The Seljuk Han of Anatolia
Introduction and definition
WHAT IS A HAN ?
The architecture of the Seljuks of Anatolia (1077-1307) is seen at its most spectacular in an impressive group of buildings called hans or caravansarais, many of which still stand today. These buildings and the organization of their services are a testament to the energy and creativity of this short but glorious period of Islamic history.
The word is also rendered as caravanserai, caravansary, caravansaray, caravansara or khan. The word is based on a combination of the Persian words “karvan” (caravan, meaning a group of people engaged in long-distance travel) with “sara” (palace with enclosed courts) and the nominative suffix “yi”. A caravansarai is also known as khan in Persian, han or kervansaray in Turkish, and funduq in Arabic.
A caravansarai is a building to house a brief overnight stop-over of a caravan, which is a body of merchants who travel together for greater protection. It is thus an overnight inn for traveling merchants. These buildings are generally known in Turkish as "hans" or the more poetic caravansarai (written in Turkish as kervansaray), meaning "a palace for caravans". Palatial they were, and a closer look shows that they were more than just overnight inns along the road.
The typical Seljuk han is a monumental stone building with a huge, highly-decorated main portal which provided access to a large open courtyard and a vaulted hall to the rear. The outside walls are plain but may have side towers and supporting buttresses of cylindrical, half-octagonal or half hexagonal shape. In the larger hans, there are roof gutter spouts in the shape of stylized animals heads. The main portal is often elaborately decorated in carved stone with bands of geometric patterned elements, rows of Koranic inscriptions and stalactite vaulting known as muquarnas. Once inside the main door, the visitor would enter a large courtyard, surrounded by service rooms (dining hall, treasury, baths and latrines, repair shops and stores). The vaulted hall to the rear could also have a richly-decorated entry door. It was lit by a raised cupola in the middle and small slit windows.
Hans constituted the second largest group of Seljuk-era buildings after mosques. Although it is estimated from texts and references that there were over 250 of them built in Seljuk times, today, approximately only a hundred or so remain in various states of repair today. Some are intact, some restored, and many are in a ruined condition. The Turks began building hans upon their arrival in Anatolia. The earliest dated han appears to have been built in 1210 by Sultan Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev I, but the majority were built during the glory days of the Seljuk Empire from 1220-1250. They represent the second largest group of buildings after mosques in the Seljuk architectural program.
Six of the hans are known as “Sultan Hans”, as they were commissioned directly by the reigning sultan himself. These Sultan Hans include the Evdir, Sultan Han Aksaray, Sultan Han Kayseri, Incir, Şarafsa and Alara hans.
The Seljuk sultans of Rum, established in their capital at Konya, realized the importance of commerce to the prosperity of their empire. They set out to encourage incoming revenue by increasing the flow of transit goods throughout their lands. The first step taken was to repair the existing trade routes which had served merchants for generations. Having been neglected and fallen into disrepair during many years of constant warfare, these roads were repaired, with the existing bridges solidified and new ones built. They then undertook the construction of a network of merchant way-stations along these roads. This network was largely responsible for the expansion of both domestic and international trade. Hans connected trading centers both inside and outside the Empire, such as Tabriz, Baghdad, Aleppo, Alanya, Antalya, Izmir, Istanbul, Trabzon, Erzurum and Kayseri. These hans were built along specific trade routes which served the major cities of the empire. One main route led north from Antalya on the Mediterranean coast through Konya and Aksaray and on eastwards to Erzurum, and another led from the Black Sea coast to Tokat, Sivas, Amasya, and Malatya. Hans were constructed approximately every 18 to 25 miles, calculated on the distance a camel could cover in 9-10 hours, although this is not a fixed rule. Caravans were led by hard-driving entrepreneurs who often pushed their camels for 15-19 hours at a stretch. Some of the camels carried more than 400 pounds, and could go for 10 days without a drink of water. In many cases, hans were spaced very close together (for example the 4 hans on the short stretch of road between Konya and Beyşehir) or at great distances apart (in the east).
Hans did not just serve the needs of commercial caravans, but fulfilled other roles. They most probably had military uses, as did their predecessors, the ribats of Transoxania. They served as well as royal guesthouses for visiting sultans and dignitaries, as prisons, dervish lodges, government outposts for the Sultan during military campaigns, temporary residences for the Sultan while traveling to the various cities of his empire, and most probably as post offices.
Yet it is in their role as commercial structures that the hans will be remembered. In addition to ensuring support for precise trade functions, the hans proposed an entire social services structure. The building of hans and the social structure provided by them represent one of the most liberal institutions created by the Seljuks. Every traveler, whatever his nationality, religion or social status, was entitled to three days lodging with food, medical care and other services, all at the expense of the State. Complete care for the animals was provided as well, with the larger hans able to house up to 400 beasts of burden (donkeys, camels, and horses). Each han employed a physician, imam (religious official), inn keeper, wainwright, money changer, tailor, cobbler, superintendent of provisions, veterinary surgeon, messenger, blacksmith and cooks to provide these services.
Although most of the hans were built as pious endowments (usually by the Sultan, his family or his principle viziers), they were also revenue-generating operations, in order to ensure their upkeep and service needs.
The basic functions of the hans were thus to provide safety, shelter and services to tradesmen:
Safety was ensured by the thick stone walls, a single entrance with wooden bar to bolt it shut, buttresses and crenellations, roof watch platforms and small slit windows.
Shelter: All hans included stables for bedding and feeding of animals, places for loading and unloading of goods, and accommodation space for travelers. Most hans included two different levels. The lower section at the ground level housed the area reserved for animals, and an upper area, usually comprised of a raised flat platform approx. 3 feet height was reserved for humans and goods. These raised "loading dock" platforms made easier the loading and unloading of goods. Some of them include a row of basins underneath the arches, possibly for fodder and water for the animals. People would spread their bedding along these raised platforms, as they offered some elevation from the dirt and animals. A few of these platforms show remnants of the traditional tandir clay oven used for heating, cooking and baking.
Service areas were generally located on the sides of the courtyard. These comprised either open galleries or rooms (open or closed). The service facilities included spaces for administrative offices, food supplies, bathing and latrines, loading areas, storage and religious needs. The most common service areas were the single or double galleries with vaults parallel or perpendicular to the exterior wall. These single or double galleries were used to accommodate people, goods, and animals in warm weather. The raised "loading dock" platform is nearest to the arched openings, and the rear area was the stable section. In many cases, the courtyards also included enclosed spaces lining the sides of the courtyard, generally on one side only. There were often larger, interconnected rooms near the entrance which were used for storage and administration. The smaller courtyard rooms were used for accommodations and often had a slit window or a window over the door. There is no rhyme or reason as to the number of rooms, galleries or to their layout, with each han presenting its own particular take to the organization of the services and their subsequent layout. The courtyards also had iwans, which are large open spaces enclosed on three sides. They were used for daytime use of travelers and sometimes for sleeping in warm weather. Generally raised up by 1-2 feet above ground level, they offer a separation from the general bustle and dustiness of the courtyard level where animals circulate.
Expenses for construction and maintenance were borne by the Sultan, or by other court members or private wealthy individuals who established foundations for their operating expenses. The deeds of trust of these foundations spelled out the guidelines of operations for each specific han. In addition, the State provided an insurance policy to compensate merchants who were attacked or robbed. Foreign merchants who came to Anatolia enjoyed extensive rights and reductions on customs duties. The hans also generated revenue, which was used for operations and upkeep.
There was a frenzy of han building in Seljuk Anatolia during the 13th century, and most were of a fairly homogenous type. The majority of these establishments were built during the period of great commercial expansion brought about by Giyaseddin Keyhusrev I, Izzeddin Keykavus I and Alaeddin Keykubad, in the years of 1204-1246. They belong for the most part to what is known as the "Classical period" of Seljuk architecture. According to contemporary sources (the Danishmendname and Ibn Bibi's Seljuqname), the Sultans themselves visited and stayed in hans, or used them for army postings. Sultan Hans were used by Izzeddin Keykavus and Rükneddin Kiliç Arslan as a fortress where they gathered their troops of some 10,000 men. Baybars I of Egypt stayed at the Karatay Han during his seige of Kayseri in 1276. Alaeddin Keykubad also supposedly stopped at his sultan han on his way from Konya to Kayseri.
In Europe at approximately the same time, the great Gothic cathedrals of Amiens and Rheims in France were being completed. Although these hans are more modest in program and construction techniques, they deserve to stand at their side in the historical timeline of great architectural endeavors.
Because so many Anatolian hans still stand today, it is possible to study them and formulate certain generalizations about this building group, such as their plans, patronage, road networks and their decoration. The Anatolian hans provide a distinctive and unified group for study. Please consult the section on “Architecture of the Hans” for a more detailed discussion.
Although no two hans have the exact same plan, they all show the following characteristics:
They are built in one of 4 basic building plans, all of rectangular or square shape. They ranged in size from 500m2 to 4800 m2.
They were built of finely-hewn blocks of honey-colored local limestone (as opposed to the brick architecture of Iran or Byzantium), and their walls were thick and high to ensure safely from raids by robbers.
There was a single projecting monumental entrance gate, which insured control of comings and goings as well as providing security and defense. There was a vaulted vestibule inside the entrance, which usually contained rooms for the guards and other services .
Decoration was concentrated on these great entrance gates, which display some of the finest examples of Seljuk stone carving. The portal doors were made of iron to repel intruders. These doors were decorated with bands of geometric patterns, Koranic verses in calligraphic-stylized Arabic script, and stalactite vaulting (muquarnas). They are the decorative focal point for the han.
The massive solid outer walls were strengthened with rectangular, round or square towers at the corners and at intervals along the side walls, lending an appearance of a fortress. The walls are made of well-joined smooth stone, but are without decoration, except for the corner towers and buttresses, which could have geometric shapes (half-cylinder, or half octagon, or half-hexagon). The drain spouts for rainwater were often in the shape of animal or human heads.
The entry portal led to small entry vestibule, flanked by niches for guards and containing a room for the han's manager. This small hall led to a vast courtyard, surrounded by cells on one or two storeys. The caravans loaded and unloaded in these open courts. The courtyard also served for stabling or cobbling the animals. Iron rings were imbedded in the masonry for tethering. The courtyard sometimes had a raised central platform for storing goods above the ground and for facilitating loading and unloading. Animal attendants and grooms also may have slept here.
The ground floor cells around the courtyard served many purposes: rooms for storage, a bath house, lavatories, refectory, treasury, repair shop, accounting and exchange offices, and granaries. The second storey cells were the sleeping quarters. They were heated by braziers and illuminated by candles and lamps.
At the far end of the courtyard, a second massive decorated portal led into a large covered hall, with columns and piers arranged in rows to support transversal aisles with barrel-vaulted ceilings. The larger central aisle could contain a central cupola dome pierced with windows. These halls were generally poorly lit by slit windows set at a great height. It was in these halls that the goods were stored. Animals and their drivers were probably stabled here in the winter months beside built-in stone water troughs. The length of the central nave in relation to its height was generally 3:1, and the relation of the length to width was 1:1.6.
Interior cells for sleeping were generally equipped with built-in fireplaces, cupboards and raised sleeping platforms.
If the han contained a mosque, it was either in the form of a cube in the middle of the courtyard (called a "Kiosk mescit", 4 examples) or was placed to the right of the entry vestibule or immediately above it, reached by an internal staircase. Other times the hans had simple stairways which led up from one side of the courtyard to the flat roof which was used for communal prayer.
There was usually a water source nearby, outside the han, or in the courtyard. Many hans had their own set of water systems, including drainage and sewers, inside the han. These wet systems serviced the latrines, baths and fountains. Not every han had a bath (hammam).
Lighting: most of the covered areas of the hans had slit windows in the exterior walls, but several have openings to the exterior other than the main door. The larger hans had a central oculi opening in the ceiling, which served both both lighting and ventilation. The interiors of the covered sections are thus very dark, and they were probably lit essentially by lanterns, as can be seen by the system of lion-head oil lamp holders in the Alara Han.
Ventilation: Hans often included a row of small rectangular holes at the level of the arch springing which appeared to have served for ventilation more than light, as they are quite small.
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