Istanbul, Part One

Last month I had the great privilege of visiting Istanbul for a week. This post is the first in a series about the calligraphy organizations and resources I discovered on my trip.

The purpose of my trip was to learn more about Arabic and Ottoman calligraphy, since Istanbul is the center for this art form. The timing of my visit coincided with that of my mentor Elinor Aishah Holland; together we spent time with fellow calligraphers, visiting museums and organizations with links to calligraphy (or hat, as it’s called in Turkish), and practicing calligraphy.

One of the most wonderful things about Istanbul is that there is calligraphy everywhere you turn. Mosques, municipal buildings, homes, water fountains—you name it, there’s calligraphy on it. And many of these works were created by Ottoman master calligraphers, so it’s good calligraphy. In this first post, I’m going to share photos of some of the calligraphy I encountered while walking around the city and visiting mosques and museums.

Dynasty Maps

The Georgian National Museum has created a great tool for those studying the history of Islamic Art. Their online Dynasty Maps allow users to choose a dynasty such as the Umayyad Caliphate, and then to see the reach of that dynasty geographically portrayed on a map.

Discover Islamic Art


Discover Islamic Art (, a project of the Museum with No Frontiers, is a virtual museum that “explores Islamic art and material culture in the Mediterranean region.” This website is an excellent resource for educators and those who are interested in learning more about Islamic art.

You can explore the museum’s permanent collection by country and/or by dynasty. Use the “My Museum” feature to gather and save your favorite items from the Museum’s collection in one place.

Check out their introductory guide to Islamic art in the Mediterranean (, their online exhibit on Arabic calligraphy ( and the teacher’s guide with several games and educational activities (

Leeds University Calligraphy Society

I recently found out about the Leeds University Calligraphy Society, a university society aimed at introducing people to calligraphy—with a particular emphasis on Arabic calligraphy. The society holds calligraphy classes at the University of Leeds every Wednesday evening. They have lessons in Thuluth for beginners and intermediate students. Here is a link to class details:

If you know of a class or course in Arabic script calligraphy near you, please send me an e-mail! I’ve published a list of the classes that I know about here:

The 10th Tehran International Poster Biennale 2009

From the Khatt Network (

Since poster design in contemporary Iranian graphics has found a significant and established status in the international scene, the Center for Visual Arts of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in collaboration with the Institute for Development of Visual Art plans to organize the 10th Tehran International Poster Biennial.

The deadline for submissions is August 22, 2009. Visit the Khatt Network for more information.


Design your own square kufic calligraphy

Calligrapher Mamoun Sakkal offers lessons on his website in designing a word or phrase in a style he calls “square kufic.” In this style, each letter is made up of a series of filled-in squares. Starting with a piece of graph paper, you can design your own alphabet, then create intricate patterns with these letter forms.

These designs are abstract and stylized versions of the kufic calligraphy script.

square kufic