The Seljuk Han of Anatolia

Architectural elements



Depending on the time of year, the merchants either slept in the covered section or in cells opening onto the courtyard. In the covered section, the merchants would sleep with their bedding atop the raised platforms, alongside of their goods and their animals. In the courtyard, they could sleep in the open cells or arcades surrounding the courtyard. These rooms are covered in some hans, while others were designed as an iwan.


In larger hans, such as the Karatay, the courtyards were designed to include several rooms en suite with an entrance directly from the courtyard. The rooms were of sizes, and the first room, which had an entry directly onto the courtyard, was reserved for the guards. The inner, more protected rooms were reserved for special guests, emirs, statesmen, or even the sultan and his family when they were visiting.



Most of the covered sections were illuminated by slit windows in the exterior walls, but several have no exterior openings besides the entrance door. Other hans display a row of small rectangular holes, or oculi, at the key line of the vaults and served more for ventilation than for daylight. The windows were intentionally kept small so as to preserve the space from the cold, but this made for a very dark space. A few hans had facilities for artificial lighting, provided by wall consoles used to set candle sticks or oil lamps, such as the famous lion-faced consoles at the spring line of the arches on the first concentric ring. Some hans had has simple ring holders or consoles with a hole in them to hold a burning torch or an oil lamp. It can be assumed that there were strict rules against allowing the merchants themselves to carry portable lighting candle holders, as the risk for fire was too high.

In addition to the slit windows, the larger hans were built with a central lantern dome or oculi at the intersection of the various naves and cross vaults in the larger hans with five naves. These lantern domes conferred a monumental appearance to the exterior of the han, and could be seen for miles around.



In addition to covering the covered section of the han, roofs also served additional purposes: for security as a watch point over the road, sleeping areas in the hot summer months, and prayer spaces. There were watch stations on the roofs that offered a great view onto the road and were reached be staircases.


Roofs were made of packed earth and were in need of continuous upkeep and repair. Roofs were inclined to help the accumulation of snow and rain. Roof tiles can be seen on the vault ridges of the roofs in area of heavy rains.


Barrel vaulting or cross-vaulting was extensively used for minor spans, particularly for caravanserais, bazaars, cisterns and military structures, and often also included in the less significant parts of major buildings. The Seljuk hans were covered with barrel vaults. Flat roofs were rendered, paved, sealed with bitumen or compacted clay. The roofs of the covered section and courtyard are generally flat, but can contain crenellations.


Domes in Turkey are hemispherical, in contrast with the pointed domes seen in Persia and Egypt.



Although most hans are single-storied, there are rooms located on a second level, generally located in the area of the entrance portal. These rooms were often a mosque, such as at the Obruk, Zazadin, Kiziloren and Sari Hans.  These second storey rooms were accessed by either single or double stone stairways.


Staircases were also used to access the roof for the ongoing repairs. Some of these stairs were located inside the covered section, such as at the Çardak and Kadin Hans.


By their very function of serving as outlying trading posts, most hans stood alone, isolated from other buildings and urban centers. Other contiguous buildings are sometimes noted, and were probably built after the han as a normal consequence of growth.

Domes were located at the cross vaults and over the mosque prayer rooms. Unfortunately, most of them have collapsed.


Hans combine trade security, hospitality and state stability through both form and function. Providing safety was the basic function of a han and this is reflected in the sturdiness of the walls and the various elements. Windows are small, the walls have buttresses and are topped with crenellations.

The exterior walls of the covered section and courtyard were reinforced with various shaped buttresses or corner towers. Not all hans had buttresses or towers on their walls.  The towers on the outer walls can be on the side of the courtyard or the covered section, or can be at the corners. They can be half-round, polygonal, square, half-square, triangular, T-shaped, or star-shaped. It has been suggested by Ogel that the number of these towers is an indication of the rank and power of the donor, but it is in reality a pure structural necessity which corresponds to the need to deflect the lateral forces of the walls. The exterior walls are equipped with rainspouts (often resembling gargoyles, such as in the Karatay Han), to drain the water from the flat roof away from the courtyard.

Some hans had walls which were topped by crenellations, such as the Alara and Sarapsa Hans. They continued over the buttresses and were higher than the roof level.

Han Towers Corner Side Total
Sultan Han Aksaray 6 18 24
Eğridir 6 14 20
Karatay 6 12 18
Pazar 6 10 16
Sultan Han Kayseri 6 9 15
Ağzikara 6 7 13
Sari 6 6 12













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