Relic from Ottoman sultan returned to Jaffa, after extensive renovations

Israeli archeologists restore seal of Sultan Hamid Abdul II, builder of the Jaffa Clock Tower.

December 13, 2016 10:54
2 minute read.
jaffa clock seal

The marble plaque bearing the sultan’s seal prior to conservation; the seal itself cannot be discerned. (photo credit: FAINA MILSTEIN/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

Following an intensive restoration project, the original seal of Sultan Hamid Abdul II – ruler of the Ottoman Empire during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and builder of the landmark Jaffa Clock Tower – has been restored and returned to its rightful place in the ancient port city.

Over the last year, the tower has undergone considerable conservation measures and engineering reinforcement implemented by the Ezra u-Biratzon Company of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, the Israel Antiquities Authority said on Tuesday.

“During the course of the work, it became apparent that the original marble seal (tughra) bearing the symbol of Sultan Hamid Abdul II was in a poor state of preservation,” the Authority said.

“Not only had the marble long since lost its original color, [but] it was no longer possible to identify the relief on it, [and] the seal’s plaque, located at a height of 12 meters above the sidewalk, was in danger of falling. Additionally, the marble was cracked and partly detached from the wall, and its surface was crumbling.”

The seal, located on the southern side of the tower, was the last original of four to be preserved on the structure. In 2001, three glass replicas adorned with the sultan’s seal were installed there in place of the marble plaques that did not survive.

“Conservators at the IAA, who examined the last original marble seal remaining on the tower, determined that its critical condition required that it be saved,” the IAA continued, “hence, it was detached from the wall using chisels and transferred to the conservation laboratory in Jerusalem.”

There, conservator Mark Avrahami, performed the reinforcement and restoration work, including a new support for the seal, which had faded completely, and was accentuated utilizing pigments. Upon completion of the work, the marble plaque was returned to its original location two weeks ago. According to Faina Milstein, the IAA’s conservation architect for Old Jaffa, the clock tower – which is in the center of what is today called Clock Square – was built next to Jaffa’s monumental sites, the Qishla, an Ottoman-era police station, and the Saraya, a Turkish government house.

“More than 100 clock towers were constructed throughout the Ottoman Empire in honor of the 25th anniversary of the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II, of which six clock towers are known in Israel in Jaffa, Akko, Jerusalem, Haifa, Safed and Nablus,” explained Milstein. “A seventh tower, for which there is still some doubt if it is actually a clock tower, is located in Nazareth.”

Authority archeologist, Dr. Yoav Arbel, noted that the tughra first appeared as the seal of the second Ottoman sultan, Orhan (1326-1362 CE), and has since represented the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, as well as the kingdom itself.

“The tughra is a monogram that incorporates the sultan’s name, his titles, [and] his father’s name and blessings, along with symbolic characteristics of the Ottoman Empire,” said Arbel. “It served as the sultan’s official seal for use on documents, public buildings, coins, etc.”

The tughra, he added, also appears at the top of the Qishla, near the clock tower, and above the sabil (a public fountain) called “Suleiman’s Sabil,” in front of the city gate, which was also treated in recent years by the conservators of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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