The Seljuk Han of Anatolia
Historic preservation initiatives
Of the estimated 200 hans originally built in the Seljuk era, there are only 40 or so that still remain standing.
In ruins or lost
Some hans are abandoned and in ruins. They stand with wild weeds filling their courtyards, domes collapsed or with gaping holes in their walls. Viewing these proud sentinels today is often a touching encounter with the past. It is still possible in many cases to determine the plan type, but often only one wall remains. In general, courtyards are in worse condition than the covered sections. Since 2007, there has been a concerted effort by the Turkish government to restore many of them.
A considerable number of hans have totally disappeared. These lost hans are known via travel journals, historical documents or other writings, but all physical traces have disappeared. What has hppened to these hans? The Mongol invasions and the subsequent loss of a strong, centralized administration did not encourage upkeep. In addition, trade route patterns shifted westwards under the Ottomans, who favored maritime routes. Many hans collapsed from lack of upkeep and many were victim of of earthquakes. Some were abandoned when the water source dried up.
Many hans were destroyed for profit, with their stones being sold as reuse building materials or as collectible antiques. Another unfortunate consequence is the disappearance of a han due to the flooding of a dam project, as was the case of the Altinapa Han on the Konya-Beyşehir Road, covered over by the lake created by the construction of the Altinapa Dam in 1967.
In good condition
Many hans remain in good condition. Generally, when hans were later used as barns, granaries or warehouses, they were better protected. If a han was continually occupied and kept in use, it generally did not fall down. This is the most powerful argument for historic preservation.
Restored for reuse
Many have been restored to be used to serve other purposes or to maintain their cultural heritage as museum sites run by the Turkish government (The Sultan Hans of Kayseri and Aksaray, Ağzikara Han). Unfortunately, some have been over-restored, often masking the original details and plan (Durağan, Sari). Others have been restored and reused as they were originally intended, or modified to suit contemporary needs. The Durağan Han is now a commercial shopping center, the Horozlu and Pazar Hans are now tourist restaurants, the Kesikköprü and Zazadin Hans are used by the municipality for civic events, and the Sari Han is now a mixed-use cultural center.
THE CURRENT PRESERVATION INITIATIVES: SOME COMMENTS
An increasingly common state of affairs over the past 5 years has been the policy undertaken by the Vakiflar directorate of the Turkish government to subcontract the restoration of a monument to an outside company or vendor, who then run them as a business once the restoration completed. Hans have been restored and reused in a mix-use fashion, modified to suit contemporary needs, such as the Horozlu, Kesikköprü, Sari, Alara, Şarafsa, Tercan, Hatun, Ezine and Hekim hans. This policy is becoming increasingly encouraged.
The hans of Turkey are currently in the midst of an ambitious historic preservation program. No longer neglected, many hans are currently undergoing extensive renovations, and join those previously restored. It has been officially announced by the Turkish Government Vakif Foundation (TC Başbakanlik Vakif) that it intends to have all remaining hans restored by the year 2010 - a commendable and very ambitious undertaking.
The renovation of the Zazadin Han is a particularly spectacular example, and is a beautiful gift to the Turkish people, who will now make pilgrimage trips to Konya not only to see the tomb of Mevlana, but also to visit this important cultural legacy. Konya, with its newly-restored houses and churches in the village of Sille, this han and the others in the nearby region, Mevlana's tomb and the spectacular Seljuk-era Ince, Sahip Ata, Karatay and Sircali medreses, is now certainly one of the most important cultural destinations in Turkey, a true crossroads of civilization and culture in the heart of Anatolia.
The preservation of these hans is an imperative, yet sensitive, subject. Why is historic preservation so crucial and how should these monuments be treated? Ruins and historic monuments are the memoirs of civilization. They bear messages from the past about the way life was lived and the human values that went into their creation. When they are maintained, all citizens, not just future generations of scholars, architects and art historians, will be able to study them and discover the richness of their full authenticity. The children of Turkey especially may come to better understand their common heritage: like a library, these monuments will allow them to “read” the heritage of their civilization and better nderstand whence they came. By restoring these monuments, the Turkish government is saying that they are a valuable and important living presence in the lives of Turks today.
Although it is laudable that such a large-scale effort is being made by the Turkish government to preserve these hans, it must be ensured that they are restored in a historically sensitive manner and to a high standard. The principles guiding the preservation and restoration of ancient buildings have been determined by international agreement since 1931 with the Athens Charter, the Venice Charter of 1964 and with the continued efforts of such organizations of ICOMOS and UNESCO. It is hoped that Turkish preservationists will apply these recommendations within their own framework of culture and traditions. These recommendations include:
- ensure the survival of as much original material as possible: if it is there, it stays there, and nothing gets torn down
- do not alter or destroy existing material, which must remain in situ
- leave the historical evidence of the original part to any modern addition
- ensure that any new addition or alteration should be crafted in a harmonious way, and can be clearly seen as contemporary
- assure that any new additions are done with the possibility of being reversed if decided to do so at a later date
- do not “invent” something that was not there originally
Historic preservation is not a static art, however. It is unrealistic to expect that all buildings retain their original use. Life marches forth, and in historic preservation, one must encourage new life for a building. A building, like the civilization in which it sits, is an evolving, living organism. These buildings will be kept alive by human breath inside of them, and preservation should not be viewed as a matter of casting the past in amber, unaltered. In this vein, it is heartening to see that these hans are being creatively adapted for the 21st century. By encouraging their use in a modern social function with modern appliances and systems, it is certain that their preservation will be assured by this desire to bring these national treasures into the modern world. They will become places of wonder, shared discovery and understanding, with the power to create sites where love, imagination, heritage and spirit can be felt. To quote the American preservationist Paul Byard, “Every act of preservation is inescapably an act of renewal by the light of a later time, a set of decisions both about what we think something was and about what we want it to be and to say about ourselves today.”
Just what does the term “restoration” really mean? In its strictest sense, it means to restore a building to its former condition, yet this is never truly realistic or feasible. Preservation and restoration should have one overarching objective: the building must survive. It does not need to be more complicated than this. It is hoped that Turks will strive to be as compassionate for preservation as they are in all the other aspects of their lives. In this way, hans will continue to live on in the 21st century, hand in hand with the original Seljuk spirit of tolerance and respect.
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