The Seljuk Han of Anatolia


Many hans have carved dedication plaques (in Turkish, kitabesi) which provide valuable primary-source information about the hans.

These inscription plaques are always located over han doors. The space above the door is usually flat, and constitutes a type of tympanum on which the inscription plaque was placed. Inscription plaques are generally located in one of 4 places:

  -over the door of the main portal
  -over the door of the mosque
  -over the door leading to the courtyard
  -over the door of the covered section

The inscriptions are carved on a separate piece of flat stone, of better quality than the surrounding building stone. These stones were set recessed, with the depth providing the illusion that the plaques are framed.

The inscriptions contain from 2-5 lines, in Arabic, and are in the nakshi script. They are of unequal quality, with the larger hans generally having a finer level of workmanship. The inscriptions follow a formal protocol, including the construction date or the date it was ordered (“Built in the time of Sultan…in the year…”), and the name of the sultan, patron or institution responsible for its creation. The word “han” is not used, in favor of the word “ribat” (fortress). The name of the patron is sometimes mentioned at the same time as that of the reigning sultan. The dates are given in the day and month, and if the name of the architect is mentioned, it is given at the end of the inscription.

In certain cases (Kadin, Ertokuş, Çardak, Ak, Sadeddin), the inscription starts out with a mention of the “Sultanship” with no clear and precise name given. There are several hans for which the sultan and patron are both clearly indicated (both Sultan Hans, Incir, Evdir, Şarafsa and Alara).

Rarely is a date other than the building date listed, except for references to the restoration of the Sultan Han Aksaray portal and perhaps the restoration of the courtyard portal of Incir Han. A modern day restoration plaque was installed in the Zazadin Han to commemorate the 2007 renovation.

These inscription plaques are invaluable, as they provide the names of Sultans, patrons, charitable institutions, architects, and most importantly, building dates. From them we can deduce that the Sultan hans were built in central Anatolia near the Royal Road, that there was a “eastern” group, probably due to the initiative of Mahperi Sultan, the wife of Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad, and that hans were built by well-known patrons. Some curious facts are gleaned, such as the name of the Christian patron of the Hekim Han, but there is very little information provided concerning the profiles of the lesser-known patrons. In only 2 cases (and both in relatively insignificant monuments) is the architect’s name given.

Inscription plaques provide the following information:

1) Hans for which we know the Sultan was the patron (the so-called "Sultan Hans"):

2) Hans in which the Sultan’s reign is named : (“Built in the reign of …..”):

Most of the hans built by sultans and mentioned in written sources have not survived to the present times. The remaining inscriptions indicate that the majority of the hans were constructed by Alaeddin Keykubad I, by his brother Izzeddin Keykavus I and by his son Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II (1236-46).

Cimcimli Sultan Han
Şarafsa (as patron)

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