The Seljuk Han of Anatolia
Origins of the Han
The historical and
architectural sources for the Anatolian han are difficult to document. There
were post-houses in the Achaemenid and Sassanian eras, as well as in Byzantine
and Roman (the castrum military camp) times. There were over 20 stations on the
pilgrim road from Baghdad to Mecca, endowed by the spouse of Haroun al-Rashid in
the early 9th century.
The earliest known Islamic hans, dating from the 10th century, was in the western frontier area of the Maghreb (Mounastir, Susa, Tafertast and Tit), and were known as ribats (fortresses). They also served the function of bases for military maneuvers and as garrisons for troops. Ribats were built all over the Islamic world, from Spain to Central Asia.
Ribat-style caravansarais first appear in Central Asia in the Karakhanid (932-1212), Ghaznevid (963-1183) and Great Iranian Seljuk empires (1040-1157), and originated from the ribat building form. The Iranian and Central Asian (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) hans of the 11-12th centuries are the earliest large body of han constructions. There are some 20 known, of varying size, and of excellent construction quality.
The Karakhanids, very active builders, were developers of caravansarai architecture of and colossal dimensions. They built some ten hans, which served as the prototype for the later Anatolian hans. The plans included open courtyards, iwans and covered sections. Notable is the celebrated Ribat-i Malik of 1078 on the Bukhara-Samarkand road, with its monumental, highly-decorated pistaq portal and fluted adobe walls.
The building of hans was an important contribution of the Ghaznevids to Turkish architecture. The Ribat-i Mahi near Meshed on the road to Sarakhs was built by Sultan Mahmud in 1019, in memory of Firdawsi, the author of the Shahname. It included an 4-iwan courtyard with a domed area behind it.
Ribat-style caravansarais were also built under the Great Seljuks along the main trade routes. Like the ribats of the Karakhanids and the Ghaznevids, they were built with 4-iwan courtyards, and included special small chambers arranged around the courtyard. The imposing Ribat-i Sharaf (1114) on the road from Meshed to Sarakhs is especially elaborate, with a double courtyard and impressive stucco decorations.
There were also huge numbers of ribats in
Transoxiana at this time, due to the unstable, hostile frontier aspect of this
area not yet thoroughly-Islamicized. Undoubtedly many served as hans as well.
Over time the ribat came to be used for religious
and commercial as well as its original military vocation, and thus developed
into the commercial caravansary of the Seljuks.
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