Turkish nationality room to debut at cathedral

| Saturday, March 3, 2012

Sean Caulfield gazed at the room as if he'd been transported to Istanbul's outdoor markets, minarets and hookah bars.

"It's great. This room is so different from the other Nationality Rooms here at Pitt," said Caulfield, 19, of Plum, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, while looking at the Turkish Nationality Room on Friday. It is the 28th and latest of the Nationality Rooms in the school's landmark Cathedral of Learning.

Designed by Omer Akin, professor of architecture at Carnegie Mellon University since 1977, the room is a "main room" in a traditional Turkish house, with seating along the walls. It will be dedicated on Sunday at a ceremony attended by Namik Tan, Turkey's ambassador to the United States.

The room features a large mural of Istanbul, four ceramic panels depicting life in Turkey in the ninth, 14th and 16th centuries. One panel is a life-size scene from 1928 with Kemal Atat?rk, the father of modern Turkey, instructing the Turkish nation on the Latin alphabet that was adopted as the country's legal script in the 1920s.

The room includes intricate native woodwork and a window designed by master artisans in Turkey. The window is glazed, with lead glass panels embellished with a stylized tulip pattern. The tulips reference the imperial flower of early-18th century Ottomans, an empire that lasted from 1299 to 1923 and whose rule extended from Turkey into Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Building the room cost $500,000 and took more than a decade of planning. Funding included an initial $150,000 contribution from the Turkish Parliament.

Last year, Caulfield trained for three months to be a tour guide for the Nationality Rooms. What most impresses him about the Turkish room is that none of the others even remotely resembles it, he said.

"It's unique. It does not look anything like the older rooms from Northern and Eastern Europe. These rooms -- and when they were built -- really say a lot about the history of immigration to this city," Caulfield said.

The 28 Nationality Rooms were built between 1938 and this year. The university requires their designs to predate 1787, the year Pitt was founded.

"The rooms are one of the main tourist attractions in Pittsburgh, and there is really nothing else like them in the country. People come from everywhere to see them, and there are usually yellow school buses in front of the building," said E. Maxine Bruhns, director of the Nationality Rooms Programs.

"The Turkish room adds a millennial-old culture to what we already have. The Ottoman Empire had a huge influence on the Middle East and even Europe. (The Ottomans) almost got to Vienna," said Bruhns, 88, who has run the Nationality Rooms since 1965 and trains guides.

Western Pennsylvania has about 1,500 residents who were born in Turkey, she said.

The Turkish room will not be the newest room for long: A Swiss room is slated to open in less than two months.

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