Hamza Bey Mosque revealed

For four centuries, the faithful thronged beneath the grand dome of Hamza Bey Mosque at the junction of Venizelou and Egnatia, the two roads that linked the port with the northern gate of the walled city of Thessaloniki. For the past 80 years it was concealed behind the windows of stores, mainly shoe stores, which had distorted its architecture. Hamza Bey, also known as Alkazar after the cinema in its pillared courtyard, was one of the first mosques built in Thessaloniki after the fall of Constantinople, and one of the few examples of early Ottoman architecture in the Balkans. Inaccessible to the architectural authorities, the mosque had been crumbling for years. When the Red Cross, which owned the building, handed it over to the Culture Ministry in 2006, the Ninth Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities got the go-ahead to restore it. After lengthy legal procedures, the stores were removed and the monument was opened up, revealing the extent of human intervention. As ephorate officials explained, the building had survived earthquakes large and small, as well as a fire worse than the one in 1917, but it had been made unrecognizable inside and outside by modern interventions. The spaces on the perimeter of the mosque had been divided by walls and partitions to make stores. Marble columns and Early Christian capitals were embedded in walls or painted over, while the floor was raised for the cinema. Sections of the 1.5-meter thick external wall were demolished to make larger windows, and arched arcades were built, making the pillared courtyard disappear. Owners had built basements. «The additional structures and illuminated signs made it impossible to discern the architecture of the building.» archaeologist F. Vachtsevanou told Kathimerini. Archaeologists and architects expect it to start looking more like a mosque by the end of the year, but say it will be a long time before the edifice acquires its original form.

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