The Seljuk Han of Anatolia


View of northern side with main entry

Entrance (2005)

detail, inscription plaque over main entrance

entry door squinch

southern exterior wall

structure to the west

interior looking west



The Sarafsa Han is located off the main Alanya-Antalya road, about 15 km west of Alanya, on the Manavgat Road. It is about 100m to the north of the road, and is located next to a stream, the Sarapsu River. It sits upon a small bluff of moderate elevation, making it the han easily visible from the modern road and the sea.

Şarapsa or Serapsu Han, taken from the nearby village of Şarapsa.



Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II (d. 1246)



There are two inscriptions, one over the main door and one over the mosque door. The 5-line text on the white marble inscription plaque on the main portal is undated. The last line is of the inscription is missing. The text provides the name of the reigning sultan but no construction date. It reads as follows: "The great sultan, the Almighty Shahinshah, the shadow of Allah on Earth, the helper of the world and the faith, the father of conquests, Keyhüsrev, son of Keykubad." The actual builder is thus not specifically cited, but it could seem probable that it was indeed a royal commission by the Sultan Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II. It is the third of the hans built by this sultan (Eğridir in 1237 and Incir in 1238).


The han was probably commissioned by the sultan Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II himself.


However, the unusual name of this han suggests another possibility. Şarapsa is derived from Şarapsas, the name given to the keepers of the Şaraphane (Wine Cellars) of the Sultan's palace. The wine steward of the Seljuk period was Emir Esededdin Ayaz, and his name may have been designated in the last line of the inscription, which is now lost. Legend has it that Ayaz was dismissed from his position in 1238 and executed due to his implication in a riot against the Seljuk dynasty, at which point his disgraced name could have been removed from the inscription. If so, this han would have been built before 1238, and due to the interruption caused by these events, the courtyard may not have been completed.


Covered section only; the covered section comprises one long single nave (C). The existence of a courtyard has not been determined.

This han is oriented east-west, and its entrance is located on the north side. It is the first staging post along the "Seljuk High Road", established by Alaeddin Keykubad along the Mediterranean coast to ensure communications between Alanya and the capital at Konya. It is the first han west of Alanya, and the next one after it is the Alara Han, which is at the crossroads of several caravan routes coming down to the Mediterranean Sea from Central Anatolia. It is the Seljuk han located closest to the sea. Erdmann states that the old caravan route passed to the north behind the han.


The han is one long, rectangular block of masonry which stretches from east to west, making it one of the most distinctive in plans. It is covered by a pointed barrel vault supported by pointed arches.


The façade is constructed of smooth-cut stone and the other sides of aggregate stone. The stone is a rather porous, square-cut limestone, laid in finely-jointed courses of 1-2 m. The walls were made with the rubble wall technique, with the infill of mortar mixed with small stones.


The main entry to the han is located in the middle of the north façade (landward side, in between the 4th and 5th buttresses; see below). It is built of limestone and projects out from the wall. The impressive original architrave frame has now disappeared. The main entrance forms a niche with an outer, semi-circular arch, comprising a funnel-shaped vault supported by two squinches in the corners. The vault encloses a pointed arched slab with the inscription plaque. The inscription shows that the han was built in the time of Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II (r. 1236-46), son of Alaeddin Keykubad I, between the years 1236-1246. The door is comprised of simple voussoir arches.

The unusual plan consists of a single, long hall resembling a tunnel with a narrow barrel vault. This vault is 15 meters wide and 70 meters long. The hall is divided into 9 bays by transverse arches. The hall is reinforced on the exterior with 24 closely-placed outer square reinforcement towers, with windows in between them (9 buttresses per side, plus 4 square blind corner towers.) The "buttresses" correspond to the ribs of the interior construction. The main hall is barrel-vaulted (slightly pointed) on the interior with 8 ribs at regular intervals. The ribs spring starting at the ground.


The northern wall of the hall is plain, but the southern wall (towards the sea) has 9 small window niches with pointed arches between each pair of ribs. Square support towers are located on the north and south sides of the building, equally aligned with the interior rib arches.


The crown door, situated in the middle of the north facade, projects slightly from the wall. The inscription plaque is located in the center of an arched soffit, framed with rectangular stones.


The plan of this han with its single nave is rare, with only a few examples existing. These include the Derebucak Tol Han, located on the same caravan road, and the Kuru Han. It has been argued because of this fact that it was not originally built as a han, but to serve another purpose, perhaps a military storehouse or a treasury. There were once a series of earthen platforms, raised about 30 cm, which  served to ease unloading or loading of cargo, but these were removed during the renovation of the han. There is no access to the roof, so it is doubtful that it was used for a military watch post. The interior of the storage hall is somber and dark, with the appearance of a warehouse.


There is a vaulted mosque annexed to the left (east) of the entry which forms a separate section. It has its own independent entrance from the outside, located between the 9th buttress and the eastern corner tower of the northern face. The mosque is lit by two slit windows on the east. The mosque comprises a small room, covered by a pointed vault running north to south. The mosque has an elaborate entrance, unlike those seen in other hans. The mosque door mirrors the main door in decorative concept, with a 2-line inscription from the Qur'an set in a trefoil arch. This inscription includes a verse from the Tevbe (Repentence) Sura 9 of the Qur'an: "The mosques of Allah shall be maintained only by those who believe in Allah and the Judgement Day...". On either side of the mosque entrance are buttress towers, built using superb reuse spolia pillars with Byzantine ionic capitals. The mosque contains a mihrab, surmounted by a lintel of white marble reuse   spolia stones from a Sidama sarcophagus and four rows of muqarnas. The mosque is reached by a double staircase of 5 narrow steps, and is still used by the local villagers today.


To the west of the han are the remains of a smaller building, with only 1 tower still standing. It was originally a two-story structure. The use of this tower is unknown. It was perhaps a watch tower used to survey activity coming from the sea. Similar signal and observation towers of the Seljuk period have been discovered in this region in recent years. The building could also perhaps served as a small, but separate, sleeping chamber for the sultan and his retinue, as the han has no lodging area separate from the stabling area.

The water source for the han is a small brook that runs nearby.


The decoration is sparse, which indicates that it was perhaps either built very quickly, was unfinished, or that it served more as a storehouse than as an overnight lodging stop. In addition to the reuse material, there is a strip of half-star geometric motifs over the crown door below the corner squinches.

Inner area of the hall: 560m2
Outer area of the han: 760m2
Dimensions of the long narrow tunnel: 9 X 62 m

The han was used as a barn for many years. It has now been restored and is in excellent condition. The loading platforms on both sides of the entrance were removed during the renovation, and square skylights were added. It is currently used as a tourist trade nightclub, called the "Ali Han Kervansaray".

Acun, pp. 392-401 (includes extensive bibliography in Turkish); 520.

Bayrak, p. 82 (offers a photo of the han entrance in the pre-nightclub days).
Bektaş, pp. 72-73.
Erdmann, pp. 171-173, no. 53.
Ertuğ, p. 80.
Hillenbrand, fig. 6.61, p. 553.

Karpuz, Kuş, Dıvarcı and Şiek (2008), vol. 1, pp. 157-8.

Kiepert, 1902-16.

Kuban (2002), p. 241.
Redford, p. 155.

Reifstahl, pp. 60-62 (offers a welcome view of the han facade in the pre-nightclub days).
Rice, p. 206.

Seton Lloyd, pp. 44-45.











entrance to the mosque


view of interior of the mosque

spolia column to west of the mosque entry door

spolia column at east of the mosque entry door


vine-scroll spolia lintel over the mihrab in the mosque from a Sidama sarcophagus


commemorative stamp, 1999 issue


The Sarafsa Han as seen from the Mediterranean Sea


The Sarafsa Han as viewed from the Mediterranean Sea, photo taken in 1963 by John Ingham




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