The Seljuk Han of Anatolia

Building materials


Hans were built of strong and sturdy stones. The architecture of the Seljuks of Anatolia was dependent on the local material and building techniques, and Turkey is fortunate to be blessed with rich stone quarries of limestone and marble.  Hans were built of stone blocks and rubble, different from the brick architecture of Iran. Stones were either smooth-cut or rough-cut (or pitch-faced) stones.

Hans were built with smooth-cut masonry, also known as ashlar masonry. This consists of individual blocks of finely-cut (square or rectangular in shape) and worked stone. Smooth-faced (ashlar) stone is a finely dressed (cut, and raked smooth) individual stone that has been worked into a block, generally square. Smooth-cut (ashlar) is the finest quality stone masonry unit, and was used in the more important hans with budgets that allowed to hire the master masons needed to carve such fine stones. The precisely-cut stones allow for very thin mortar joints between the blocks. In many cases, the stones were so precisely cut that no mortar at all was needed. When mortar was used, the smoothed square or rectangular stones are laid with a fine-pebble rubble mortar in horizontal courses. Most of the important hans were made using smooth-cut stones with rubble infill.

Smooth-cut (ashlar) may be laid coursed, which involves lengthy horizontals layers of stone blocks laid in parallel, and therefore with continuous horizontal joints. The stones may also be set at random, which involves stone blocks laid with deliberately discontinuous courses and therefore discontinuous joints both vertically and horizontally. This is the type of layers seen in hans.

Smooth-cut stones were used in the most visible parts of the building, such as the portals and interior and exterior surfaces of the walls and vaults. Lower quality and rough-hewn (called rough-cut stones or rubble masonry on this website) stones were used in less-significant parts to economize on costs. Rubble masonry employs irregularly shaped stones, and was used in many of the more modest hans. Rubble stone, found on the ground, was the most readily-available material for construction. It was placed directly on the walls (generally the sides and rear walls) and filled in with large amounts of mortar. A special type of mortar was used in Seljuk architecture, known as Khorasan mortar. This mortar was a composition of crushed stone, bricks, tile with a lime powder binding.

The widespread use of finely-cut stone in hans points to the presence of skilled stonecutters in Anatolia during the Seljuk period. The Seljuks preferred cut-to-measure stones instead of wedges; again, showing that they wished to achieve high-quality work and that the patrons were willing to pay the wages of master stonecutters. The mason’s marks seen on many of the stones are proof of the signs of a master stonecutter. However, since these marks used by the masons are associated with their family name, these centuries-old signs cannot provide accurate results for dating.

The stone used for the building of hans is generally limestone from the quarries of Turkey. Stone was brought in from the closest quarry. A stone quarry existed right next to the Alay Han, and its traces are still visible today. The stone was of varying quality, and sometimes aggregate stone (rubble fill) was used. A better-quality stone was used in the covered sections than in the courtyards, in the portals than the walls, and in outer walls than for the inner ones. The superstructure of the hans was built of stone vaults. The outer walls are solid, between 1-2 m thick, with an average of 1.25 m.

For hans built by sultans and emirs, the construction budget could allow for quality stone and master masons and accomplished decorative craftsmen. These hans are more solidly-built and richly-decorated than other hans. The finest stone used in a han was always reserved for the main portal, arches and piers and the exterior of the main walls.

Marble, although plentiful in Turkey, was used in rare instances in Seljuk architecture. In hans, it was limited to the inscription plaques, but marble is also seen in the various spolia pieces inserted in the walls of Seljuk hans.

Brick has been used in the Middle East since prehistoric times, first as mud brick and then as fired brick. Good clay is found in Turkey in its rich alluvial beds, and the use of brick is cheaper and more convenient to use. However, the Seljuk Turks preferred stone for their buildings. Brick, notably the naked (exposed) brick style was very frequent in the 11th centuries in the architectures of the Turkish Samanid, Karakanid (notably the caravanserai of Ribat-Malik on the Bukhara-Samarkand Road built in 1078), Gaznavid and Great Seljuk periods in Iran. Although this style of building was carried westward to Anatolia by the Seljuks and by itinerant Iranian artists, it was never a favored construction technique. It is seen in the decorative elements (such as muqarnas) of but a few Anatolian Seljuk monuments: the palace kiosk of Kiliç Arslan II in Konya (1174), the minaret of the Great Mosque in Sivas (1212), the Eğri Minaret in Aksaray (1219-37), the Bekar Sultan Tomb in Gülağac outside of Aksaray (13th c), the Melik Gazi Tomb in Pinarbaşi, east of Kayseri and in the Izzeddin Kaykavus Hospital in Sivas (1217). The stone architecture of the Turks is what distinguishes it from the Iranian style. Brick was not used in han construction, but can sometimes be seen on arches and in the lower courses of the walls.

Decoration: The visible face of the stone may be smooth-faced or feature a variety of treatments: tooled, smoothly polished or rendered with another material for decorative effect, but the stones of Seljuk hans are generally plain. Decorative effects included the use of differently-colored interlaced stones, such as seen at the Zazadin Han. Furthermore, the use of spolia, although of structural purpose, conferred a decorative effect to the outer walls of hans, such as the Kadin and Zazadin Hans.



Spolia stones were frequently used in Seljuk architecture and the most common use of these ancient stones was in hans.

Spolia, sometimes called “reuse material”, involves the use of building materials, usually carved stones, from previous periods, generally the Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras. The reuse and appropriation of marble Byzantine architectural components and funerary stones (stelae) was a common phenomenon. Frequently-seen pieces are capitals, columns and other structural elements. The pieces could be with little or no decoration, or highly-decorated detailed carved elements. The stones were used “as is” or reworked, into the construction of a new building. The stones could be used for load bearing purposes (Kizilören), or as “bricks” in building walls where stresses were minimal (Kadin, Zazadin) or as masonry inside the building (Pazar, Kuruçeşme). It can be regarded as a medieval architectural recycling program of sorts. It is possible that certain fragments came from Byzantine palaces, but the vast majority of spolia is ecclesiastical or funerary in origin.

It is interesting to note that the most frequent use of spolia in Seljuk architecture was in hans, and especially in those in the Konya region.

The Seljuks used spolia for several reasons:

- From a purely practical standpoint, spolia represented a considerable saving in time and cost when compared to carving new stones. It was easy to obtain and plentiful; as the number of classical sites in Anatolia is boundless and these ancient sites were a graveyard of carved stones. Transportation costs in the Konya region were minimal, as well.

- It was inexpensive, as all labor costs were reduced. The carving was already done.

- Construction materials and quarries may have been scarce in the area where the han was built

- It was very attractive: some of the antique and Byzantine era pieces are intricately carved and offer a special decorative touch as compared to the other stones


There are several types of spolia stone pieces:

- Architectural elements which were used as load-bearing structural pieces. These include columns, capitals, architraves, panels and lintels.

- Liturgical elements: ambons (altar screens), altars, templons (a barrier between the nave and the altar)

- Grave markers (steles)


The use of spolia in Seljuk architecture falls into four groups:

1.     The reuse of a pre-Seljuk building containing spolia: This group reuses the buildings constructed by former cultures in Anatolia which were taken over by the Seljuks. This can be as is or with minor or major modifications. These include essentially fortresses and city walls, such as in Kayseri and Konya (the spolia here is clearly documented in the 19th century drawings of Laborde and Texier), in the Kayseri Ulu Cami, built by the Danishmendids in 1205, and in the Kayseri Battal Mosque, converted from a Byzantine tower into a mosque.

2.     Spolia used as structural elements in new Seljuk buildings: the examples here are plentiful, as the Seljuks used spolia in every imaginable way and in all types of buildings; however, the most common use of spolia was in hans. The most extensive use of architectural structural elements can be seen in the Kizilören Han, where spolia was used as column capitals and lintel stones.

3.     Spolia used for decoration: one common use of spolia in Seljuk architecture is to make it an integral part of a decorative program in an intentional planned scheme. This can be seen in the mosque of the Sahipata Işakli Han, for example. Many of these hans, such as the Obruk, Kizilören and Zazadin Hans, are literally virtual museums of spolia.

4.     Spolia used for sacred usage: this involves the use of Spolia was used, albeit rarely, as gravestones. The spolia was generally converted into gravestones with some changes, such as the addition of epitaphs in Arabic. There does not appear to have been a taboo against using material belonging to another religion or culture. There are examples of both Greek and Christian tombstones being used in Seljuk cemeteries such as at Obruk. However, there is a controversial element to this practice: while some scholars posit that the use of spolia was a way for the Seljuks to show their religious tolerance, one must question why the Muslim Seljuks despoiled Christian cemeteries of their gravestones, a seemingly disrespectful practice for the Islamic tradition, which reveres the “People of the Book” and considers Jesus as a venerated prophet.


The use of spolia in the Seljuk era is a complex one. The Seljuks apparently had no moral qualms about using the stones of another culture or religious affiliation, and this could explain why spolia was used so freely. The fact that Christian symbols such as the cross were not erased is seen by some scholars as a clear indication of the spirit of tolerance of the Seljuks, who were wishing to show their respect for the art and culture of the peoples who came before them, and, continued to live by their sides. Churches were not plundered and were allowed to continue operating under the Seljuk reign, so one must assume that the spolia came from abandoned sites.

Other scholars believe that the stones were used for propaganda purposes as spoils of victory, to assert the political domination over a previous culture and the supremacy of the Seljuks. It is postulated that the choice of decoration was a conscious and deliberate act, especially for the use of non-structural, purely-decorative pieces. The present author rejects both of these arguments. The Seljuks displayed an attitude of tolerance towards the large number of Christians in their midst. Many Seljuk sultans had Christian mothers and had thus a first-hand understanding of this faith. In addition, respect was shown to these stones, as they were not recut or defaced when they displayed obvious Christian symbols. It is more realistic and honest to say that these stones were used because they were handy and/or pretty. Many of these pieces were in marble, which is recognized as a valuable commodity. Spolia was used, quite simply, because it was pragmatic, cheap, high quality, easy to install, and often, quite beautiful.


Hans with spolia include:




Ayranci Atlas



Derebucak Tol





Eli Kesik

Erenkaya Yikik

Eshab-i Keyf


Eynif Tol

Haci Hafiz
















Sari Kayseri








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