Multi-Colored Almshouse


Alaja Imaret Interior

Built by the son of Ibrahim, Inangolou Isaac Pasha, in February 1484, this ruined  mosque sits humbly among the labyrinthine streets of Thessaloniki, Greece. In a town full of 1,000 year old Byzantine era churches, dozens of which are on the UNESCO list of world heritage sites, the mosque garners little attention.

It acquired its name Alaja Imaret (multi-colored almshouse) from the many-colored, diamond-shaped stones used in the decoration of its minaret, and from the almshouse (imaret) which stood next door to the  mosque. The small typewritten poster on the wall claims that Ottoman architectural style rarely decorated a minaret in this way, but unfortunately the multi-colored tower is long gone and only the base remains. The building’s masonry in general imitates Byzantine models, and is one of the earlier Ottoman mosques, which were not just places of worship but also met other needs, such as the provision of food and lodging for the poor, and as a venue where monastic orders could meet.

Places like Alaja Imaret leave me feeling like I’ve just walked into a party where everyone turns to look at me while they are talking. What are they talking about? What have I walked into and am now, suddenly, a part of? It’s a feeling of awe, and a bit of self-consciousness at my intrusion. The messages here are written in the architecture, and the painting on the wall, and at one time, all the other long-gone adornments. It must have been an incredible place.


Alaja Imaret QR Code

Outside I notice some modern canopies, perhaps of glass, have been placed on the portico below the arches. At first I think these modern additions have been styled to match the mosque using Islamic tile design, a kind of play between light and dark using tessellation. But on closer inspection, I see that in fact these are giant QR codes!

I only wish I could have scanned them to see what secrets these QR codes would unlock for me. But perhaps codes of a similar kind have been in this mosque all along, symbols and designs meant to convey the visitor into another dimension of thought, to deliver messages from the heavens. That’s what places of worship do, after all. Is our technological world then becoming a mystical world? Is cyberspace the celestial realm? Could we call it a multi-colored house?


Alaja Imaret Mural




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