Russian Orthodox Church and Turkish Mosque in Midrand
Towards the end of last year I went on a tour with the Joburg Heritage Foundation of two buildings in Pretoria which have a lot in common. Both:
- are religious buildings
- use imported architectural language and foreign materials
- are constructed with exquisite detail
- are breathtakingly beautiful.
But when it comes to scale, they are of a completely different order. These buildings are the Russian Orthodox Church and the Turkish Mosque in Midrand.
Russian Orthodox Church
The Russian Orthodox Church of St. Sergius of Radonezh held its first church service in March 2003. The church was designed by a St. Petersburg architect Yuri Kirs who supervised local Gauteng builders. Falling under the Patriarchate of Alexandria of Egypt, the church serves an extraordinarily tiny congregation of some 200. The layout and design follows standard Russian Orthodox church design with a central dome and 4 subsidiary domes – all covered in gold leaf. Inside, the central dome is decorated with an icon of Christ Pantokrator while the white walls are covered with brightly coloured murals. On the dark wooden iconostasis at the east end are exquisitely crafted icons, painted by academy trained craftsmen who were brought out from Russia. Behind the double door in the centre of the iconostasis is the sanctuary where only clergy may go.
Guests from Liz at Lancaster attend a service
We have a regular guest who lives in London and comes out twice a year to visit her aging mother. She brings her mother to stay here at Liz at Lancaster for the week and they are always looking for interesting things to do and see. When they were here in November last year, after hearing me speak about the Russian Church, they went off to a service one Sunday. Despite the fact that the service is in Russian, that it is a full 2 hour High Mass, and that the congregation stands for the duration of the service, they both said the chanting was exquisite, the space was extraordinary with an amazing sense of light and luminosity combined with a wonderful intimacy and the service did not seem long.
Nizamiye Complex, the brainchild of 74-year-old Ali Katircioglu, a prominent Turkish businessman is set on 10 hectares in Midrand. The mosque is modelled on the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey, and is built in the Ottoman style. The Complex incorporates the Sama (meaning heaven in Arabic) High School, student boarding facilities, a clinic, a conference facility and a community hall for 1500 people, a bazaar and a Turkish restaurant. The four 55 metre high minarets and 32 metre high (24 m wide) central dome ensure the structure is visible from afar.
The 24 smaller semi-domes and arches which transfer the huge weight of the central dome earthward in delicate cascades, are pieced by multiple windows which bring light into the huge structure and give it a sense of delicacy despite its huge scale. The exquisite ceramic tiles give a profusion of sensuous organic forms, echoed in the stained glass patterns. Colour combinations of blue, orange and golden- yellow in the central dome are sublime. Materials, including the marble ceramics and the carpet which contains in its pattern the shapes of individual prayer rugs, were all imported from Turkey. It really is a beautiful and awe-inspiring space which is well worth a visit.
A visit to this mosque would have made Byzantine architecture come alive in a real and meaningful way
If only this mosque had been around when I was teaching in the History of Art overview course at Wits. A visit to this building would have made teaching Byzantine architecture sooo much easier. Large-scale domes and semi-domes, clerestory lighting, pendentives and arches, a decorative inner skin – all are here – and offer a real bodily and visual experience rather than having to rely on imaginative reconstruction from a series of faded slides in a darkened lecture theatre. When I asked a student whether he had to keep falling asleep during lectures, he replied ‘No, it’s purely voluntary’. (Actually that was Winston Churchill’s line, but it could have been a student line!)