornate mihrab, featuring alternating basalt/limestone blocks in its five lobes and below this, engaged basalt columns with carved capitals and bases.

    The Shafi’i prayer hall was constructed in 1528/29, about 13 years after the Ottoman conquest, as the inscription on its facade attests. The building's three-aisled interior, as well as its mihrab, is similar to that of the main prayer hall; here the pointed arches are supported by plain, slender columns (see the panorama). The ceiling, with its exposed wooden beams, is undecorated.

    The mosque's minaret, constructed in the mid-12th century, is situated by the south wall of the main prayer hall. A Kufic inscription encircles the tower, the square form of which follows the local architectural tradition.

    The trapezoidal courtyard is further occupied by the ablutions fountain (şadırvan), namazgah, and pool, all of which were constructed in the 19th century.

    • 1. See  Akok 1969, 114; Aslanapa 1973, 1. Whether Diyarbakır Ulu Cami had a dome at some point in its long history is a matter of debate. For a discussion, see Sözen 1971, 34; Andersen 2004, 136ff.
    • 2. See Sözen 1971, plate 12, 6h; Tuncer 1996, p. 42; Top 2011, p. 201, fig. 25.
    • 3. At the time of MMM's on-site documentation, the western wing was under restoration. Recent photos of the facade can be found in Top 2011.
    • 4. A Roman theater has also been suggested (Aslanapa 1973, 1).
    • 5. For the main points of discussion, see Rogers 1971; Mango 1982; Allen 1986; Raby 2004.

    'Description & Iconography' general sources: Strzygowski 1910, 140ff; Akok 1969, 114; Sözen 1971; Mango 1982, 128; Allen 1986; Beysanoğlu 1987, 3–4; Canard and Cahen 1991 [1965], 344; Yinanç 1991 [1965], 346; Tuncer 1996; Andersen 2004; Top 2011, 25; 207–218; Raby 2004, 301–302. 

    There are a number of inscriptions carved on the exterior surfaces of the mosque and its annexes. Specifically, these are located on the prayer hall's northern facade (dated to 1091/92 and 1155), its western facade (dated to 1117–18 and 1124–25), its eastern facade (dated to 1163–64), and the minaret (dated to 1141). It is interesting to note that two of the inscriptions (1155 and 1163–64) mention the name of the architect, Hibetullah al-Gurgani. In addition, five other inscriptions can be found at the Mesudiye Medresesi, all dated to the time of the Artuqids, who governed the city from 1183 to 1232. An inscription on the Shafi’i prayer hall dates its construction to the reign of Suleiman I (Kanuni Sultan Süleyman). Additional inscriptions record restorations of the complex up to the present day.


    'Inscriptions' general sources: van Berchem 1907; van Berchem et al. 1910, 51–69; Sauvaget 1940; 1969, 134–139; Sözen 1971, 30; Aslanapa 1973, 4; Beysanoğlu 1987, 277–292; Andersen 2004; Top 2011, 188. 

    The Great Mosque in Diyarbakır has a long history of use, including numerous restorations and renovations. Our main sources for its history are the inscriptions on the mosque's exterior and the accounts of travelers throughout the ages (see also “Inscriptions” and “Descriptions of Early Explorations”).

    Following the capture of Diyarbakır by the Arab-Islammic armies in 639, the city's central churchwhich probably stood on the site of an earlier templewas gradually converted into a mosque.1 The earliest inscription dates to the reign of the Seljuk sultan Malik Shah (1091/92) and indicates a major reconstruction. The mosque was damaged by fire in either 1115 (according to the chronicles of Michael the Syrian and Matthew of Edessa) or in 1119 (according to Ibn al-Azrak al-Fariki)l; it was restored by the Inalids, who rose to power in the city after the demise of the Seljuk Empire. The Nisanids (r. 1142-1183) commissioned the eastern facade of the mosque complex, and the Artukids (r. 1183-1232, and again in the 14th century) constructed the Mesudiye Medresesi. Series of repairs and restorations were conducted by most of the succeeding dynasties that ruled over the city, including the Anatolian Seljuks, the Ak Koyunlu, the Safavid dynasty,2 and finally, after 1514, the Ottomans, who also commissioned the Shafi’i prayer hall.

    According to the cultural heritage inventory prepared by the Diyarbakır Museum, a general restoration of the mosque complex began in May 2010.3

    • 1. Beysanoğlu 1987, 271.
    • 2. The Safavids ruled in Diyarbakır only for seven years; no restoration was recorded during this time.
    • 3. Soyukaya et. al. 2009, 54.

    'History' general sources: Beysanoğlu 1987.

    In 1046, before the 1091/92 reconstruction by Sultan Malik Shah that largely gave the mosque its present form, the Persian writer Nasir-i Khusraw (Nasır-ı Hüsrev) visited Diyarbakır and wrote about its monuments in his Safarnama.1 The mosque he referred to in his account has “two-hundred-odd stone columns, all which are monolithic.”2 He also mentions observing a large church “near the mosque.” Matthew of Edessa (1062–1136), Michael the Syrian (1126–1199), and Ibn al-Azrak al-Fariki (1116–ca. 1194) recorded a fire at the mosque in the early 12th century. Evliya Çelebi spent a few weeks in the city in the spring of 1655 and expressed his admiration for its monuments. Concerning the Great Mosque, he writes:

    • “Firstly, precisely in the centre of the town is the ancient place of worship, the lofty mosque, the pride of Diyarbekir, namely the Great Mosque. […] Like the Great Mosque of Aleppo, the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus, the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem the Noble, the al-Azhar Mosque of Cairo and the Great Aya Sofya of Istanbul, this Great Mosque of Diyarbekir is one of those where God grants all requests made in it.”3 

    Then he gives a description of the mosque and its annexes. Although a couple of his remarks have proven to be unsubstantiated,4 his account is by and large reliable and provides a fascinating record of the actual state of the site in the 17th century. During the 18th and especially the 19th century, numerous European travelers visited the mosque and recorded their impressions.5

    • 1. See Thackston’s 2011 edition.
    • 2. Note that Andersen (2004, 6) questions whether the mosque Khusraw wrote about is in fact the Great Mosque of Diyarbakır.
    • 3. Bruinessen and Boeschoten 1988, 133, 135.
    • 4. See Kiel 1988, 57–59.
    • 5. For a list of these people, see Top 2011, 189–191; Tuncer 2012, 25.

    Akok, Mahmut. 1969. “Diyarbakır Ulucami Mimari Manzumesi.” Vakıflar Dergisi 8: 113–139. Text accompanied by 30 plates and 52 figures.

    Allen, Terry. 1986. A Classical Revival in Islamic Architecture. Wiesbaden: L. Reichert.

    Andersen, Angela Lyn. 2004. The Diyarbakir Ulu Cami: Social History and Interaction at the Great Mosque. M.A. Thesis, University of Victoria.

    Aslanapa, Oktay. 1973. Türk Sanatı. Vol. 2. Istanbul: Milli Eğitim Basımevi.

    Beysanoğlu, Şevket. 1987. Anıtları ve Kitâbeleri İle Diyarbakır Tarihi: Birinci Cilt; Başlangıçtan Akkoyunlular'a Kadar. Ankara: Neyir Matbaası.

    Canard, Marius and Claude Cahen. 1991 [1965]. “Diyâr Bakr.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill.

    Kiel, Michael. 1988. “The Physical Aspect of the City.” In Evliya Çelebi in Diyarbekr, edited by Martin van Bruinessen and Hendrik Boeschoten, 53–63. Leiden: Brill.

    Mango, Maria Mundell. 1982. “The Continuity of the Classical Tradition in the Art and Architecture of Northern Mesopotamia.” In East of Byzantium: Syria and Armenia in the Formative Period, edited by Nina G. Gorsoïan, Thomas F. Matthews, and Robert W. Thomson, 115–134. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.

    Raby, Julian. 2004. “Nur Al-Din, the Qastal al-Shu’aybiyya, and the ‘Classical Revival.’" In Essays in Honor of J. M. Rogers (Muqarnas: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World, vol. 21), 289–310. Leiden: Brill.

    Rogers, J. Michael. 1971. “A Renaissance of Classical Antiquity in North Syria (11th–12th Centuries),” Annales archéologiques arabes syriennes 21: 347–356.

    Souvaget, Jean. 1940. “Inscriptions Arabes.” In Voyages archéologiques dans la Turquie orientale, by Albert Gabriel, 287–356. Paris: E. de Boccard.

    Soyukaya, Nevin, Ercan Alpay, Fatma Kaya, Elif Hanar, Şeref Yumruk, Zafer Han, and Orhan Balsak, eds. 2009. Diyarbakır Kültür Envanteri. Vol. 1. Diyarbakır: T.C. Diyarbakır Valiliği.

    Sözen, Metin. 1971. Diyarbakır’da Türk Mimarisi. Istanbul: Diyarbakır’ı Tanıtma ve Turizm Derneği.

    Strzygowski, Josef. 1910. “Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte des Mittelalters von Nordmesopotamien, Hellas und dem Abendlande.” In Amida: Matériaux pour l'épigraphie et l'histoire musulmanes du Diyar-bekr, edited by Max van Berchem et al., 131–376. Heidelberg: C. Winter.

    Thackston, Wheeler M. 2001. Nasir-i Khusraw’s Book of Travels. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda.

    Top, Mehmet. 2011. “Diyarbakır Ulu Camii ve Müştemilatı.” In Medeniyetler Mirası Diyarbakır Mimarisi, edited by İrfan Yıldız, 185–226. Diyarbakır: T.C. Diyarbakır Valiliği.

    Tuncer, Orhan Cezmi. 1996. Diyarbakır Camileri: Mukarnas, Geometri, Orantı. Diyarbakır: Diyarbakır Büyükşehir Belediyesi.

    Tuncer, Orhan Cezmi. 2012. Diyarbakır Surları. Ankara: T.C. Diyarbakır Valiliği.

    Van Berchem, Max. 1907. "Arabische Inschriften aus Armenien und Diyarbekr." In Materialien zur älteren geschichte Armeniens und Mesopotamiens, by C. F. Lehmann-Haupt, 125-160 (1–36). Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.

    Van Berchem, Max, Josef Strzygowski, and Gertrude Bell. 1910. Amida. Heidelberg: Carl Winter’s Universitätsbuchhandlung.

    Van Bruinessen, Martin, and Hendrik Boeschoten. 1988. Evliya Çelebi in Diyarbekr. Leiden: Brill.

    Yinanç, Mükrimin Halil. 1991 [1965]. “Diyâr Bakr: Ottoman Period.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill.

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