Mosques in Bulgaria

The interior or the religious dominant

Muslim houses of prayer are called mosques. In this article we will try to present the architectural part of this holy place of Muslims.


A mosque without a mihrab does not exist and cannot exist. This means that it is the most important compositional element in the architectural solution of any mosque, which is due to its establishment as a key facility in any mosque interior. The prototype of the mihrab in early Islam is a spear – the word mihrab itself has a common root with the Arabic word harba, meaning ‘spear’. The mosque and the mihrab are compositionally and functionally indivisible, as a result of which they are also interchangeable as concepts. A particularly indicative example of this is the mihrab, denoting the so-called anointed /a place for prayer/ and anointed – a fountain. While namazgyas represent open-air facilities for prayers, erected outside populated areas and necessarily having only a wall with a mihrab, namazgya-fountains are extremely specific dual-functional facilities, organically combining a namazgya or mihrab with a fountain. The mihrab niche in the Ottoman mosques is duplicated functionally by two niches, which are formed on both sides of the mosque portals. The space in front of the mosque portals with the two niches is called Son Jamaat Yeri and is very often used primarily for Friday prayers. The space in front of the interior niche is intended only for the official /imam or hodja/ who leads the prayer ritual of the Muslims arranged in a row. The mihrab niches of the mosques and mosques in Bulgaria preserved to this day are made of marble, stone and bricks, and in terms of shape they are of two types: vaulted and gabled. The artistic design of most mihrabs also includes coloring of their decoration. The coloring can be with different paints, but one-tone painted stalactite ornaments are also found.


The minber is the second most important element in the interior of mosques. It is a wooden, stone or marble structure with steps, which is used by the Khatib in order to be seen and heard better by the faithful during his sermons on Fridays and Eids. The word “minber” comes from the Arabic root n-b-r /in Turkish nebr/, which means rise, high, and its dictionary meaning is a place where one climbs step by step or a place where one’s voice is raised. The minber is a cult structure, which from the beginning of the 9th century until today contains three main parts: an entrance, a staircase and a canopy-shaped roof supported by columns. The size of most minbers is adjusted to the size of the prayer room. The entrance to the minber is a decorative wooden or marble frame with curtains on which verses from the Koran are written or embroidered. Most frames are wooden and topped with a plastic image that is an imitation of two animal horns. The roof of the minber is also crowned with such an image. Since the shape of these images resembles the shape of two crescents and a tulip, they are very often converted precisely as crescents or tulips. The number of steps varies between minbers and usually ranges from 8 to 12 steps. They are always surrounded by parapet boards, which are one of the main objects of decoration. The most widespread are wooden minbers.


The word “curse” refers to the third traditional element in the interior of the mosque, which in most cases is located to the left of the mihrab niche. It is used only by an official to read from it verses of the Qur’an, to interpret them, and to hold discourses on religious and social topics. The courses in the interior of the mosques are mostly made of wood and most of them are richly decorated with kundekari style ornaments. In some of the representative mosques, they are decorated with the intarsia technique, i.e. with ivory and mother of pearl inlay.


The word “mahfil” is of Arabic origin and contains the following meanings: 1. Place of visit; 2. social circle, club, assembly, council; 3. private gallery or lodge in the mosque; 4. masonic lodge. The mahfil in the mosques is a high and fenced platform, the structural elements of which are artistically treated. It is made only for the largest and most representative Friday mosques.


Another main element in the interior of mosques is the balcony, which is traditionally built above the entrance to the northwest wall. It is the place of women, who according to Islamic rules must be separate from men. By virtue of the same rules, they should not have visual contact with the men in the salon, which is why the railings on some balconies were made higher, and screens were placed on others. Access to the balcony is via a wooden or stone ladder installed in one of the corners below it. Higher balconies have only railings, which in most cases are artistically designed. Women’s access to the balcony of some mosques is by means of an external staircase leading to an especially legal opening or to a window. This is, of course, an extreme measure to limit contact between women and men in mosques. The base of most balconies occupies the wide space between the southwest and northeast walls and is supported by columns.


Columns are a very important structural element in the interior architecture of mosques. They are one of the main structural elements in the portal galleries of mosques as well. According to the material of construction, the columns in the interior of the mosques are stone, marble and wooden. According to their construction method, they are masonry and monolithic, and according to their shape, they are four-walled and cylindrical. In the interior of 19th century mosques, only wooden columns are found, the purpose of which is to support the balconies. Wooden columns are mostly square in cross-section.


Niches are made in the interior walls of some mosques. They are different in shape and size and were used to store a chest of hair from Muhammad’s beard, books and documents, and most likely lighting fixtures. Decorative niches also exist in some mosques. They are found in the interiors of mosques from almost all periods of Ottoman architecture.