The Seljuk Han of Anatolia

Decorative Elements

The decoration of hans, often rich, follows the general inventory of design elements used in Seljuk architecture. However, hans display several typical design characteristics that differ somewhat from other monuments of the Seljuk era:


Ak, Eğridir, Incir, Karatay, Susuz, Sultan Han Aksaray, Sultan Han Kayseri



Flower blossoms

Eğridir, Karatay, Sultan Han Aksaray


Sultan Han Aksaray, Sultan Han Kayseri


Ağzıkara, Ak, Çardak, Eğridir, Karatay, Kesikköprü, Sultan Han Aksaray




Vine-leaf scrolls


Ağzıkara, Eğridir, Sultan Han Aksaray, Sultan Han Kayseri


Ak, Kızılören, Sari

Syrian knots

Karatay, Sari, Sultan Han Aksaray, Sultan Han Kayseri

Pointed arrows

Evdir, Sari




Ak, Karatay, Sari, Sultan Han Kayseri

Astrological symbols



Karatay, Alay

Arched bricks

Ağzıkara, Sultan Han Kayseri, Sultan Han Aksaray

Lambrequins (decorative roof edging)

Ağzıkara, Evdir, Karatay, SultanHan Aksaray, Sultan Han Kayseri


Ağzıkara, Karatay, Zazadin, Sari, Susuz, Sultan Han Kayseri


The Anatolian Seljuk state brought together the design elements of the diverse cultures that comprised the cultural and historical mosaic of 12th-13th century Anatolia. The Central Asian, Arab, Turkmen, Byzantine, Greek, Georgian, Kurdish and Armenian cultures constituted a medley of political, social and artistic ingredients that melded together in the Seljuk cauldron. The symbolism of the highly complex set of decorative elements of the Seljuk Anatolian era probably originated in the many religious traditions of the Turks prior to their conversion to Islam. These include:

Totemism: this religion, predominant among the Turkic tribes before their conversion to Islam, is characterized by a belief in a kinship between an individual and a chosen "totem", which could be either animal, plant or another object. This object became the symbol of the person or his family. Common totems chosen were wolves, snakes, horses, fish, birds (notably hawks and eagles), lions and trees. This tradition is still subconsciously a part of Turkish life today (sacredness of the wolf, horse and lion, the tradition of hanging ribbons in trees, the wearing of the blue bead, etc). The animals, especially the lion, seen in stone carvings and on textiles stem from this tradition of an animal-centered culture. Animals, especially horses, played a large part in the life of the early Seljuks.


 Ak, Alara, Çardak, Cay, Incir, Kesikköprü




 Ak, Karatay


 Ak, Karatay

Human figures

 Karatay, Susuz

Shamanism is a form of religion characterized by the belief that the unseen world of gods, supernatural forces, ancestral spirits and demons is made manifest on earth through shamans, or priest-doctors, who use magic to communicate with them. The shamans wore horsetails during their ceremonies, and this tradition was maintained by the Ottoman Janissary chiefs. The double-headed eagle, which was used as a symbol of the Seljuk state (particularly by Alaeddin Keykubad) is believed to have originated in shamanistic Turkmen traditions. It is derived from a part eagle-part owl figure, and was replicated by many dynasties throughout the 10-15th centuries. This extremely popular dynastic symbol passed on to Byzantium, Sicily, and various European states (Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires). Another shamanistic device, the shining sun face, was taken by Giyaseddin Keyhusrev II as his dynastic symbol. The tree of life motif (seen on the Çifte Medrese in Erzurum, the Döner Kumbet in Kayseri and on Seljuk fabrics) has its origins in shamanism, as well as the stars and other astrological elements often seen in han portals.

Işak Baba, the shaman priest who led a serious civil revolt during the reign of Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II, showed the enduring hold the beliefs of the shamanistic religion over the population.

In addition, the Seljuks incorporated many design elements from the other cultures with which they came in contact:

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