Earlier this year, when I was making plans for my travel across Turkey, I included Konya in my travel plan because I knew that it was an important Ottoman city. But, I certainly did not know that there would be an additional aspect to it. I read about Konya on the beach in Antalya, because I wanted to find out more about the place that I would visit. That’s when I discovered its Seljuk history and that it was a capital city of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum. But, that also meant that I had to read and learn a lot, in order to be able to properly understand everything that I was going to see in Konya.
First, I need to set a stage for this post. I think that not many people are familiar with the Seljuk civilisation. It’s always better if we know at least a little bit of history, so that we can put everything in its proper historical context. It’s actually quite amazing that just a bit of knowledge reveals a completely different perspective of things and it also significantly enhances our experience.
The history of the Seljuk Empire is very complicated. So, for the purpose of this post, I think it’s sufficient to say that it was a Turko-Persian empire. At the peak of its power, it occupied territories of the modern day Turkey and Iran and parts of Syria, Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. It was established in 1037 and lasted until approximately the mid 13th century, when the Mongols invaded it and divided it in emirates.
One of those emirates was the Ottoman emirate, that eventually grew into the Ottoman Empire. The Seljuk Empire existed long before the Ottoman Empire and they are completely unrelated. So, the Seljuk heritage is separate and it stands as a testament to the Seljuk civilisation.
SELJUK SULTANATE OF RUM
The governance model within the empire was that of a family federation or an “appanage state”. In broadest terms, the way I understood it, as the time was passing by the territory of the Seljuk Empire was divided between members of the Seljuk dynasty, to rule over.
The Sultanate of Rum was a Turko-Persian state that occupied parts of Anatolia. It separated from the Great Seljuk Empire in 1077 and it lasted for 231 years, until 1308. Its first capital city was Iznik and then Konya.
I think that this amount of information is sufficient to understand not only Konya, but also many other cities in Anatolia with the vast Seljuk heritage. As it happened, once I’ve visited the Seljuk sites and I’ve read a bit more about them, I’ve gained the additional knowledge that helped me put everything in its proper place.
Konya is rich in Seljuk monuments and historical buildings, although I’ve visited just the most important ones, located in a city centre. With the Ottoman heritage and the Mevlana Museum on top of it, there was a lot to see and absorb.
ALAEDDIN MOSQUE (1235)
Certainly, the Alaeddin Mosque is one of the most important historical Seljuk structures in Konya. It is also one of the most important historical sites in the city, together with the Mevlana Museum and the Selimiye Mosque.
The mosque is located on top of the Alaeddin Hill, overlooking the neighbouring area. The construction of the mosque started in the 12th century and it was completed in 1235. As it was typical for the Seljuks, after they had captured the city, they converted a Byzantine church into a mosque.
So, this was really the first major Seljuk era religious temple that I visited. I had previously been to the Seljuk mosque in Antalya.
The architectural style and the interior decoration of this mosque significantly differs from the later Ottoman era style. To start with, the mosque is a plain square building with no ornaments. Inside, plain white walls are so different from opulently decorated walls in Ottoman mosques.
But, the most striking difference between the Seljuk and Ottoman mosques are the columns, so typical of the Seljuk architectural style. Some Ottoman mosques are similar in style, although radically different when it comes to their interior decoration. The best examples are the Green Mosque, Muradiye Mosque and the Grand Mosque in Bursa. All three of them are also square buildings and resemble the Seljuk architecture, but all of them are lavishly decorated, unlike this mosque.
MAUSOLEUM OF SELJUK SULTANS OF RUM
The Alaeddin Mosque complex also includes the Mausoleum of the Seljuk Sultans of Rum.
You can imagine my disappointment when I arrived to this site, to see that a large section of the complex was under renovation and closed for visits. They were also renovating many historical sites in Istanbul and also one imperial mosque in Bursa. I will certainly go back to Istanbul at some point in the future and will visit everything that I could not visit last time. But, travelling all the way to Bursa and especially to Konya, to find closed historical monuments is a different thing. How likely is it for me to ever go back to Konya in the future? Probably, not very likely unless I deliberately choose to go back. Plus, as you will see later in this post, this was just one of many sites under restoration.
The mausoleum houses eight Seljuk Sultans of Rum. I managed to take a photo of the inscription at the entrance of the mausoleum. It’s a pity that I could not see it, but perhaps that can be an incentive for me to return to Konya and visit this magnificent site properly.
IPLIKÇI MOSQUE (1202)
At a short distance from the Alaeddin Mosque in Mevlana Street, I came across the Iplikçi Mosque.
It was the second major Seljuk era construction that I visited and the oldest of everything that I’ve seen in Turkey. Historical buildings in Bursa are approximately 100 years younger than buildings in Konya. In Istanbul, the only older building is Haghia Sophia, while I did not pay attention to other Byzantine heritage. The Ottoman structures in Istanbul start after its conquest in 1453.
I don’t know about other people, but I always feel a bit taken aback when I find myself in front of a new place that is as old as this religious temple.
First, it takes a bit of a time to properly comprehend the time scale between the construction date and the present. In case of this mosque, that’s 818 years. That is a lot of time and it represents what’s clearly already a rather distant history.
In other words, it’s a lot of time compared with a life-span of an average person. So much has happened since than and Konya itself is a testament to those numerous changes: from Seljuks, to Ottomans, to the modern day Turkish republic.
Otherwise, the Iplikçi Mosque is a typical Seljuk era building, with columns inside of the mosque and without any decoration.
The building is in a good state, which means that they look after it. I don’t know how much of the mosque is really original from when it was first built, but that’s not so important. Certainly, the main structure is original and it stands as a testament to the long gone empire.
ULVI SULTAN MOSQUE & TOMB
The original Ulvi Sultan Mosque and Tomb were destroyed in 1924-1925, under the pretext that the city government had to build a new road. In a photo below, you can see the total reconstruction of this historical site, which I assume they are doing according to photos taken before its demolition. Ulvi Sultan was a prominent Seljuk era sheikh.
It’s fascinating that 95 years after its demolition, the Konya municipality government now consider this historical building so important, to the point of its complete reconstruction. Apparently, original foundations are still in place, thus at least one part of the building retains its original character.
This site is directly opposite the Iplikçi Mosque.
The Şerafettin Tomb has a similar history as the Ulvi Sultan Mosque and Tomb. They destroyed in 1925 and completely reconstructed it in 2008.
I wondered why there was a Seljuk era tomb attached to an Ottoman era mosque. Sheikh Şerafettin built the original Seljuk mosque in the 12th century. However, it was damaged over time and a completely new mosque was constructed in 1636.
ŞEMS-I TEBRIZI MOSQUE
By the time I reached the Şems-i Tebrizi Mosque, I started to despair. It seemed that they were restoring almost everything in Konya. I had already missed the mausoleum of the Seljuk Sultans of Rum, plus the Ulvi Sultan Mosque and Tomb.
I would have liked to see this place. Mehmet Şemseddin Tebrizi was a companion, inspiration and a spiritual guide to Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi.
ŞAZIBEY MOSQUE (AK MOSQUE)
The Şazibey or Ak Mosque is located north of the Alaeddin Hill. It is one of only several mosques in all of Turkey with an entrance under the minaret. I couldn’t find any reference regarding its construction date. The local government restored it and brought it back to its original appearance in 2007.
The Şifahane Mosque is at the border of Kent Meydani (Old Town Square), not far from the Şazibey (Ak) Mosque. It is the only surviving structure of a bigger early 13th century complex that also included the Alaeddin hospital, a madrasa and a masjid.
KARATAY MADRASA (1251)
Emir Celaleddin Karatay built the Karatay Madrasa in 1251, during the reign of Izzettin Keykavus II. The Ottomans also used the madrasa, but they eventually abandoned it towards the end of the 19th century. It occupies a significant place in the tile workmanship of the Anatolian Seljuk period.
It opened as the “Tile Museum” in 1955.
It is not exactly known where and when the Seljuk statesman Celaleddin Karatay was born and which family he comes from. He was in the state service during the reign of Keykavus I, in 1212. He devotedly served the state for 40 years, until 1252. Consequently, he gained favour, confidence and respect of the sultans, as well as of notable people of the palace and also the public.
During his early years, he worked as a vizierial secretary. Then, he carried out duties of the commander-in-chief and the commander of the government house of Alaeddin Keykubat for 18 years. After the death of Alaeddin Keykubat in 1243, he became the Imperial Treasury Commander under Giyaseddin Keyhüsrev. Celaleddin Karatay performed this duty until 1249 and then he attained the rank of Atabeg (Atabeg-i Rum) and held that office until his death.
He died in Kayseri in 1254. They brought him to Konya, embalmed him and buried him in a tomb within the Karatay Madrasa that he constructed.
This esteemed statesman worked for four different Seljuk Sultans. He tackled the instability after the poisoning of Alaeddin Keykubat and ended the struggle for the throne by ensuring that Keykavus II, Kılıçarslan IV and Keykubat II ruled together between 1249 and 1254.
Celaledin Karatay greatly contributed to the science and art of the period in which he lived.
Tiles in these photos, from the Kubad Abad Palace, are on exhibition in the Karatay Museum.
HOCA HASAN MOSQUE (13th Century)
The Hoca Hasan Mosque is in Kazim Karabekir street, so it’s a bit away from all other Seljuk era buildings that I’ve mentioned in this post.
I immediately knew that it was a Seljuk construction. It has all typical elements of the Seljuk architecture, of which its minaret is certainly the most prominent .
This 13th century small religious temple is still in function.
In fact, there are a lot of similar small Seljuk buildings all over Konya, but I did not have time or capacity to visit them all. There was already so much to absorb, especially as there was also the vast Ottoman legacy to see and remember.
INCE MINARET MADRASA (1279)
The Ince Minaret Madrasa is the Museum of Stone and Wood Art, exhibiting Seljuk and Ottoman era objects. Unfortunately, despite my best intention, I did not manage to see this museum. I simply did not have enough time for everything that I wanted to see and do in Konya. Perhaps, if I ever return to Konya in the future, I will make sure to visit this museum too.
Certainly, this post would not be complete without mentioning the Mevlana Museum. In my opinion, it is the most important historical Seljuk era site in Konya, although several sites that I mentioned in this post are also of great historical significance and importance.
But, because it is so important, I will write more about it in my next post.
I knew very little about the Seljuk civilisation before I went to Konya. But, I read a lot and learnt about it, to be able to understand its heritage. Konya is listed in a Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as the capital of the Seljuk Civilisation.
Outside of Konya, the enormous Seljuk legacy spreads from Anatolia to Iran. Further east you move, there is more to see. Cities like Diyarbakir, Kayseri and Amasya are full of Seljuk era constructions. It’s the same in all other territories that were once part of this empire.
I didn’t know anything about this part of history, but I’ve now made some initial progress. Perhaps, I’ll get to explore more of it in the future!