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A friend just told me a lovely story about a mosque in Turkey. It needed some maintenance, but the stone-masonry skills required to repair an arch had been lost. They found a letter from the architect, hidden in the archway, with detailed instructions of what was required.

I have found a re-telling of this story here (Microsoft Word document).

Şehzadebaşı Mosque: Architect Sinan -known all over the world especially with his mosques and his interior architecture works - was a far-sighted artist who could see 400 years later. A civil engineer who worked on the restoration of the mosque has talked about an interesting event on T.V. He said that: There were some rottings on the stones that form the a rches over the doors. But they wouldn’t know exactly how to restore the arch .And they had to find a way to work. During the work they found a glass bottle between two stones. Here by they found a note in the bottle which was written by the architect Sinan. The note was about how arch can be restored. Architect Sinan wrote these things: The lives of the stones are 400 years old. These stones are eroded in 400 years…You will need to restore the arches. And probably you will not know how to restore. I have written this letter for you to explain how to restore the arch. At the same time, Architect Sinan told us where these stones that used in the construction of the arch come from. Architect Sinan has left a letter which explains the construction of the arch. Architect Sinan knew how long the life of a stone last. He used a paper and ink which remain stable for 400 years. This shows us that Architect Sinan was a very intelligent man and excellent architect.

I hope this story is true, but there are elements of urban myth about it. Are there any reliable accounts of the discovery? When did it occur?

  • I did some searching around and found another link for the story; however, I suspect that if this story is true we need to find someone that can speak Turkish to do a proper search for sources to back the story. – rjzii May 1 '13 at 15:20
  • Yet another version of the story with a few additional details. – RedGrittyBrick May 1 '13 at 16:13
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    Note none of the stories includes: dates, names of the discoverers, names of the translators, names of the restoration firm, name of the TV show, or even the channel, nor a photograph of the papers (in situ or later). None of this proves the story wrong (and I am cheering for the story to be true), but they make it sound more urban mythish. (err... urban mythical?) – Oddthinking May 1 '13 at 16:19
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    There's a similar story about the good planning of ancient architects: the Oak beams of New College, Oxford, where it is claimed the original builders had the foresight to plant oaks to replace the roof beams 500 years later when they would become unservicable. My understanding is it's partially true, in that ~150-year old Oaks from college lands were available for the repair, but this was due to the general forest-management practises on those lands, rather than the oaks being specifically put aside for the purpose. – Lev Bishop May 19 '13 at 3:07
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This appears to be an urban legend. Using some keywords in the story I searched for the following string:

Şehzade Camii 1.990 restorasyon

Which returns a number of hits (about 122,000 results); however, it also appears that most of the pages were written between 2010 and 2012 which is a hint that this might be a recent occurrence as opposed to an older story since we would expect to see much older pages if this really happened over two decades ago.

Reading through the pages brought a lot that restated the original claim but didn't provide any backing evidence, until one titled "Efsaneler zombi gibidir kolay öldürülemezler!" ("Legends are like zombies, they can not be killed easily!") which was also republished on another site. The article approaches the story from a skeptical angle and looks to confirm the sources by getting in touch with one of the architects that worked on the restoration project in the 1970s who said the following:

'Mektubu bulsaydım elbette bunu yayınlayacaktım' dedi bana, ne var ki işin gerisi gelmemiş [Yani ortada böyle bir mektup da yok!].

Or, loosely translated:

"If I had found the letter, I was going to publish it" he -foreman of the restoration job- said to me, alas that was the end of it. [In other words, there is no such a letter!].

So, given the evidence at hand it appears that this is an urban legend.

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    @Ismail Kuruca - Thanks for the translation! – rjzii May 2 '13 at 14:18

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