The Seljuk Han of Anatolia



Located on a secondary road of the caravan route linking eastern Anatolia with Iran, this han displays a unique and exquisite crown door.


Eravşar, 2017. p. 143; photo I. Dıvarcı

facade before the 2008 restoration

Eravşar, 2017. p. 143; photo I. Dıvarcı

Eravşar, 2017. p. 145; photo I. Dıvarcı

plan drawn by Unal

Eravşar, 2017. p. 145; photo I. Dıvarcı





39.836910, 43.839327


The Iğdir Şerafeddın Ejder Han lies along the Doğubeyazit-Kağizman caravan route connecting eastern Anatolia to western Iran. This road is known as the Koçak Passage road. It lies 30 kms south of Iğdir, within the village of Harmandöven. It is situated at an altitude of about 1750 meters on the range of hills west of Mount Ararat. The modern highway leading to the village passes to the east of the han. This northern route allowed caravans departing from Iran to reach the key cities of Eastern Anatolia by passing south of Mount Ararat (Ağri Daği), which was an easier way to reach Iğdir. There, the route merged with the southern branch leading from Erzurum to Ağri and then the reunited route continued eastwards from Doğubeyazit to Tabriz and Sultaniye, which became capital cities at the end of the Seljuk period during the reign of the Ilkhanids. It is believed that this route served as the link between the cities of Tabriz and Batumi.


The Tabriz-Erzurum Route was one of the main caravan routes of the Seljuk period. Voyagers from Tabriz to Anatolia crossed Nakhichevan by following the Aras River valley. The most important road continuing east was the road which led to Erzurum by passing through Doğubeyazit and the Iğdir Savannah. Özergin noted the names of the stops along this route based on historical sources. These include: Iğdir, Sahensa, Mersengen, Surmeli, Veli Baba, Aras River, Aini, Çoban Bridge, Hasankale, and Erzurum. We can imagine that there were hans in these spots or along the road between them, but most have disappeared, except for the magnificent Iğdir Şerafeddın Ejder Han. When the Spanish traveler Ruy González de Clavijo passed through this region in the early 15th century on his way to the court of Tamurlane, he stayed a night in a castle he called Egida (Iğdir), located at the foot of Mount Ararat. Clavijo describes it as being built upon a rock and ruled by a woman, whose husband had been killed by Tamerlane. The exact location of this castle has not been determined, but his visit indicates that this was a well-traveled route. William of Rubruck, the Flemish missionary who wrote one of the most important masterpieces of medieval travel literature (along with those of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta), took a this route during his voyage to the east when he went to visit the Great Mongol Khan at Karakorum in 1254.



Harmandöven Han

Zor Köy Caravanserai


The original name of this han is not known. "Zor" was the name given to it by the archaeologist Kalantar, who, in 1913 (or 1912) was the first person to study it. However, the village of Zor is actually more than 15km to the east of the han, in another valley.


It has come to be known as the Şerafeddın Ejder Han due to the belief that Serafeddin Ejder was its patron. Many Russian and Armenian researchers mentioned the han, as the nearby city of Kars was occupied by the Russian-Armenian armies between 1877 and 1918. The han is called the Şerafettin Ejder Han in the most recent publications.



The upper areas of the crown door and the tympanum, where the inscription would normally be located, have been damaged. There is no existing inscription or references concerning the han.



Late 13th or early 14th century


As there is no inscription, researchers have formulated different opinions about the construction date. H.R. Unal has dated the building to the end of 13th century-beginning of the 14th century in relation to the form of the crown door and its plan consisting of a single large space. The plan, construction techniques, materials of this han display features common to hans built in the 14th century, such as the Karacabey Issiz, the Hanönü and the Kurttepe Hans. The design of the entrance of these hans is similar as well.


However, Gündoğdu and Blessing date the han to the 13th century by an analysis of the caravan route. Blessing believes that the han reflects the direct impact of Ilkhanid trade policies in Anatolia, even if the Ilkhanid rulers did not commission them.


It is not known if this han was built by the Seljuks or by the Mongols. However, the location of this han is along trade routes that were enhanced in the late 13th century, when there was increasing focus on developing trade with the Black Sea, Trebizond and Tabriz. Most of the hans in eastern Anatolia were founded during the relatively stable period of the 13-14th centuries when the region was under Mongol rule. The Seljuks never built much in this area, and the Ilkhanid state may have understood the need to develop a caravanserai network in northeastern Anatolia. It is thus highly possible that the han was built at the end of 13th century when the Ilkhanid State was powerful and carrying out public works projects in the region. Blessing also supports her thesis of a late 13th or early 14th c based on stylistic grounds, particularly due to similarities with monuments in Ani.



The patron is not known. Surmeli (Surmari) Amir Şerafeddin Ejder (Ezderal) has been proposed as the patron, but there is no evidence in support of this claim, other than the fact that the Batumi-Tabriz caravan route was established in the Seljuk era by Surmari Governor Serafeddin Edjer Bey.



Covered section only (C)



The Iğdir Şerafeddın Ejder Han is a single section han with no courtyard. It is difficult to determine if the han did at one time have an open courtyard or whether one was originally planned but just never built.


An excavation project carried out in 2006-07, followed by a restoration in 2007-08, revealed the rectangular plan of the covered section, with an entry section comprised of three spaces. The han is oriented lengthwise east-west.


Covered section crown door: The entry portal, flush with the wall, consists of an ogee arch, retraced with a wide band of geometrical decoration, whose star pattern is similar to that seen in examples across Seljuk Anatolia, including earlier monuments such as the Karatay Han. The magnificent crown door of this han displays a high level of artistry. It does not project outwards from the wall. The crown door begins with a profiled relieving arch and a pointed tangent arch surrounding the door opening. A second border has alternating triangular and square patterns. The widest border of the crown door consists of a geometric mesh pattern filled with twelve-pointed polygons, followed by two smooth borders and arched border strips. A composition of six-pointed stars filled with a vegetal mesh pattern fills the tympanum of the crown door. The spaces between the stars are filled with parallel lines, with substantial rumi (split leaf) and palm leaves inside of them.


Entry section:

The entry section is unusual and includes three spaces. The section past the crown door consists of a square vestibule with a room on each side of it connected to each other by interior doors. One of these rooms may have belonged to the han keeper. This center vestibule is covered with a cross-ribbed star vault with a window placed in its center and with four small star-shaped openings with muqarnas in the ceiling, recalling a simpler version of the muqarnas vaults in Erzurum and Ani.


The room to the south of the vestibule has a rectangular plan, and is covered with a symmetrical vault with squinches and a flat middle section. There is a design composed of square and eight-pointed stars over the vault. The eight-pointed stars are also placed so as to provide lighting to the room. The vault is supported with arches joined to the east and west side walls. These arches sit on consoles formed by muqarnas on the walls.


The square room to the north is also covered by a barrel vault. The arch in the middle supports the vault. It is possible to access the roof via a stone staircase in this room, which has a door with a pointed arch.


Covered section:

A doorway with an ogee arch to the northwest of the vestibule leads into the covered section. The rectangular covered section is positioned lengthwise, and is supported by equally-spaced pointed arches, carried by two support lines. The covered section has three naves covered with three pointed vaults carried by 8 square support arches at the level of the piers in the north-south direction. The central nave is wider and higher than the side naves. There are nine pointed arches on eight each piers in each support line which continue towards the rear wall in the east-west direction. The covered section served as a stable area in the past.


The roof of the central nave, which was in ruins up to the joist support level, was reconstructed during the 2007 during restoration. It includes a terrace-like platform section, which is believed to have been used in the summer months. The interior space has an unusual system for lighting. The covered section is lit by square apertures opening at the cap stone of the vault. There are no traces of window gaps in the side walls.


The raised platform system was investigated during the excavations done in 2006. The platforms were placed towards the north and south side walls. The platform system placed at the side naves is not a common feature of early period Seljuk hans and was generally preferred in the Ottoman period. This situation could indicate that this type of application made its appearance at the end of the Seljuk period, or that the platforms were added at a later date. The platform walls, made of smooth-cut stone in two lines, are covered with large blocks of well-cut freestone.  



Semi-circular support towers are spaced at regular intervals on the north and south sides of the building exterior, but are not situated opposite the rib arches. These towers continue to the roof level. There are no support towers on the east and west sides of the building.



The walls of the han are made with smooth-cut stones of various colors laid with the rubble infill technique. No reuse spolia material was used. Mason marks exist on stones in various parts of the building, yet they are quite different than those seen in other Seljuk buildings. By looking at the wide range of mason mark monograms on the stones, it is seen that a large team comprised of 16 different masons worked on the construction of this building.



The decoration of this han is centered on the exquisite crown door, the star vaults of the entry and on the inner faces of the rooms behind the entrance, as well as on some parts of the roof and in the niches.



Long abandoned, this han underwent an excavation in 2006-07 which was followed by a restoration in 2007-08, led by the Kars Museum. The recently restored han is one of the more well-preserved and studied examples in the region. The han is in good condition, but substantial changes have been made to the original plan. The ruined roof has been replaced and the damaged walls were repaired. The area decorated by six-pointed stars above the crown door was filled with flat stones.



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Bilici, Z. Kenan. Anadolu Selçuklu Çaği Mirası. Mimarı = Heritage of Anatolian Seljuk Era. Architecture. 3 vols. Ankara: Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Cumhurbaşkanlığı: Selçuklu Belediyesi, 2016, vol. 2, pp. 66-67.

Blessing, Patricia. Rebuilding Anatolia after the Mongol Conquest: Islamic Architecture in the Lands of Rum, 1240-1330. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2014. (Birmingham Byzantine and Ottoman Studies; 17), pp. 174-178.

Eravşar, Osman. Yollarin Taniklari (Witnesses of the Way), 2017, pp. 139-145.

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Ünal, Rahmi Hüseyin. “Iğdir Yakinlarinda bir Selçuklu Kervansarayi ve Doğubeyazit-Batum Kervan Yolu Hakkinda Notlar.”  Sanat Tarihi Yilliği, I.U. Edibiyat Fakultesi Sanat Tarihi Enstitüsü Yayini, 1970. Vol. III, pp. 7-15. 




The state of the han in 1913


The state of the han in 1913


drawings of crown door decoration by Unal


The Koçak Pass






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