The Seljuk Han of Anatolia
a brief introduction
The most enduring testament of the Seljuk Empire to posterity is their architecture. A large number of Seljuk buildings still stand in Turkey to this day (despite numerous earthquakes), and can be considered some of the most distinguished monuments ever built in Islamic lands. Of exceptionally high order and quality, this is a powerful and direct architecture: rectilinear, balanced, dignified, imposing and imperious. It projects an image of noble severity at the same time as one of subtle majestic beauty. The sculptured and carved stone decoration, an integral part of the building scheme, forms a perfect complement to the strength and artistry of the architecture. The fact that such a sophisticated building program could have been achieved by an empire so busy at war and in such a short period of time makes the accomplishment all the more impressive.
The Seljuks built mosques, the educational and charitable institutions known as medreses, hans, mausoleums, bridges, palaces, public baths, and fortifications. They date mostly from the 13th century, with a few from the 12th.
Design analysis of the carved decoration used on the monuments has led art historians to the definition of a broad chronology of Seljuk architecture:
▪A short beginning period (up to 1215), characterized by a limited, sober and restrained use of decoration (Alaeddin Mosque, Onu and Altinapa hans). The design repertoire consisted of triangles, zigzags, the Greek key, arabesque and dogtooth motifs. The carving was in low relief.
▪This period was followed by what is known as the "Classical period" of Seljuk architecture, with a fully-developed style. Lasting only briefly (1215-1250), it encompasses the most outstanding buildings of the era, notably the Sultan hans, and the Karatay and Sircali Medreses in Konya. The area of decorated surfaces on the building was increased and the tracery carving became elaborate and highly-developed, with a large place given to the arabesque, animal and floral motifs, as well as medallion bosses.
▪ The extensive use of glazed tilework, geometrical compositions and the elaboration of sculpture characterizes the third period, known as the "Baroque" period (1250-1307), corresponding to the buildings erected during the period when the Seljuks were vassals to the Mongols. Notable monuments include the Sahip Ata mosque at Konya and the Çifte Medrese in Sivas.
FEATURES OF SELJUK ARCHITECTURE
▪The architecture of the Seljuks of Anatolia inherited many aspects from the numerous empires that preceded it or with which it came in contact: the Persians (Assyrians, Sassanians, Great Seljuks), the Greek and Roman sphere, the Armenians and the Byzantines. Although inspired by many design and construction elements, Seljuk architecture developed into its own distinct entity.
▪The distinguishing characteristic of Seljuk architecture is the monumental portal, built of stone, ornately decorated in a wide variety of techniques. These portals extend outward from the facade. The entrance is surmounted by a triangular arch filled with elaborate stalactite carving.
▪Another feature is the decoration in stone and faience. This design program comprises a combination of intricate stone carving and colorful glazed ceramic decoration in a palette of turquoise blue, cobalt blue, black and white. Design elements include calligraphy, use of polychrome bands of stone, vegetal and geometric patterns, and human and animal figures. Decoration on Seljuk monuments was used in moderation, and was concentrated around the main door or the sides of the entrance, or, in the case of mosques, on the minarets or domes. Its exuberance and color was a playful juxtaposition to the severity of the plain stone walls.
▪An important element of Seljuk building construction is the iwan, a large vaulted chamber left open at one end. The iwan provided shelter and allowed contact with the outdoors. Buildings could have 1, 2, 3, or 4 iwans around a central courtyard.
▪The dome, employed in Middle Eastern cultures since Assyrian times, is another distinctive feature of Seljuk architecture. The dome was supported by squinches or pendentives in a peculiar triangular shape, known as "Turkish triangles". The inside of the dome was decorated with tiles or glazed bricks.
▪As opposed to the brick architecture of the Iranians and Byzantines, the walls of Seljuk buildings are made of rubble or rough stone which was then faced with large blocks of beautifully dressed stone, laid with great accuracy. Building materials were readily available on site as there are rich stone quarries in western Anatolia, extensive limestone quarries in the central plateau, and good clay deposits for making tiles.
The Anatolian Seljuks built the following types of structures :
Mosques (both the larger "ulu" (great) mosques and the smaller "mescit" neighborhood mosques
Medreses (buildings for higher education in the sciences, astronomy or religion)
Hospitals (şifahane) which could also be combined with a medical school
Tomb towers (kumbet)
Palaces and pavilions
Military constructions (castles, fortresses, city walls)
Civil construction and urban development
Other building types: dervish lodges (tekke)
The largest mosque in a city was called the Ulu Cami, or "Great" mosque, and was located in the most prominent spot in the town. The typical mosque plan consisted of an enclosed rectangular space, and this due to climatic reasons. The nave was large with an elongated basilical form, and there was no forecourt. The mosques included minarets (usually single) and domes. As many of the Ulu Mosques were commissioned by the Sultan or by his viziers, they often had elaborate decorative programs, including carved woodwork for mimbars and furniture and tilework for mihrabs (prayer niche) and minarets, not to forget specially-commissioned carpets. They could have aisles parallel or perpendicular to the prayer niche. They were often built in conjunction with a medrese to form a complex known as a külliye. There exists a series of small, square-shaped mosques covered by a single dome, known as "mescits", notably in the region of Konya and Akşehir. These were neighborhood or bazaar mosques scattered throughout the city and which were used for daily prayer. During the late Seljuk and Beylik periods developed a particular subset of mosques, known as the "mosques with wooden pillars". There were built with a forest of wooden pillars instead of stone piers in the interiors.
Medreses (schools for theology or science)
The buildings of these educational institutions were rectangular in plan with an inner courtyard, either open or closed by a central with a dome, 1-4 iwans, and surrounding cells on one or two storeys. There were dormitory rooms for students located on the ground or first floor and which were equipped with fireplaces. The iwan halls were used for lectures. These often had lavishly-decorated entrance doorways topped by pointed arches.
This building type reflects the social dimension of the Seljuk state and its attachment to providing health care for all citizens. Hospitals were made available free of charge, and were operated by endowments set up by royalty or wealthy persons. The operating expenses were paid for by income from farmland and businesses determined by the endowment agreement. They were often operated in conjunction with a medrese used for the teaching of the doctors. The Seljuks paid much attention to the needs of the ill and the poor, especially as concerned health issues. Orphanages, mental institutions and almshouses followed the same general building plan as the medrese for building plan and decoration. In Divriği, the hospital is located next to the mosque; in other instances the hospital is attached to a medrese (Kayseri Cifte and Sivas Keykavus Medreses, for example).
Hans (or Caravansarais)
Of all of Seljuk buildings, there is one type of building that stands out from the others as particularly distinctive: the caravansarai, or han. These hans are interesting not only for their architecture and decor, but also for their purposeful agenda behind their development. They are indeed the most distinctive products of Seljuk architecture. They made their first appearance in Central Asia during the Karakhanid times, growing in response to the extensive trading network of Transoxiana. Of considerable size, they show impressive decor on their entrances.
Döner Kümbet, Kayseri, ca. 1275
Kümbet tower tombs
In addition to hans, the Seljuks also developed the specific building form of the tomb tower, known as a "kümbet", or "türbe". Turbes were of 2 types: a cylindrical tower with a low flat dome, sometimes covered on the outside with turquoise tiles; or a circular, polygonal or octagonal body fitted onto a square base by means of Turkish triangles and roofed with a conical turret. They often had carved inscriptions and figures. They comprised two storeys, with the sarcophagus in the upper chamber, which also served as a mosque chapel with a mihrab. The empty sarcophagus serves as a marker for the remains of the deceased which are buried in the earth below it. The entrance to the upper chamber was set fairly high on one side. Türbes are the translation in stone of the former shamanistic tent tombs of the Turkomans. An important number of them can be found in the city of Kayseri. No one who has seen the forest of gravestones and the eleven Seljuk türbes in the cemetery of Ahlat overlooking Lake Van can forget their poetry and mystical evocation.
Palaces and pavilions
Compared to the large dimensions of the mosques, medreses and hans, palaces were modest structures, built of rubble stone and brick. No complete example exists, but much information has been gleaned from excavations of several sites. The Kubadabad Saray ("palace"), on the southwest shore of Lake Beyşehir near Konya is the only Seljuk palace to have been systematically excavated. It was built in 1236, according to (as legend would have it) plans drawn up by Alaeddin Keykubad I himself. Composed of 16 pavilions and a hunting grounds, it was decorated with a spectacular program of mural tile decorations some 2 m. high (which can now be seen in the Karatay Museum in Konya). Excavations have revealed kitchens, apartments, pavilions and stables.
There are traces of other Seljuk palaces. These include the Keykubadiye (1224-26) in Kayseri, which consisted of 3 pavilions decorated with geometric tiles, and the Alaeddin Kiosk in Konya, at the foot of the hill where stands the Alaeddin Mosque. Very little is known of this latter structure, other than it was 2 storeys high and probably served as the palace of the Sultan. Its construction was started by Kiliç Arslan II and was completed by Alaeddin Keykubad I. It is believed that its interior was decorated with stucco and tile. Other Seljuk palaces built by Alaeddin Keykubad include the Alara Saray (1224), decorated with frescoes and tiles, and the kiosk at the rear of the stage of the Aspendos theater. The Sultans also built villas or "pleasure pavilions" for resting, entertaining or for hunting parties. These include the Haydar Bey, Hizir Ilyas and Kizil Köşk structures outside of Kayseri, and the Gulefşen, Sedre and Hasbahce villas outside of Alanya.
The Arsenal at Alanya
The Haydar Bey Pavilion
Military and civil construction
The most outstanding example of Seljuk military architecture is the Kizil Kule (Red Tower) castle on the hill above Alanya, built in 1226 by Alaeddin Keykubad I. It extends down to the sea and encloses a naval dockyard and arsenal guarded by a 33 m. high octagonal tower of red stone and brick. Other military constructions include the city walls and fortifications of Alanya, Konya, and Sivas, as well as the sea walls at Sinop.
Civil and urban construction
The urban plan of a Seljuk city comprised an administrative sector, which included a inner castle or palace, a commercial district which included bazaars, markets, and squares, as well as residential neighborhoods. The city comprised one large Ulu mosque and numerous neighborhood mosques. Urban constructions comprised covered and open markets, houses, gardens, streets with conduits for water and sewage, public water fountains, pools, and public baths. The more important cites (Konya, Kayseri and Sivas) were surrounded by walls with entry gates.
There is no remaining example of a typical Seljuk house, but the plan probably comprised rooms opening onto a courtyard. A late Seljuk summer pavilion, the Haydar Bey Kiosk in Kayseri, can give some indication as to the layout of a Seljuk house.
Abundant mineral springs exist in Turkey, and the Seljuks took advantage of them by encouraging a building program for baths, spas and fountains (Havza, Kirşehir, Ilgin). Some of these mineral spas were reserved for horses and valuable animals. The plan appeared to be centered on an octagon with four iwans, and there was no central bathing pool as in the Roman-style baths. There were separate twin buildings for men and women, with a disrobing room, tepidarium, and hot room.
An impressive number of Seljuk bridges exist to this day. They were built to accompany the building program of the hans, and comprise spans of pointed arches. They were built over both the major rivers of Turkey and also smaller rivers.
Dervish lodges, or tekke, were an important part of Seljuk society, but few remain standing today. An outstanding example of a Seljuk tekke is the Şeyh Turesan Veli lodge outside of Kayseri.
Yildiz Bridge in Sivas
Eğriköprü in Sivas
Hidirlik Bridge in Tokat over the Yeşilirmak River, 1250
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