The Mobile Matrix: The Hijaz Railway as Ritual Space and Generator of Space
journal article
Despite a revolution two months earlier, the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II (r.1876–1909) still sat on the throne upon the inauguration of the Hijaz Railway in September 1908. Dismissed as military strategy or as propaganda, the railway nevertheless signified more to many Muslims. This article examines the Hijaz Railway from an uncommon perspective, beginning with a component of the train largely neglected by scholars, the cami-vagonu or ‘mosque wagon’. A mobile space recapitulating historic loci of Ottoman Islamic ritual, it contributed to the production of an imperial discourse of legitimacy and authority. Within this wagon, the designers reproduced architectural forms and calligraphic motifs to incorporate the railway in a larger representational space. They also deployed modern maps to orient the mosque wagon and represent the railway, linking the calligraphic and the cartographic in a distinctly Ottoman visual-cultural language. These factors would inform the conception and reception of the sultan’s project in local and trans-imperial networks of patronage. The planners of the railway enhanced the functions of this network by sacralizing modern technological resources. In documenting architectural, aesthetic and ritual aspects of the mosque wagon, this study presents a more nuanced picture of the Hijaz Railway and its infrastructure in both the Hamidian and the Second Constitutional periods and explains how it was a ‘pious’ as well as a ‘pragmatic’ project.

Keywords: Hijaz railway
Simonowitz, David. "The Mobile Matrix: The Hijaz Railway as Ritual Space and Generator of Space." In International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Volume 3, Number 2 (pp. 303-340), edited by Christiane Gruber, Bristol: Intellect, 2014.
Building Usages
train station
transportation infrastructure
railroad stations