The Seljuk Han of Anatolia 

KARATAY HAN


overview

main portal with buttresses

Inscription plaque (kitabesi) over main entry portal

main portal detail

Buttress tower with distinctive rope design

Detail of lace arabesque carving of main portal and humanoid drain spout

Water spout of human figure (head now missing)

Entry left: fountain/hamam area, surmounted by the famous animal frieze

The famous frieze of 17 niches of animals in the entry vestibule

detail of elephant figure from entry

Tomb chamber ceiling with groin vault decorated with turquoise ceramic tiles

 

DISTRICT
38 KAYSERI
 

LOCATION
The han is located 50 km east of Kayseri on the Pinarbasi-Malatya Highway past Elbaşi in the village of Karadayi. This road was the former trade route that linked Kayseri with Malatya and the south.

[map]
 

OTHER NAMES
The han is named after its patron, the vizier Celaleddin Karatay.
 

DATE
1235-41 (dated by inscription)

Construction of this han started during the reign of Alaeddin Keykubad and was completed during that of his son, Gıyaseddin Keyhüsrev, in 1240/1241.


The han contains two inscriptions:
- One on the main door, giving the date of 638 H (1240) with the name of Kayhüsrev II, son of Keykubad I. The inscription opens with the words, "This building belongs to God, who is One, Eternal, and Everlasting, August and Magnificent Sultan, King of Kings, the Shadow of God on Earth, Keyhüsrev son of Keykubad, Commander of the faithful in the year 638".

- One on the entry to the main hall, undated, but with the name of Keykubad, son of Kaykavus.

 

These two inscriptions lead us to believe that :
- the large covered hall was built under the reign of Alaeddin Keykubad I in 1219-1236 at the end of his reign. Work began during his reign but he only lived to see the completion of the main hall.


- the open courtyard section was built in 638 (1240) by the great Seljuk vizier Atabey Emir Celaleddin Karatay during the time of the reign of Keykubad's son Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev in 638. Legend states that Celaleddin Karatay came from Kayseri to see the finished building, and was so overwhelmed by its magnificence that he sped away again, afraid that he would be carried away by pride in his own accomplishment. The endowment deed of Karatay Han states that it was built to serve both commercial and social functions.
 

REIGN OF

Alaeddin Keykubad I for the hall
Giyaseddin Kayhüsrev II for the courtyard

PATRON
The courtyard section was built by the Seljuk vizier Emir Celaleddin Karatay, who also built the celebrated Karatay Medresse at Konya.

The force and intelligence of the personality of Karatay is translated in this han. One of the most powerful of all Seljuk statesmen, he was a devout Muslim and a charitable man of superior morals. He served the Seljuk empire for over 40 years (1214-1254), under 3 separate sultans: Alaeddin Kaykubad, Giyaseddin Kayhüsrev II and finally during the triumverate period of the sons of Giyaseddin Kayhüsrev II. During the turbulent times of the Mongol invasions and subsequent weakened sultanates, he the effective leader of government who held the Empire together. He was a Byzantine Christian of Greek origin who converted to Islam. He is buried in his Karatay Medrese in Konya. His brother Karasungur built the Ak Han.


BUILDING TYPE

Covered section with open courtyard (COC)
Covered section smaller than courtyard
Covered section with a central aisle and 2 aisles on each side running perpendicular to the back wall

7 bays of vaults


DESCRIPTION
This han is perhaps the best preserved of all Anatolian hans, and is one of the most monumental examples of Seljuk architecture. It is especially famous for the relief sculpture on the walls of the tomb and on the pillars of the external walls. Unlike many hans, it contains sections for specific functions (a mosque, a bath, an infirmary, a mausoleum), which entailed initial planning of the physical layout and operating expenses, all of which are enumerated in its foundation deed.

The han faces north and was built on the old Kayseri-Malatya road, part of the main trade route into Syria. The areas of the towns and villages surrounding the hans turned into small commercial centers. The Karatay Han in the 13th century stood at a junction of roads leading from Syria, Iraq, eastern Anatolia and Iran to Kayseri and Sivas. It is hard to imagine that the quiet rural village of today was once a teeming trade center.


Plan:
The plan is very similar to the Kayseri Sultan Han in size and dimensions but it displays slight variants:
 - The courtyard is entirely open, with the mosque placed in a room to the right side of the entry passage
 - the side courtyard arcades to the east are open
 - to the left of the entry passage is an iwan containing several tombs, decorated with a rectangular frieze comprising a rich and varied design repertoire carved in high relief: geometrical motifs and animals: birds, lions and, astonishingly, elephants.

 

There is a lantern dome over the covered area.

Exterior:
This is a massive and noble building, with 6 corner towers and 12 side towers. The han resembles a fortress from the outside, with its massive walls and different shapes of reinforced turrets.
 

Portal:
The elaborate frames of the doorway contrast sharply with the starkness of the surrounding walls, and thus draw full attention to the monumental portal. The portal has a pointed arch filled with stalactites. This portal, which extends 2.5 m. out from the façade at the corners, measures 46 by 80 meters, and is flanked on either side by grooved and knotted pillars. The impressive decoration of the exterior walls includes rainspouts in the shape of winged lions holding a serpent in their mouths, as well as other rainspouts in the shape of human figures. The capitals of the columns on the far right of the portal niche are decorated with two lions, and two bird figures are depicted on the left ones. In the framing borders above them, ox heads and small human figures can be seen. The ornate carving of this portal and the combination of figurative, floral, vegetal and geometric patterns are unusual.

 

Entrance vestibule:
An iwan (open-fronted vaulted hall) with a pointed vault leads from the portal into the courtyard. The iwan is flanked by a mosque, rooms for personnel, and a tomb. A series of long narrow chambers with pointed vaults run along the eastern side of the courtyard. To the right of the entrance is the hazine, or treasury, for the safekeeping of valuables. To the left of the entrance was located the kitchen and an area for eating. Steps lead up to the roof from the kitchen area. The roof has deep water tanks for use in the hamam and the kitchens below.


Mosque:
The mosque is situated at ground level in the entryway side of the courtyard, to the right of the passageway. It consists of a small domed room, 4 x 4m, with a mihrab decorated with stalactites and rosettes.
The mosque has a skylight in its roof arranged so that worshippers would be able to tell the time. It has its own smaller portal opening into the courtyard.
 

Tomb:
To the left of the entryway passage is a turbe (tomb) covered by a groined vault. This structure has a portal-like door opening into an iwan surmounted by a muqarnas cornice. Below this cornice is an astonishing frieze of seventeen niches containing animal figures such as birds, elephants, gazelles, rabbits and snakes.
A star pattern in blue to mimic the heavens is painted on the vault of the tomb above the unmarked centotaph. Some researchers have suggested that the cenotaph may belong to Celaleddin Karatay himself, although he was most certainly buried in his magnificent medrese in Konya. Although he was ultimately buried in his Konya medrese, he probably did not intend it to be as his mausoleum, preferring this room to serve as his burial place. In addition to the painted star pattern, the room has exquisite brickwork patterns.

 

Bath:
The bath is a series of 3 small rooms, located in the right corner of the courtyard passageway (as it is in the Sultan Han Kayseri). The bath and the adjoining covered rooms face the courtyard.
 

Courtyard:

Along the eastern side of the courtyard are a series of narrow chambers covered with pointed vaults, which open directly onto the courtyard. These served as lodgings for travelers. A long arcade runs down the western side of the courtyard. This vaulted arcade was used as a depot, bazaar and stabling area for animals. Many of the stones have holes for tethering animals, and there are feeding troughs in the side aisles.

The tympanum over the hall door is now empty.

 

Covered hall:

The tall, main covered hall at the end of the courtyard was used as winter quarters. It has a fine conical dome at the cross section of the vaults. There are raised loading dock platforms with side walls. The area underneath the arches had a series of stone basins, probably for fodder and water for the animals.


Foundation deed:

One of the most interesting elements of this han is the Foundation Deed that has been preserved intact to this day. It provides ample information concerning the commercial and social setup of the han structure. It clearly sets out the services to be provided by the han to visitors, such as food and drink (1 kg of bread and 250 grams of meat per day), soap to wash, medicines, provision for the repair or replacement of shoes, shoeing of animals, firewood for heat and candles and oil for light…all for free. The foundation deed is dated 1247-48, seven years after the presumed termination of the construction work.


DECORATION

The surface above the iwan facing the courtyard is surrounded by an interlocking pattern of double serpent figures in the Syrian-Zangid style.


Other decorative elements include arabesques, blossoms, dragons, human figures, Syrian knots, meanders, rope designs, birds, quadrupeds, and braids.

This han is undoubtedly most famous for the "parade of animals" frieze above the tomb with its decoration of human and animal figures: their presence may be attributed to the long-standing tradition of totemism and the Uygur animal calendar.

 

Historical note: The Mamluk Sultan Baybars stayed at this han during his 1277 campaign in Anatolia against the Mongols.


DIMENSIONS
Total area: 3,025 m2
Area of hall: 815m2
Area of courtyard: 1,760m2

This is the fourth largest of the Seljuk hans.

STATE OF CONSERVATION, CURRENT USAGE
The han was restored in 1964. In excellent condition, and is probably one of the best preserved of all the existing hans today. It was completely restored in 2008.
 

BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES

Acun, pp. 358-379 (includes extensive bibliography in Turkish); 458-459; 508.

Altun, pp. 199-200.
Bektaş, pp. 122-127.
Erdmann, pp. 117-125, no. 32.
Ertuğ, pp. 82-95.
Gabriel, pp. 98-100.
Gülyaz, Murat Ertuğrul, "The Kervansarays of Cappadocia", Skylife Magazine, December, 1999.

Karpuz, Kuş, Dıvarcı and Şiek (2008), vol. 1, pp. 475-77.

Kuban (2002), pp. 244-249.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courtyard arcade of cells, westtern side

 

Central aisle of covered section

 

 

View looking from courtyard to main entrance; steps leading to roof terrace

 

Portal of the covered section

 

Snake head knot detail over above courtyard door

 

Buttress towers of external walls

 

 

main inscription plaque

 

inscription plaque over covered hall door

The photographs of inscription plaques were taken by Prof. Dr. Zafer Bayburtoğlu; transcription by Halit Erketlioğlu (Kayseri Kitabeleri, 2001, pp. 62-63.)

 

 

 

 

for a series of photos of the han taken in 1963 by John Ingham, click below:

 

View from entry portal onto courtyard

Courtyard, southeast view

Covered hall dome

Exterior west, southern wall

Exterior, from west

 

 

 

 

©2001-2013, Katharine Branning; All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced in any form without written consent from the author.