The Seljuk Han of Anatolia

Water Systems


Cool, clean water......Water was probably the most important necessity for the life of a han: for drinking, cooking, bathing, sanitary functions and cleaning. No han could have been built without a substantial water source nearby. Many factors came into play for the determination of the setting of a han, such as a need for a rest spot at a specific point along the road or the construction suitability of a particular site. However, the most important factor for determining the location of a han was its proximity to a water source. Water was a prime necessity and too vital of a need for a han not to have had a substantial source nearby. The amount of water needed for the drinking needs of the animals and people, for the water services (baths, latrines, fountains and kitchens) and for the mucking out of the courtyard and covered section was of capital importance.  It is certain that hans had to be near a source of running water, and that this water had to be brought inside of the han by a system of pipes.



Hans had to have been built with a source of fresh water located nearby, either from a fresh-running river, a lake, springs, wells or cisterns. Certain hans were built some distance from a direct water source, in which case water was supplied either by storage cisterns or wells or transported from a spring by pipes. No water source can be determined for some 15 hans, but it is assumed that there originally had to have been one nearby that has since dried up.


Most hans were built alongside rivers, as the water was always fresh and flowing. The water was transported to the han in ceramic jugs on wagons or via clay water pipes set into the ground. The Kargi, Alara, Kuru, Kesikköprü, Pazar Hatun, Mirçinge, Dokuzun, Çekereksu, Karamağara and Başakpinar Ispile Hans are examples of hans built alongside rivers. Some hans obtained their water from a lake, such as the Eğirdir and Ertokuş Hans, which were built near Lake Beyşehir. A special case is the Obruk Han which was built next to a natural large sinkhole which filled in with fresh water.


Wells and cisterns were other means used to supply water for hans. Wells were sometimes located inside the courtyard of the han or at the front or near the entrance. Wells are located outside the Zazadin, Han El Barur Caravanserai and Kizilören Hans. A well in the center of the courtyard was recently uncovered during the excavations carried out in the Alay Han.


Cisterns and reservoirs existed in some hans for water storage, which is particularly noted in the architecture of the southern hot regions and the arid Central Anatolian plain area. A cistern has been uncovered outside of the Evdir Han and two cisterns were built at the Kirkgöz Han. Most cisterns have disappeared over the years.



In addition to being near to a key source of water, the han had to have been built with water systems for delivery of the water inside the han. Water systems included the provision of the conveyance of water for baths, kitchens, latrines, fountains, drainage of soiled and rain water, water troughs for animals and for the general cleaning and mucking out of the han. Recent excavations projects have revealed the existence of terra cotta pipes hidden in masonry for leading water in and out of hans. Water flowed into the courtyard of the Doğala Han via water pipes. Feeding and watering troughs for animals have been uncovered in the covered sections of several hans (Kargi, Kirkgöz, Karatay) and these must have been supplied through clay pipes. These discoveries made during recent excavations have furnished much information, and a more complete picture will be known once these han sites continue to be excavated.


Water could also enter a han via natural elevation. Water was supplied to the Alay Han from a water reservoir located on the mountain slope to the north of the han, the traces of which are still visible. Water was provided from the eastern side of the han into the courtyard of the Aksaray Sultan Han. The water reservoir of the Ağzikara Han is in ruins, but the traces on its western side indicate that water was provided from the mountain slope to the west of the han.  



Fountains supplied the drinking water for the travelers and their animals, as well as the water necessary for cooking and cleaning needs. As stated above, the access to a water source was perhaps the most important determining factor for the positioning of a han along the road. Water was brought in by pipes from the water point (well, cistern, stream, lake) inside the han and was distributed by fountains. The fountains must have had water taps, but most of these have disappeared over the years. An important example from the Pazar Hatun Han is preserved in the Yozgat Museum.


Fountains are located in several areas in hans:


1) In the courtyard, inside an iwan: Fountains were generally placed inside their own dedicated iwan in the courtyard, as is seen in the Alara, Avanos Sari, Ak, Pazar Hatun and Eğirdir Hans. The fountain iwan generally had a small vault and was decorated. A star vault covers the fountain iwan of the Alara Han and a pointed vault can be seen in the Sari Han, both of which indicate the special attention paid to fountains in han architecture. The rear face of the inner fountain of the Pazar Hatun Han is shaped like an iwan opening into the courtyard.


2) Inside the courtyard, but not in a dedicated iwan: Fountains were also located on other interior surfaces of the courtyard, next to the kiosk mosque or the baths. The section against the wall of the baths on the east side of the Karatay Han must have belonged to a fountain niche, as the pipes found inside the wall before the repairs were not related to the area behind the niche. Traces of the majority of these fountains have disappeared over the years.


3) Outside of the han: The fountains installed on the exterior entrance side wall of hans are generally simple. Most were outfitted with a watering trough set below the fountain, either on the exterior or the interior. Unfortunately, most of these exterior fountains have lost their original features during the renovation projects. The mosque fountain located near the entrance of the Kizilören Han was connected to the interior by a watering trough, which was unfortunately damaged during the recent restoration. At the Ağzikara Han, the remains of a fountain can be seen, located on the exterior wall of the courtyard, close to the ground level between the southwest corner tower and the portal. This fountain was probably placed here for animals, and had a stone tank, 2 faucets and a basin supplied by a double-walled pipe in the wall. The most important exterior fountain is seen in the Pazar Hatun Han, where the fountain is surrounded by a niche. The Pazar Han exterior fountain, a welcome service for the villagers, is connected by pipes to the interior courtyard fountain, which must have been the case in other hans. At the Sahip Ata Işakli han, the Laleli Fountain, a single-sided street type, most likely originally dates from the Seljuk era and was built at the same time as the baths behind the han. However, it was replaced during the Ottoman period by the existing fountain, probably after the 17th century.


Water is considered a sacred element in the Islamic faith and for this reason, fountains hold a significant place in Turkish architectural history, and are often elaborately-designed. The majority of the fountains in hans have lost their original features and decorative elements due to continual repairs over the years. Hans where the fountain is set inside its own iwan in the courtyard or on the exterior are decorated with particular attention. The covering of the iwan was generally shaped like a star or another geometric shape. The exterior fountain of the Pazar Han has an arch shaped like a star with an memorial dedication board (ayna taş), now missing. Fountains were also decorated with different ornamental elements, and were outfitted with bronze faucet heads attached to on the wall. In the Pazar Han, the faucets were shaped like dragon’s heads, one of which is exhibited in the Tokat Museum on the Sulu Sokak.



A vital function of the wet services would have been for the latrines. This mandatory, albeit unglamorous, topic has not been discussed in the current research and it appears to be an open question. Excavations have not uncovered the remains of latrines, but they had to have existed. Latrines were necessary for basic hygiene, but also for religious needs, as the Islamic ritual recommends that a supplicant should void before prayer. To this end, latrines are generally located next to mosques in urban areas. In a similar fashion, it can be projected that the latrines were located near the prayer space or near the bathing areas, yet there is a lack of clear-cut architectural evidence for the location of these wet services in these areas. The Romans had a very sophisticated system of municipal toilets with marble benches and troughs in the Scholastica Baths (1st century) at Ephesus in western Turkey. However, such an elaborate system of conveniences does not appear to exist in Seljuk hans.


The latrines could have been located in the courtyard or in a corner of the covered section. Logic and service needs for cleaning would militate for latrines being installed next to the stabling areas of the animals, be it in the courtyard or in the covered section. Waste would have been carried out to the exterior of the han via a water trough, or buried underground as in Roman latrines (2-4 meters deep) or quite simply mucked out along with the animal waste. Again, there is little evidence of water pipes leading out of the han walls. To this end, it would make sense that the latrines be located in the same area as the stables for cleaning needs.


Latrines thus could have been located near the stable areas and had wooden lattice partitions similar to those seen in the courtyard of the Aksaray Sultan Han (and in Turkish public latrines yet today) or partitioned off by a simple curtain. Curtains were apparently a common means for dividing spaces, as can be inferred from passages in Ibn Bibi, who makes reference to partitioning a court tent by curtains, and the use of curtains in palace spaces during a welcoming ceremony held by Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad.


The only clear-cut evidence known concerning latrines in hans can be seen in the Evdir, Kargi and the Aksaray Sultan Hans. The Evdir Han is equipped with a latrine in one of the outer abutments. In the Kargi Han, the latrines were grouped together in a large corner space of the courtyard. The latrines of the Aksaray Sultan Han occupy a large space in the northwest corner of the courtyard, with 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 timber partitions. A bucket with water and sponges or cloths could have been put at the disposal for personal cleaning and rinsing off.


Therefore, in all likelihood, the latrines in most hans must have been located in the stables area with wooden partitions similar to those in a group of latrines in the courtyard of the Aksaray Sultan Han.



Cisterns are a frequent way of preserving fresh water, especially in the southern areas of Turkey. The citadel castle of Alanya, for example, has many cisterns. Cisterns also existed in some hans for the storage of water; the most substantial of which can be seen in the Evdir Han. The cistern here was located outside the han and water was transported by the historical water channel coming from the Kirkgöz Han. In addition, there were cisterns on the east and west sides of the han, perhaps built in two different construction phases. A cistern also provided water for the Kirkgöz Han. Cisterns were also built for hans located in the arid plains of the Konya region. The traces of most of these underground cisterns have disappeared today as they have been covered over with roads and modern buildings.



Water holds a quasi-sacred position in the Islamic culture, due to its symbolism of purity. In light of the importance placed on cleanliness and the requisite purification ritual before Islamic prayer, all hans must have had some provision for ablutions and bathing.


The baths of hans were built either inside the building itself, adjoining it, or in a nearby village.


Baths can be found in the majority of hans, large or small, yet some hans show no traces of baths. This situation can be explained by the challenge of providing water for the baths in some areas. For certain hans, the distance to a source of water and thus the difficulty of transporting it to the han may have been a deterrent for building a bath inside the han.


Baths inside of hans: While most of the larger hans had mosques, it has been harder to find the exact traces of bathing areas. Few hans had full-scale baths. There are only 6 known full-scale baths, located in the larger sized covered hall with open courtyard type. These include the Sultan Han Aksaray, Sultan Han Kayseri, Sari, Denizli Ak, Ağzikara, Elikesik, and Ertokuş Hans. Although small in scale (for 2 to 3 bathers at most), these full-scale baths comprised the traditional Roman tripartite plan of a cold room (changing room; the frigidarium), warm room (tepidarium) and the hot room (caldarium). Baths also exist inside of smaller hans on a reduced scale. It is believed that the baths were built at the same time as the other service areas of the courtyard. There is no recorded evidence indicating the construction date of the baths, except for the Karatay Han.


Baths were built to fit in with the other services of the courtyard, and were generally set in one corner of the courtyard nearest to the entrance. This setup can be seen in the baths of the Karatay, Aksaray Sultan Han, Kayseri Sultan Han, Çardak, Alay, Avanos Sari, Denizli Ak, Zazadin and Eğirdir Hans.


The size of the baths was generally proportional to the size of the han. The bath of a large-scale han would have comprised the disrobing room, warm room, hot room, water tank and furnace, while the bath of a smaller han may have only comprised the cold and hot rooms along with the mandatory water reservoir and furnace.


In certain baths, the disrobing room was rectangular and covered by a barrel vault, while the other sections were covered by a dome. An exceptional example of this can be seen in the bath of the Karatay Han, which is covered with a star and muqarnas vault.


Baths outside of hans: In some cases, an exterior bath was made available, which allowed serving both the travelers and the local population. If a han is located near a settlement, the bath is generally located outside the han. Examples of baths built outside of hans can be seen at the Ağzikara, Ak, Alay, Incir, Evdir, Zilli, Kargi, Işhaklı, Çinçinli, and Durak Hans. Although there were settlements around the Karatay, Aksaray Sultan and Kayseri Sultan Hans, their baths were situated inside of the han, as these three hans were well-appointed establishments.


In addition to independent baths, several baths were built contiguous to the han wall. The baths of the Çinçinli and Burma Hans are two of the best-known examples of this type of situation. The baths to the right of the Çinçinli Han contain numerous spolia stones, which leads researchers to believe that was built over the site of a Byzantine-era thermal spa. The Karakurt Han was built on top of a hot springs, and had two interconnected rooms directly accessible from the courtyard. The second room, fashioned out of marble, includes the hot pool of the springs, fashioned out of marble.


Village baths: Full service baths were located in most towns and villages, so the travelling merchants could wash there. For example, it is known that there were settlements in the 13th century surrounding the baths of the Çay, Işakli, Alara, Pazar and Durak Hans. For daily prayer ritual, it was sufficient to use a smaller amount of water.


Two examples of hans exist with both exterior and interior baths: the Ağzikara Han and the Karatay Han. The exterior bath of the Karatay Han, located in the village, is mentioned in the foundation charter, but it has not survived.


Most hans were built with water supply systems, regardless whether they included a bath or not. The baths had to have two obligatory service elements: a water tank and a furnace for heating the water. These furnaces and tanks were generally located outside of the han. The existence of a bath necessitated wood or other fuel (camel dung) to heat the water for the bath.


The foundation document of the Karatay indicates the sums of money to be devoted for purchasing the soap needed for the bath of the han.



Rainwater and soiled water needed to be drained from the han.


Rainwater that collected on the roof was led off via gutters and eaves. These gutters were carved into the upper stones of the exterior walls. Rainwater drained directly outside of the han via downspouts, which were often decorated in the shape of lions, humans and bulls, as can be seen at the Karatay Han.


Most hans were built at a slight incline or set on a small mound or embankment to allow for a natural drainage of the rainwater falling into the courtyard. The rear wall of the han was always thus positioned at the highest terrain level and the front wall at the lowest point. In the case of long courtyards such as the Zazadin Han, holes or gaps were positioned along the long walls, as can be seen in the wall of the arcade in the south wing of the couryard.


Soiled water from the latrines, kitchens and baths was drained from the han via a series of drainage gaps in the walls or by clay pipes. The covered section of the han was also set on an incline to favor drainage


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