The Seljuk Han of Anatolia

Origins of the Han  

The historical and architectural sources of the Anatolian han are difficult to document. There were post-houses in the Achaemenid and Sassanian eras, as well as military camps (the castrum) in Byzantine and Roman times. There were over 20 stations on the pilgrim road from Baghdad to Mecca, endowed by the spouse of Haroun al-Rashid in the early 9th century.

The earliest known Islamic hans, dating from the 10th century, were located in the western frontier area of the Maghreb at Mounastir, Susa, Tafertast and Tit. These were known as ribats (fortresses). These forts served as of bases for military maneuvers and for the garrison of troops. Ribats were built all over the Islamic world, from Spain to Central Asia.

Ribat-style caravanserais first appear in Central Asia in the Karakhanid (932-1212), Ghaznevid (963-1183) and Great Seljuk Periods (1040-1157). These caravansarais originated from the ribat building form. The Great Seljuk Period Iranian and Central Asian (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) hans of the 11-12th centuries are the earliest large body of han constructions. There are some 20 known, of varying size, and all are of excellent construction quality.

The Karakhanids, very active builders, were developers of caravansarai architecture of colossal dimensions. They built some ten hans, which served as the prototype for the later Anatolian hans. The plans included open courtyards, iwans and covered sections. Notable is the celebrated Ribat-i Malik of 1078 on the Bukhara-Samarkand road, with its monumental, highly-decorated pistaq portal and fluted adobe walls.

The building of hans was an important contribution of the Ghaznevids to Turkish architecture. The Ribat-i Mahi near Meshed on the road to Sarakhs was built by Sultan Mahmud in 1019, in memory of Firdawsi, the author of the Shahname. It included an 4-iwan courtyard with a domed area behind it.

Ribat-style caravansarais were also built by the Great Seljuks along the main trade routes. Like the ribats of the Karakhanids and the Ghaznevids, they were built with 4-iwan courtyards, and included special small chambers arranged around the courtyard. The imposing Ribat-i Sharaf (1114) on the road from Meshed to Sarakhs is especially elaborate, with a double courtyard and impressive stucco decoration.

There were also huge numbers of ribats in Transoxiana at this time, due to the unstable aspect of this frontier area, which was not yet thoroughly-Islamicized. Undoubtedly many served as hans as well. Over time, the ribat came to be used for religious and commercial purposes in addition to its original military vocation, and later evolved into the purely commercial caravanserai of the Seljuks.




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