The Seljuk Han of Anatolia


sculpted fan in portal entryway

Kiosk mescit mosque in courtyard

elaborate carved ribbon of dragons on kiosk mosque arches

Steps leading to roof terrace in the northwest corner

eastern courtyard cells

Iwan of western courtyard cells

axonometric drawing by A. Gabriel (the camels, drawn for scale, are a bit too small)

axonometric drawing by Mahmut Akok (the horsemen, drawn for scale, are a bit too large)


This han is located 45 km northeast of Kayseri on the Sivas Road in the village of Tuzhisar in the Bunyan district. The han was formerly located on the older Sivas road which was the major route linking Konya, Kayseri and Sivas to the east (Iraq and Iran), but this road has now been replaced by a larger modern highway. No traces of the former caravan route remain, as it has been covered over by this modern highway which passes 150 m south of the han. The han is visible from the road.

Tuzhisar Sultan Han

Palaz or Palas Sultan Han

Kayseri-Bunyan Sultan Han

Büyük Kervansarayı


There are no records or inscriptions indicating the name of the han. However, information about the han is found in Seljuk-era sources, notably as concerns the important expedition of the Mamluk commander Baybars who stayed at this han. Baybars invaded Anatolia from Syria in 1277 to try to put an end to the Mongol control of the region. He defeated the Mongol army at the Battle of Elbistan (April 15, 1277) and captured the city of Kayseri. During his journey he was accompanied by Kadi Muhyiddin Abduzzahir, who kept a diary of the mission. According to his telling of the events, the Mamluk army defeated the Mongols during an expedition to Akça Derbent and afterwards marched on to Kayseri via Elbistan. The army stayed in Kayseri for one week and then left the city to give the impression that they were planning to attack the Mongol army. However, they followed a different route to the northeast towards Sivas and stopped here at the Tuzhisar Sultan Han. Here they changed direction once again and headed south towards Elbistan via the Karatay Han. Baybars then decided to return to Aleppo in Syria, since he was far from his bases and supply lines. After this raid by Baybars, the Mongol commander Abaqa reasserted his authority over Anatolia once more. Angered by the defeat at Elbistan, where he felt he had been betrayed by the Seljuks, he ordered the destruction of the city of Kayseri, where large numbers of its citizens were killed. Kadi Muhyiddin Abduzzahir called the Tuzhisar Han the "Alaeddin Keykubad Han" in his journal. He described the han as having a rich foundation and that sheep were raised in the vicinity to feed the passengers who visited the han.


The historian Aqsarayi also mentions that Baybars fought a battle with the Seljuks near this han during his 1277 campaign in Anatolia against the Mongols.


According to the historian and geographer Ibn-i Said, there were 24 caravanserais along the Kayseri-Sivas road; however, this does not appear to be a realistic number, as there could not have been that many hans along a 190 km route. The famous Seljuk historian Ibn Bibi mentions the Latif and Lala hans along this route,  but makes no mention of the Tuzhisar Sultan Han, which is surprising in view of its importance and his attention to detail in his journal.


The han was described by many foreign travelers to the region in the 19th and early 20th centuries: Bruce, Kinneir, Mordtmann (who called it the "Sultan Han"), Cholet, Tozer (who called it the "Sultan-khane"), Jerphanion (who drew its plan) and Gabriel (who photographed it).


Yet, the actual name of the han has never been indicated in any source. The name of Tuzhisar ("Salt Castle") was probably given to the han after the nearby Tuzla Lake and the remains of an old castle in the region. The name of Sultan Han must have been attributed due to its probable commission by the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad.

The inscriptions over the main and courtyard doors are now illegible, so dating is estimated by comparison with the Sultan Han Aksaray, which probably preceded it.

The attributes of Alaeddin Keykubad were once legible on the inscription, and, as these names are mentioned on previous inscriptions dating to 1233-37, it can be assumed that the han was built during those years.


Alaeddin Keykubad I (1220-37)


The inscriptions over the main and courtyard doors are now illegible. The inscription above the entrance of the covered section is intact, but the text is in a ruined state. The name of "Burhan Emir El Mumin" was legible until recently on the ruined inscription. Some early researchers had seen the inscription, notably Riefstahl, who read the parts that mentioned the epithets of Alaeddin Keykubad. The attributes of "Abul feth" and "Kasim emir muninin" definitely refer to this Sultan.


In addition to this inscription, there is another frieze under the lantern dome in the covered section of the han, written in naskh calligraphy. The phrase of "basmala" and "thanks to Allah" can be read in this inscription; however, the rest cannot be deciphered.


Lastly, the name of "Ameli Yadigar" is written above the northwest corner tower of the courtyard, and could possibly denote the architect.


Alaeddin Keykubad I (presumed in view of his intensive building program in this region and his attributes once legible on the inscription)


The architect could have been Ameli Yadigar, although there were probably many master builders working on this han in view of its size.


Covered section with an open courtyard (COC)
Covered section smaller than the courtyard
Covered section with 5 naves perpendicular to the rear wall

7 lines of support cross-vaults parallel to the rear wall

The han is oriented north south, and the entrance faces the north. It is the second largest han in Turkey, and is one of the most spectacular and striking hans of the entire Middle East. One of the most luxurious hans known, it was the five-star "Hilton" of its day.

There are 6 corner towers and 9 side towers on the exterior walls, which give the han the appearance of a fortress. The walls are made of smooth-cut limestone, and blocks of white limestone and marble can be seen in some sections. There are lion-faced water spouts on the walls.

Mason marks can be seen on some of the stones of the walls.

Main Portal and Entryway:
The entry crown door is offset to the east, and is the only entry to the han. It is flanked with cylindrical columns with square bases and projects slightly from the main wall. Its pointed arch is surmounted by 9 rows of muqarnas with rosettes of varied decorative patterns on each side. The crown door displays alternating blocks of stones of two different colors, with the outer sections engraved in the form of descending lotus blossoms. Access to the roof of the courtyard is via a projecting set of stairs on the western side of the north wall. The interior side of the crown door, facing the courtyard, is as elaborately-decorated as the front side: no expense was spared to render this han as attractive as possible for its users. Safety and splendor, all under one roof.


This portal gives access to the courtyard after passing through a magnificent rectangular iwan facing the south. Lift your eyes, dear visitor, and behold the star vault announcing the marvels to come in this han. This entrance iwan was created to dazzle visitors with its splendor, and is an absolute masterpiece of Seljuk decorative art. One can only imagine how impressed the caravaneers must have been about the glory and power of the Seljuk Empire when entering this space after a long and tiring journey on the roads.


Each side of the iwan is flanked by a series of vaulted rooms. To the east (left) is a small room covered with a barrel vault in the north-south direction which was most certainly a room for the guards. Next to it is a space in the shape of a small iwan. The exact purpose of this space in unknown, but it may have been a fountain. In the far eastern corner is a rectangular room, set in the east-west direction and covered with a pointed vault. This room is accessed from the open arcade on the eastern side of the courtyard and may have been the quarters of the han keeper.


On the west (right) is another room, divided in two parts by a central arch. The layout is curious: the first section is covered with a vault running in the north-south direction, while the second is covered with a pointed vault in the east-west direction. Stone consoles were placed on the interior walls of this room, and their presence suggests that a wooden platform supported by wooden columns must have existed here. Perhaps this wooden platform served as a sleeping area for guards or administrators, or was used for storing valuable goods or even foodstuffs. Next to this unit is a room accessed via the courtyard (again perhaps for the han keeper or personnel), and in the far western corner, a room entered from the bath suite (see below). This room is a bit of a mystery. It is lit by a window opening at the top of a specially-designed vault in the north-south direction. It is very dark here, and in view of its proximity to the water services of the bath suite of rooms, it is possible that this was a latrine or a private bathing space.

The courtyard is larger than the covered section, and both entrances are on axis. It is built on a slight incline from the south to the north to aid in drainage, as is the case in many hans.


The entrance passageway opens onto a vast square courtyard. Units of various sizes line both sides of this wide courtyard.


Eastern side (to the left upon entering): The eastern side of the courtyard is comprised of an open arcade of 2 rows of 7 vaults. This area probably served as both a loading area and stables, and was certainly heavily-used in the summer months.


Western side (to the right upon entering): This side has a double set of units: an open arcade of 1 row of 7 vaults with a row of closed rooms behind it, covered by barrel vaults.


The northernmost  (towards han entry) vault gives access to a complex of rooms which serve as the bath of the han, of irregular plan, comprising 5 rooms with domes and vaults. The first room is the frigidarim (cold) dressing room, the second is the tepidarium (warm) domed bathing area with basins, followed on the west by two interconnected rooms comprising the caldarium (hot) sections. The 5th room is the room in the northwest corner, accessed from the caldarium, which could have been either a private bathing room or the toilets. The cistern of the bath house, heated from below, is rectangular in shape covered by a barrel vault. It was discovered during the restoration, and traces of pipes can be seen in some of the locations of the bath.


The other 6 rooms to the south of the bath (towards the covered section) on this side were entered via the courtyard arcade and were used for lodging. The last two rooms are more secluded, with the one to the far south entered internally from the room next to it. In view of this, it is feasible that these two rooms were used for lodging of important guests such as Baybars and Alaeddin Keykubad, who must have visited this han often on his numerous trips between the two capital cities of Konya and Kayseri. The guards would have been in the front room protecting the internal entrance to the room in the corner.


Covered section:
A monumental crown door with a high arch leads directly into the covered section. This crown door projects slightly from the main wall and is framed by 4 borders, each with a different decoration of geometric elements, braids and half-stars. The pointed arch of the door is surmounted by 9 rows of muqarnas. There are pillars on each side with a decoration of knots, and cubical column headings. Each corner of the arch above the crown door includes a rosette with a mesh  pattern. There are elaborately-decorated lateral niches. The door is typical of the traditional Seljuk design, and closely resembles the crown door of the Karatay and Ağizkara Hans.


The large covered section is entirely covered in vaults and measures 42.10 long and 29.15m wide. It consists of one principal central nave, 5.95m wide, and which is higher than the other naves, and two symmetrical lateral naves, each with 7 cross-vaults covered with pointed barrel vaults. There are 24 piers supporting the vaults.

There are windows at a hight of 4m high in each of the vaults of the covered hall. The section between the third and fourth piers of the central nave is covered by a lantern dome surmounted by a cone on the exterior. The transition of the lantern dome is made by corner pendentives formed by muqarnas. Circular medallions with different geometric decorations can be seen on the surfaces of each pendentive. The area above the pendentives is decorated with a line of lotus blossoms, a line of naskh calligraphy, and finally, a double line of muqarnas, all connected to the lantern dome. There are slit windows above the dome drum in all four directions to provide light to the interior of the covered section. The covered section is also lit by slit windows on the east and west walls opening onto each horizontal cross-nave, except for the third one from the entrance. In addition, two slit windows in the south wall open onto the high central nave to admit light.


The area had a raised loading platform to separate the animals from the humans, functioning much like a haha wall in a garden. The animals remained in the space closest to the side walls, and the middle was reserved for the travelers and communal functions.

A dome on pendentives is located over the central aisle, and its oculus measures 6 m in width.


Analysis of the technical features indicates that the covered section was built first, starting with the side naves and ending with the high central nave which bears on the support system of the side naves. The courtyard and its service sections were built once the covered section was in operation.

A kiosk mosque stands in the middle of the courtyard, raised on 4 square piers joined by pointed arches. The entrance to the mosque faces the main door of the courtyard. The surfaces of the piers are richly-decorated and provide a powerful sculptural effect and include octagons with central rosettes filled with different decorative ornamentation: stars, pinwheels and spirals. The mosque is square in plan, measuring 7.90m on each side. It is 2 storeys high, with a double corbelled staircase built flush into the northern side, leading up to the muezzin’s platform and the undecorated prayer room. This prayer room is also square, and covered by a barrel vault, and lit by 2 windows on the east and west sides. These windows are surrounded by two decorated borders (with stars, vegetal elements, mesh elements) and surmounted by 5 lines of muqarnas. The mihrab is on the southern side and has 4 decorated borders surmounted by 5 rows of muqarnas. An interior ladder provides access to the roof of the mosque.


The lower stones are smooth-cut limestone and the upper stones are of granite with some marble pieces interspersed among them.

All eyes are drawn to the powerful giant dragon ribbon motive is seen above the arches of the mosque. Two abstractly-rendered dragon heads meet and face each other at the top of the arch, their jaws agape.


This han displays some of the most elaborate decoration seen on any Seljuk building. The most impressive decorative elements of this han are located on the crown doors and on the mosque. The decoration of the mosque shows expert stone carving. It comprises geometrical motives, meanders, polygons and rosettes is extremely precise and of fine workmanship. There is a magnificent Greek key decoration on the door to the covered section. Decorative elements include arabesques, crescents, dragons, trelliswork, swastikas, Syrian knots, meanders, arched bricks, lambrequins and rope work.

The existence of vegetal-based rumi decorations, not seen in previous periods, but which became common after the Battle of Kösedağ in 1243, indicates that additions were made in later periods or that the han may have been finished after the death of Alaeddin Keykubad.


As mentioned above, the mosque arches are decorated with a stunning, stylized ribbon ending with confronting dragon's heads. The dragon is a symbol of wealth and bounty, and is frequently mentioned in astronomy and cosmology texts of the 13th century. It can be seen above the door of the Baghdad Talisman Gate, and its presence here shows indicates that this symbol had significance in Anatolia as well.


Total area: 3900m2
Area of hall: 1290 m2
Area of courtyard: 2100m2

It is somewhat smaller that the Sultan Han Aksaray.

The han was well-restored in 1951, 1964  and 2009 and is in good condition. It is now run as a cultural site by the Turkish government and can be visited (guardian's offices are next door). The roof and waterproofing were left unfinished in the 1964 renovation, and, as a result, the walls and the crown doors became wet, causing surface loss of the stones. The damaged stones were replaced in the 2009 restoration. Unfortunately, electric wiring has been laid in many sections of the han which has damaged some of the decoration, and the lighting poles placed in the courtyard have compromised the visual integrity of the han.


Acun, pp. 173-193 (includes extensive bibliography in Turkish); 460-461; 463; 535.

Aqsarayi, p. 137.

Bektaş, 1999, pp. 114-121.

Çayırdağ, M. 2001, p. 35.

Cholet, 1892, p. 67.
Erdmann, pp. 90-97, no. 27.
Erketlioğlu, Halit, Kayseri Kitabeleri, 2001, p. 48

Gabriel, 1931, pp. 93-98, pl. XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, fig 60-63.
Hillenbrand, fig. 6.44, p. 552; 6.45, p. 349; plate 250, p. 347; plate 251, p. 348.
Jerphanion, 1928, pic. 1, fig. 4.

Karpuz, Kuş, Dıvarcı and Şiek (2008), vol. 1, pp. 473-474.

Kinnear, 1818, p. 562.

Namer, 1904, p. 195.

Özbek, 2007.

Özergin, M.K., 1959, p. 79.

Rice, p. 206.

Sümer, 1985, p. 91.

Tözer, 1881, p. 161.













carving on the interior face of entry portal

arch on western side of portal



restoration and original stonework of exterior facade

arch on eastern side of portal

polygon carving on side panels of portal

detail of polygonal pattern

kiosk mosque, seen from southwest

detail of dragon heads at summit of mosque arches

Lantern dome of covered section

portal to covered section

lion's head waterspout sculpture on side of western courtyard door

lion head waterspout

detail of arcs of iwan of western side


detail of upper edge carving of courtyard walls



stone bearing the name of the possible architect: "Master Yadigar fecit"

transcription by Halit Erketlioğlu (Kayseri Kitabeleri, 2001, p. 48)






for a series of photos of the han taken in 1961 and 1963 by John Ingham, click below:


Village mill

Village of Sultanhan



The poet and historian Muhsin Ilyas Subaşi relates the following anecdote relative to the Kayseri Sultan Han in his book on the history of Kayseri (Dünden Bugüne Kayseri, Kayseri: Kivilcim Yayinevi, 2003; p. 92-94.) He has also written a poem to the han.

"Any aggression to travelers on the roads of my lands is an aggression to my very own honor!"

bellowed the Sultan to his Grand Vizier. And so in this way was the order given to the Grand Vizier to oversee the construction of a series of caravansarais between the larger cities of the kingdom, in order to ensure the safety and comfort of the travelers on the roads in the lands under his charge.

"You will build hans worthy of both me and my ancestors, worthy of both their kingdom and mine. One han shall be built at a day's journey to the east of Kayseri, that is to say at the place at the end of one full day of travel, and another shall be built in the same manner to the west of the city. Make sure that they are built as solidly as a fortress so that our enemies can see that we are stronger than they are, and that they are under the shadow of our swords should they cause harm to anyone!" continued the Sultan.

The Grand Vizier nodded. "So shall your orders be granted, my Sultan," he said, leaving the room. He immediately gathered together the best workmen, and gave them their instructions. Several of them were to start that very day on the construction of a han near Tushisar, and the others were to start on a site on the Kayseri road near Aksaray.

But the Grand Vizier Celaleddin Karatay, who had been given the responsibility to oversee these two projects, thought to himself: "The Sultan has ordered the building of these two hans, and I am but a humble servant in his shadow. Still, I am the second most powerful man in the kingdom and because of this I should not remain totally excluded from this endeavor. These hans shall become my monuments as well." And thus he established a plan to build his very own han southeast of Kayseri, in the present-day village of Karadayi.

The monuments commissioned by Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad were completed in the year 1236. They came to be known by his subjects as the "Sultan Hans", and their doors were opened to all.


One spring evening, the Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad gathered his viziers together in his palace at Keykubadiyye. He explained to them the responsibilities he expected of them concerning the services and operations of these hans.

"My knights, it is our duty to provide a sign of the respect and the consideration we hold for the personal safety of the foreign and local travelers on our lands, as well as for their goods. If a caravan or its travelers should be attacked and their goods plundered on our roads, it is to be considered a violation of our very own personal honor. You must show no mercy to the bandits, brigands, and thieves on our roads. You must designate men to constantly tend to these roads so that all travelers who use them will always feel welcomed. Every traveler in our hans is to be my guest for three days, and no fee is to be charged to those who remain for that length of time. Their hungry stomachs are to be filled with meals paid for from my very own purse. Medical treatment will be provided for any illnesses, and their cleanliness will be assured by my hammams. Their horses will be shod, and their lame and tired animals replaced. At the end of three days, their repaired shoes will be placed in front of their door. They can then choose to leave or to remain, and if they do stay, a small daily fee will be charged. This honorable tradition has come down to us from our Central Asian ancestors, and we are thus beholden to continue this same custom as we spread our culture westwards…..We must not fail in this duty to carry on the principles which formed the base of our sultanate. For once defects and bad habits are incorporated into the kingdom we are building, it will be difficult to remove them from the character of the people of this nation. And this heavy responsibility is our duty to ensure. In this we must be very vigilant….."

After the viziers left the meeting, the wisdom of the Sultan's words became very evident to them. And so instructions to fulfill his orders were sent out by special couriers to those in charge of the caravansarais. And when their doors opened for business, the people of the kingdom started to live in the light of a new and secure era….



                MUHSİN İLYAS SUBAŞI


How many caravans have entered your doors with anticipation

How many voyagers have left their dreams in the heart of your courtyard

The stars kiss your forehead each night

What stories do the roads passing in front of you tell?


Homesickness and the melancholy of exile

Are loaded on your backs each day of the year

The past and the future hide in the shadows of your monumental portal

Which welcomes and bids adieu each day to a thousand desires...


The Seljuks placed their very souls in your domes

Travelers have filled your halls with their trusting faith

So it was that your destiny grew,

But now, your visitors are none!





          -Katharine Branning Hanımefendiye;


Kaç kervan umutla girer kapından,

Seyyahlar gönlünde hülyaya dalar.

Yıldızlar her gece öper alnından,

Ne söyler önünden geçen bu yollar?


Sıla özlemini, gurbet hüznünü,

Yüklenir sırtına yılın her günü,

Saklarken taç kapın yarını-dünü,

Her gün bin umutla boşalır, dolar…


Selçuklu kubbene gönlünü koymuş,

Yolcular sofranda umuda doymuş,

Senin de kaderin demek ki buymuş,

Artık ne gelenin, ne gidenin var!..




©2001-2017, Katharine Branning; All Rights Reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced in any form without written consent from the author.