The Seljuk Han of Anatolia
SARI HAN AVANOS
This is one of the finest existing hans in Turkey, distinctive for its elaborate bath and a mosque over the entry. The magnificent story of the Seljuk han finds its coda in this han, as it is one of the last hans to be built. It now serves as a cultural center in this highly-visited tourist area of Turkey.
Karpuz, Anadolu Selçuklu Eserleri (2008) v.2, p. 227
Bilici, vol. 3, p. 189
Karpuz, Anadolu Selçuklu Eserleri (2008) v.2, p. 241
Main portal showing stalactite vault
door of covered section
Eravşar, 2017. p. 463; photo I. Dıvarcı
View from roof onto covered section portal
crown door of covered section
Eravşar, 2017. p. 463; photo I. Dıvarcı
Steps inside of main portal, leading to second storey mosque. To the right is the fountain iwan
Karpuz, Anadolu Selçuklu Eserleri (2008) v.2, p. 230
Bilici, vol. 3, p. 192
Karpuz, Anadolu Selçuklu Eserleri (2008) v.2, p. 231
Bilici, vol. 3, p. 194
Eravşar, 2017. p. 460; photo I. Dıvarcı
mihrab detail in mosque
Bilici, vol. 3, p. 195
Photograph taken by Rott in 1908 (fig. 82)
Mevlevi sema ceremony in the han courtyard
The Avanos Sari Han is located in a peaceful and majestic setting on the Aksaray-Kayseri road, approximately 10 km from the town of Avanos and 6 km north of Ürgüp in the Damsa River Valley. It is on the left bank of the Kizilirmak River. The han is built on a hillside, with the west side higher than the east side. There is no trace of the old caravan road which passed near the han.
Catching a glimpse of this han in the distance is an unforgettable experience: its stunning golden profile dramatically rises from the floor of the fawn plain like the Cathedral of Chartres.
The name of the han means "Yellow Han", and comes from the distinctive color of the building material.
The han is not mentioned in Seljuk period sources. Despite the fact that this han is located on an important caravan route, few travelers have mentioned it.
Not known, but thought to be around the year 1249.
There is no exact information concerning the construction date or the patron of the han in the inscriptions. The first line and the date of the last line of both inscriptions are damaged, making it impossible to know the exact date of the han. The statements in the inscription indicate that the courtyard section must have been built in the time of Sultan Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II.
However, the covered section could have been built well before this date. The courtyard and covered sections are very different in regard to their construction technique and decoration, which has led many researchers to believe that the covered section was built well before the courtyard. A similar situation was seen in the nearby Ağzikara Han. In this case, the first section of the han could have been built around 1220, in the time of Alaeddin Keykubad I, and the courtyard area must have been built in 1240 at the latest during the reign of his son Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II.
Unknown; but probably Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II (1237-1246)
Partial inscriptions in Arabic on a marble plaque exist above the crown doors of both the courtyard and the covered section.
The two inscriptions, which were not in their original locations, were reset in their original places after the last restoration. Some scholars state that the inscription of the covered section, placed after the construction was completed, fell down and was preserved in the Urgup Secondary School. The inscription over the crown door of the covered section was lost before the restoration, but was recovered. It is still unclear how and where it was found during the restoration.
The two-line inscription over the covered section door reads as follows:
"El-shukrullah" (Praise to Allah; Allah al-shukr)
The other inscription over the main door is embedded in the border framing the muquarnas hood and has three lines, but is difficult to read. Old photographs indicate that there used to be another line above, but this line was scraped off and the inscription was placed as such on the han. The name of Giyaseddin, son of Keyhüsrev, son of Keykubad, (Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II) can be read on it. It is still debated whether this inscription belongs to the han or not.
There is no information about the patron in the inscription of the covered section, and the inscription of the courtyard mentions the name of Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev II, but it is not clear if it means during his reign or as patron.
Covered with open courtyard (COC)
Covered section is smaller than the courtyard
Covered section with a middle aisle and 2 aisles on each side
5 bays of vaults
The han is composed of a covered section used for lodging and a courtyard placed in front of it with various rooms for services, such as a fountain, a bath and a mosque. The courtyard is larger than the covered section in regard to its width and length. The crown doors of both sections are on the same east-west axis.
The han, with its
portal facing east towards Kayseri, is similar in plan and in elements (portals
and corner towers) to the Kayseri and Aksaray Sultan Hans. It adheres to the
classical Sultan Han plan, but with one variant: here, the mosque is placed over
the gateway and is not a kiosk mosque set in the center of the courtyard.
The courtyard is square and is placed in a north-south direction in front of the covered section. The courtyard is built with a slight incline in the east-west direction. Open and closed areas open onto the courtyard from the north and south.
The main entry door to the courtyard is in the center of the east wall and projects outwards. This is a very beautiful and lively crown door. The surface of the crown door opening is surrounded by six plain and decorated borders. The first four borders comprise bands of meanders, Y-shaped elements, zigzags, half-stars. The fifth border is the widest border of the crown door. The composition is composed of multi-pointed interconnected stars. The column capitals are shaped as 24-sided cubes, with corners cut with prismatic triangles. The crown door opening has nine rows of muqarnas. In the bottom line of muqarnas line, there is a composition composed of octagons with six-pointed stars in their centers. The rectangular surface above is filled with an engraved pattern composed of octagons with six-pointed stars in their centers.
An iwan placed immediately behind the entrance opens into the courtyard. A second iwan, facing the same direction, is located south (to the right) of the entrance. This iwan, covered with a pointed vault, was used as a fountain, as determined by plumbing remains. It projects from the interior of the wall surface and is surrounded with a half-rectangular border. The basin of the fountain is broken today.
To the north (right) of the entrance iwan is a long rectangular room, opening directly from the interior of the entrance iwan through an arched door and covered with a pointed barrel vault running north-south. This was probably the room of the han keeper.
An arcade with six sections is located in the southern (right) section of the courtyard. It has five support lines connected to each other by pointed arches, each carried on two piers and covered with pointed vaults oriented towards the courtyard. It is thought that this is the section where the animals were tethered.
On the north (right) side of the courtyard are five rooms covered with pointed vaults, except for the section used as the baths to the east. The entrances to these rooms were specially-designed. The two small entrances to the west are rectangular and flat, whereas the ones to the east have a rich design of muqarnas, rosettes, columns with capitals and borders with half-stars and polygons. One of the doors with the muqarnas leads into the bath.
The room in the northeast corner of the courtyard is entered via a door with the flat lintel and a pointed arch. The door leads into an angled corridor before entering the room, which is covered with a pointed vault oriented north-south. The function of this room is not known.
Bath: The easternmost of the muqarnas doors on the north (right) wing of the courtyard opens into the bath section of the han, which comprises four spaces. The first room upon entry and the room to the north of it are almost the same size. There is no direct passage into the courtyard from the room to the north, which is entered through a door in the room next to it. There are two small rooms side by side in the east. The southernmost room is very small and is covered with a pointed vault facing east-west. The northern one is somewhat larger and is covered with a pointed barrel vault in north-south direction. This bath tucked into the corner of the courtyard is similar in concept to the baths of the Sultan Han at Kayseri and the Karatay Han.
There are two staircases in the courtyard. The one on the north leads to the roof, and the one to the east, with console steps, leads to the mosque located above the entrance of the han.
Mosque: The mosque is on the upper floor of the entry passageway, and is reached by stone steps leading up to a tiny balcony. Other hans with mosques above the entrance are the Zazadin, Pazar Hatun and Kuruçeşme Hans.
The doorway to the mosque is decorated with squinches and muqarnas. The door of the mosque is framed by two borders decorated with five different wave patterns and a composition of six-pointed polygons in a geometric mesh. There are round columns with capitals of 24-sided cubes, like those seen on the door of the covered section. Another set of steps leads up to the muezzin's pedestal.
The square mosque is covered with a star vault, similar to the vault of the Ağzikara Han. Squinches made of muqarnas connect with the segments of the star vault. Rosettes are placed inside the pointed arch sections. The mihrab niche is semi-hexagonal and surrounded by two borders of geometric elements. It is surmounted by three rows of muqarnas and framed by cylindrical columns and cubic capitals. The mosque is lit by a slit window on the eastern wall.
The covered section has three naves. The central nave, entered immediately from the crown door, is flanked on each side by a parallel nave. The middle nave is higher than the others. These three naves are braced by two support lines, all in the east-west direction. The covered section is composed of four north-south support lines positioned parallel to the rear wall. These sections are covered with lower pointed vaults. There are four north-south support lines for each nave, which rest on four square piers each. The support lines in the north-south direction are connected to each other with pointed arches in the same direction. Thinner arches surrounding the arches help to distribute the load. The stones of the arches carrying the dome and the geometric designs carved in the stones are significant.
The middle nave is covered in the center with a lantern dome between the second and third support lines. Pendentives were used as a transition element to the dome. One small window is placed on the main axis at the bottom of the dome, which lights the inner face of the dome. In addition, there are three half-domes. This lantern dome provides lighting to the interior. The covered section is also lit by one slit window on the north and south walls. There are no windows on the east and west sides.
A loading platform is located in the central nave. The elevation of the platform is 40 cm higher than the pavement of the central nave.
The crown door of the covered section noteworthy for its intricate and elaborate decorative scheme. The upper sections of the crown door were renewed during the restoration. The crown door opening is a pointed arch with a row of half-stars above it. The vault composing the door opening is enlivened by the use of two differently-colored stones. A rosette with carved geometric patterns is set in each corner of the portal. Five borders, two of them flat and the others ornamented with different geometric elements, surround the crown door. These borders comprise various motifs, including braids, half-stars, and intersecting polygons. The borders connect to columns with 24-sided cubic capitals, with the lower surface shaped as a rhomboid and the corners cut with prismatic triangles. The arches of the door opening sit on profiled consoles at the sides which connect to the inside of the door opening by two lines of muqarnas. Half-hexagonal niche openings are placed opposite each other on the inner surfaces of the crown door opening, and end with a cap resembling a fan-shaped scallop shell.
There are 6 corner towers and 6 side (south and north walls) towers in total for this han. The buttresses in the southwest corner and the middle are rectangular, and the others are octagonal. The west wall is also strengthened with two, equally-spaced triangular buttresses.
Large, smooth-cut stones were used at the bottom of the walls and smaller, smooth-cut stones were placed above. The han was built with finely-dressed stones of different colors: yellow, reddish and light-brown. The double-sided walls were filled with a mixture of rubble and mortar. Numerous mason marks can be seen on the stones. Most of the mason marks are similar to the ones in the Ağzikara Han, and it is possible that the same masons may have worked at both hans. The two hans could have been built during the same period (1231-40) due to the similarities in the mason marks, as well as to the similarities in their decoration.
The inside and outside portal arches which were made from two different colored bands of stones in yellow, pink and beige, which confer a lively appearance to the main outer portal and inner portal.
A rich decorative program can be seen on the crown door, the mosque door and the mihrab of the han. The decorative elements of the portal include shells, knots, saw-teeth, meanders and rope designs. The preference shown to geometric motifs over animal and vegetal figures for the decoration of the two crown doors is significant. Rosettes are applied only on the lower sides of the muqarnas rows. The muqarnas openings in the door openings are very elaborate.
Total external area: 2000m2
Area of covered section: 570m2
Area of courtyard: 1120m2
STATE OF CONSERVATION, CURRENT USE
Although the Avanos Sari Han is one of the most significant hans in Anatolia, its stones were removed in 1940 by the Avanos Governorate for the construction of a bridge over the Kizilirmak River, which passes through the Avanos region. Because of this, the outer elements of the han were completely missing until the restoration.
The restoration of the han, parts of which were in ruins (see photo by Rott), was repaired by the General Directorate of Foundations in the late 1980's and was completed in 1991. A new stone floor was installed in 1990. At this time, the outside parts and upper elements of the crown doors were completed. The covered section of the han is currently suffering from humidity problems due to a leaky roofing system.
After the restoration the han was leased to a private company for 49 years. It is currently being operated under the status of a Special Facility and used as a cultural center and conference hall under the supervision of the Turkish Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The Saruhan Exhibition and Culture Center (see website below) offers cultural programs and Mevlevi sema performances for the many tourists coming to this popular area of Turkey.
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Eravşar, Osman. Yollarin Taniklari (Witnesses of the Way), 2017, pp. 452-463.
Erdmann, Kurt. Das Anatolische Karavansaray des 13. Jahrhunderts, 1961. Vol. 1, pp. 130-135, no. 35; vol. 3, pp. 138-142.
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Gülyaz, Murat Ertuğrul. "The Kervansarays of Cappadocia", Skylife Magazine, December, 1999.
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Kiepert, R. Karte von Kleinasien, in 24 Blatt bearbeitet, 1902-1916.
Oberhummer, R. & Zimmerer, H. Durch Syrien und Kleinasien, 1898, p. 144.
Özgüç, T. & Akok, M. Sari Han. Belleten (20), 1956, pp. 379-383.
Özergin, M. Kemal. Anadoluda Selçuklu Kervansarayları, Tarih Dergisi, XV/20, 1965, p. 160, p. 105.
Parkak Bicer, A. Ozlem & Fusun Kocatürk. An Examination of the use of the Caravanserai at Cappadocia on the Silk Road; Saruhan Caravanserai. Archi-Cultural Translations through the Silk Road, 2nd International Conference, Nishinomiya, Japan, July 14-16, 2012, pp. 390-394.
Rice, Tamara Talbot. The Seljuks in Asia Minor, 1961, p. 206.
Rott, H. F. Kleinasien Denkmaler aus Psidien, Pamphylien, Kappadokien und Lykien, 1908, p. 241; fig. 82, 83. (Rott published a photograph of the crown door of the han and drew a perfect rendering of the plan of the han.)
Saruhan. Internet web document. http://www.sarihan1249.com/ Contains many photos of the han and its current activities.
Unsal, Behçet. Turkish Islamic architecture in Seljuk and Ottoman Times, 1071-1923. London, 1959, p. 49.
plan drawn by Rott (fig. 82) in 1908
plan drawn by Erdmann in 1961
plan drawn during the 1991 restoration
Eravşar, 2017. p. 455
View of the han from the west
Eravşar, 2017. p. 457; photo I. Dıvarcı
Eravşar, 2017. p. 452; photo I. Dıvarcı
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