The envoy of money and provisions to Mecca, the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammed and the location of the Kaaba, and to Medina, the center from which Islam spread and the location of the home, mosque and tomb of the Prophet Mohammed, was considered a great honor. The caravans that transported these goods to the sacred lands were called surre.
The tradition of the surre began with the early Islamic states, the first of which were the Baghdad Abbasid Caliphs, and continued in Egypt under the states of the Fatimids (909-1171), the Ayyubids (1171-1250) and the Mamelukes (1250-1517).
The year 1517 marked an important turning point for the Ottoman state; as a result of the Battle of Ridaniye, victoriously directed by Sultan Selim I (r.1512-20), the Hijaz, previously under the administration of the Mamelukes, was included in Ottoman lands. However, the tradition of the surre in Egypt was continued, and each year the surre custom was practiced more systematically. Up until the year 1714 the surre was dispatched from two centers, Cairo and Istanbul. The two caravans joined together in Damascus and then continued on to the Hijaz.
Precious gifts were sent along with money and provisions. Manuscripts of the Quran, bookstands, candelabra, lamps, incense burners and exceptional carpets, as well as specially woven textiles used as covers for the Kaaba were among the valuable presents.
One of the most significant manifestations of dominion over the cities of Mecca and Medina, and the most important of the services surrounding the Kaaba, was the ‘dressing of the Kaaba’. Kaaba covers were included in the surre caravans from the Abbasid era (750-1258) onwards.
It is believed that the Ottoman tradition of sending textile covers to the sacred sites began during the era of Sultan Süleyman (r. 1520-66). The tradition continued among the Ottomans until 1915.
Every year new covers were sent with corteges to Mecca and Medina. While some of the used textiles were returned to Istanbul, some were distributed to pilgrims as sacred relics. It was believed that their initial use sanctified the covers.
It was customary to garb the exterior of the Kaaba with a black covering. The interior covers, on the other hand, contained compositions of script in the zigzag bands woven in cream-colored silk thread on a red ground. The text within the bands consisted of prayers and verses of the Quran.
The piece of the interior Kaaba cover that has recently become a part of the Sakıp Sabancı Museum collections bears many similar characteristics. Within the zigzag bands, woven in cream-colored silk thread on a red ground we find the inscription, Lâ ilâhe illallah Muhammedun Resûlullah, meaning, “There is no god but God; Mohammed is his Messenger.” Within the rumi medallions between the zigzag bands the words Allah and Muhammed are inscribed alternately.
Because of the stylistic characteristics of the cover that reflect the Mameluke influence, it is apparent that it is one of the earlier textiles sent to the holy lands, and the cover is thus dated to the early 17th century.
Bibliography: Selin İpek, “Topkapı Sarayı Müzesi’ndeki Mekke ve Medine’ye gönderilen Dini Kumaşlar”, 16 Nisan – 25 Mayıs 2008 exhibition at the Topkapı Palace Museum, exhibition catalogue Surre-i Hümâyun (2008), pp. 57-69; Seyit Ali Kahraman, “Surre-i Hümâyun”, Surre-i Hümâyun exhibition catalogue (2008), pp. 15-27; Sevgi Ağca, “Surre-i Hümâyun Geleneği”, Surre-i Hümâyun exhibition catalogue (2008), pp. 29-39; Selin İpek, “Ottoman Ravza-ı Mutahhara Covers Sent From Istanbul to Medina With The Sure Processions”, Muqarnas 23 (2006), pp. 289-316; Hülya Tezcan, “Kanuni’nin adını taşıyan ilk Kabe perdesi: The Ottoman Sure Procession and the First Veil of the Qaaba Bearing the Name of Sultan Süleyman the Lawgiver ”, Antika 23 (1987), p. 21.