The Seljuk Han of Anatolia

SULTAN HAN AKSARAY


 

Main portal with stalactite vault

lateral arcade of the main portal

overview of the couryard, west arcades and the kiosk mosque

 

west arcades and mosque, looking north

east side courtyard cells

courtyard view of mosque and covered section portal

stairs to roof on northeastern corner of courtyard

 

 

 

 

DISTRICT
68 AKSARAY


LOCATION
This han is located in the town called Sultanhan, on the Konya-Aksaray Road, 40 km from Aksaray, or 94 km from Konya. The town of Sultanhan is approximately 3 km south off the main highway.

[map]

 

DATE
1229 (dated by inscription)

 

There are two inscriptions, one over the main door and one over the covered section door. The one over the hall door states that it was built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I in 1229. These inscriptions are comprised of a horizontal band, not in a framed panel which is generally the case for inscription plaques.

On the two sides of the arch crowning the portal niche one can read the name of the master-architect inscribed inside two hexagonal medallions: "Amele Muhammed bin Hav (la) n (el-Dimiski)". The word Dimiski indicates the origin of the architect, who came from Damascus.

 

After being badly damaged by fire in 1278, the han was renovated by the local governor Seraceddin Ahmed Kerimeddin bin El Hasan, as indicated in the inscription over the courtyard. After this extension, it became the largest caravansarai in Anatolia.


REIGN OF

Alaeddin Keykubad I; with renovation carried out in 1278 during the reign of Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev III.


PATRON
The original patron was Alaeddin Keykubad I; and the restoration patron was Seraceddin Kerimeddin, a dignitary at Aksaray under Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev III.


BUILDING TYPE

Covered section with open courtyard (COC)
Covered section is smaller than the courtyard
Covered section with a central aisle and 2 aisles on each side
9 cross vaults


DESCRIPTION
This is the largest, but not the oldest, of the Sultan hans, and is perhaps the most beautiful and impressive of all. It holds an important place in the history of Seljuk architecture. If a visitor to Turkey can see only one han, this would be the one. Few more powerful or finely-built examples of Anatolian Seljuk architecture exist.

The most remarkable features of this structure are the arcaded courtyard, the twin majestic portals of the entry vestibule and the covered section, the vaulting system supported by piers, and the free-standing kiosk mosque rising on four piers in the middle of the courtyard. The stone decoration of the mosque and the portals is noteworthy for its elegance and artistic mastery.

 

Plan:

The han lies parallel to the road, and faces southwest towards Aksaray.

This Sultan Han is in the group of "classical plan" hans, that is, comprised of two parts: a huge enclosed hall on the south and an open courtyard in front of it. With this han begins the era of the "big" hans: the large-scale construction projects of the Ağzikara, Zazadin, Sultan Han Kayseri, Incir, Susuz, Obruk and Karatay hans.

 

Exterior:

The richly-carved portal of the han, which projects out from the walls, together with the 6 hexagonal corner towers and the 18 smaller side towers, give the han the appearance of a fortified castle. There is a monumental view over the surrounding plains from the roof. The walls are built of finely-dressed ashlar masonry stone, with the roof also of stone.

 

Portal:

Entrance to the han is through an imposing portal and a rectangular vestibule covered with a star-shaped vault. The portal is 13 m high, projects out about 1.5m, and is almost 50m wide. The portal is balanced on each side by a grouping of three columns on the front wall.

 

The portal has carved side panels of interlaced polygons dotted with flowers, a curious combination of a strong geometrical element with a delicate natural motive. A graceful arch with an intersecting ribbon decoration surrounds and crowns the stalactite vault. There are two columns on each side with a strong zigzag pattern, topped with palmette capitals. The cursive inscription band runs at the base of the stalactite vault above a band of bi-colored stones (pale gray and white), similar to those seen at the Alaeddin Mosque and Karatay Medrese in Konya, and at the Zazadin Han.

The bi-colored stonework and the patterns used here are typical of the Syrian-Zengid style that would have been familiar to the Damascene architect.

 

Entrance vestibule cells:

The vaulted rooms on both sides of the entrance vestibule were used as office rooms and for administrative operations. There was also a 3-room bathing area located at the left corner of the entry.

 

Courtyard:

Along the right-hand (west) side of the courtyard is a decorated colonnade for storing goods and stabling animals. The high and open vaults facilitated the loading and unloading of goods.

This side of the courtyard also houses latrines grouped together in a large corner space at the northwest corner. There is a deep stone channel encircling the space on the east, north and west sides. Apparently there were several individual latrines along the channel, divided by wooden partitions. 

 

The left-hand (eastern) side of the courtyard comprises a series of 9 rooms, each approximately 2 x 4 m. There are also two series of furnaces and changing rooms to serve the adjoining men's and women's baths. The rooms on this side were used for the various daily activities of the han: refectory and kitchen, dining room with carved stone console benches, baths for men and women, as well as spaces for relaxation and sleeping. Most of these rooms have slit windows to the east. Barrel vaults cover all these rectangular units.

 

Kiosk mosque:

The mosque of the han is a free-standing structure in the middle of the courtyard, similar to the ones seen at the Kayseri Sultan, Ağzikara and Sahipata Hans. It is supported by four big arches and contains a mihrab on the inside. The mosque is approached by a set of steps to the south side.

 

The power and elegance of the decoration of this kiosk mosque rivals that of the portal, and is worthy of the sultan who probably worshipped here. The mosque was raised to separate it from the hubbub of animals and goods below, in order to create a clean place for worship.

 

Covered section:

The huge hall contained the sleeping and living quarters for the winter months. The interior is divided into 9 aisles by arcades running east to west and covered with barrel vaults. There are two rows of confronting arches that flank the central aisle perpendicular to the portal. This central aisle, which is wider than the others, resembles a nave. The central vault of the east-west aisles intersects it to create a section at the center for orientation. A dome with an exterior conical cap covers the square unit at the center. This dome is of technical interest, for it is made of pieces of stone laid helically in the fashion of a snail's shell, achieved without a mold. There is a handsome carved rope motive at the juncture of the dome with the squinches.


DECORATION

Decorative carved stone elements include arabesques, blossoms, crescents, braids, trelliswork, Syrian knots, and patterned brickwork in the arches.


DIMENSIONS
Total external area: 4,500m2 (excluding towers and portals)
Area of hall: 1,430 m2
Area of courtyard: 2,250 m2

STATE OF CONSERVATION, CURRENT USAGE
This han is one of the finest extant examples. The han was restored in 1957, which unfortunately altered the bath and cistern on the left-hand side of the courtyard. The han is in excellent condition and is run as a museum by the Turkish government. The British archaeologist Gertrude Bell visited the han in July, 1907, and her photographs show the han in a well-preserved state prior to the renovation.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES

Acun, pp. 140-159 (includes extensive bibliography in Turkish); 453; 524.

Bayrak, p. 571.
Bektaş, pp. 140-45.
The Gertrude Bell Archives. Internet web document. www.gerty.ncl.ac.uk/, folder I, photos I195-210

Erdmann, pp. 83-90, no. 25.

Ertuğ, p. 78.

Gülyaz, Murat Ertuğrul. "The Kervansarays of Cappadocia", Skylife Magazine, December, 1999.
Hillenbrand, fig. 6.39, p. 552.

Karpuz, Kuş, Dıvarcı and Şiek (2008), vol. 1, pp. 70-74.

Kuban (2002), pp. 242-243.

Unsal, p. 49.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

main portal

stalactite arch of main portal

inscription detail, side arcades of main portal

side arcade of main portal

detail of palmette capitals on entry portal columns

 

 

 

detail, bicolored architrave and inscription

crossvault in entry vestibule

 

detail of interlace and flower panel on entry poral

detail of polygon interlace panel on entry portal

courtyard kiosk mosque, stairs on south side

kiosk mosque, view from entry

kiosk mosque, detail of decorative stonework

western arcades

 

western arcades

western arcades, southern end

detail, decorative arch borders

eastern cells, looking south

wall consoles in refectory

covered section, main aisle

covered section, view to side aisles

covered section, view of central dome

covered section, exterior view of cupola and drum

external view, eastern side

 

Hittite Monument with hieroglyphics found at the Sultan Han in 1928

Ankara, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations

 

 

Turkish stamp set from 1982 depicting the Sultanhan Aksaray

 

The main portal photographed by Gertrude Bell in July, 1907

The inner hall photographed by Gertrude Bell in July, 1907

 

upper section of stalactite arch of entry portal

modern ceramic wall plaque in a truck stop restaurant on the Aksaray Road

western side view

 

The Sultan Han Aksaray in 2007

The han as viewed by Gertrude Bell in July, 1907, one hundred years before the photo above

 

for a series of photos taken of the han in 1963 by John Ingham, showing the condition of the han prior to its restoration, click below:

Portal, covered section

Courtyard

Covered section cupola

Exterior, northeast

Exterior, northwest

Kiosk Mosque

Kiosk mosque

 

 

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