Earlier this year, when I was making plans for my travel across Turkey, I included Konya because I knew that it was an important Ottoman city. But, I certainly didn’t know that there would be one additional aspect to consider – I am referring to Seljuk Konya.
I read about Konya on the beach in Antalya, because I wanted to find out more about the place that I was going to visit. That’s when I discovered its Seljuk history and also that it was the capital city of the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum.
But, that also meant that I had to read and learn a lot, to properly understand everything that I was going to see there.
THE SELJUK EMPIRE
But, I first need to set the 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 how a bit of knowledge enables us to see a completely different perspective of places and sites that we are visiting, and at the same time, it 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 it lasted until approximately the mid 13th century, when Mongols invaded it and then divided it in different emirates.
One of those emirates was the Ottoman emirate, that eventually became the Ottoman Empire.
The Seljuk Empire existed long before the Ottoman Empire and they are unrelated. That also means that the vast Seljuk heritage in Anatolia is completely separate and it stands today as a testament to the Seljuk civilisation.
THE SELJUK SULTANATE OF RUM
The governance model within the Seljuk Empire was that of a family federation or an “appanage state”. In other words, as the time passed by, the territory of the Empire was divided between different members of the Seljuk dynasty.
Thus, 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. That’s why we can talk about Seljuk Konya today.
I think that this amount of information is sufficient to understand not only Konya, but also many other cities in Anatolia, where there is also a lot of Seljuk heritage. Once I’ve visited Seljuk historical sites and after I’ve read a bit more about them, I’ve gained some additional knowledge that helped me put everything in its proper place.
Konya is rich in Seljuk monuments and historical buildings, but I’ve only visited the most important ones, located in the city centre. There was also Ottoman heritage to explore, plus the Mevlana Museum, so there was really a lot to see and absorb. Some important Seljuk era constructions are near Konya, but I didn’t visit them. I found about them much later when I was doing some research for this post.
THE ALAEDDIN MOSQUE (1235)
Certainly, the Alaeddin Mosque is one of the most important Seljuk structures in Konya. It’s 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 and it overlooks the neighbouring area. Construction of the mosque started in the 12th century and it was completed in 1235.
Typically for Seljuks, what they did, they basically converted a Byzantine church into a mosque, after they had captured Konya.
So, this was the first major Seljuk era religious temple that I visited. Previously, I had only been to the Seljuk mosque in Antalya.
The architectural style and interior decoration of this mosque significantly differs from a later Ottoman era style. To start with, the mosque is a square building, with a plain facade.
Inside, plain white walls look so different from opulently decorated walls of Ottoman mosques.
But, the most striking difference between Seljuk and Ottoman mosques are the columns, so typical of the Seljuk architectural style.
Some Ottoman mosques are similar in the architectural style, although they are radically different when it comes to their interior decoration.
The best examples are the Green Mosque, the Muradiye Mosque and the Grand Mosque in Bursa. All three of them are also square buildings and resemble Seljuk architecture, but all of them are also lavishly decorated.
THE MAUSOLEUM OF THE SELJUK SULTANS OF RUM
The Alaeddin Mosque complex also incorporates the Mausoleum of the Seljuk Sultans of Rum.
Perhaps, you can imagine my disappointment when I arrived there, to see that a large section of the complex was under restoration and closed for visits. They were restoring many historical sites in Istanbul and also one imperial mosque in Bursa. I will certainly go back to Istanbul and will visit everything that I missed.
But, going all the way to Bursa and Konya, to find closed historical monuments, it’s 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 in Konya.
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 couldn’t see it, perhaps that can be an incentive for me to return to Konya and visit this magnificent site properly.
THE 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 in Konya 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 that I visited was Haghia Sophia, while I didn’t pay attention to other Byzantine heritage. Ottoman structures in Istanbul start after its conquest, in 1453.
I don’t know about other people, but I always feel a bit emotional when I find myself in front of a place that’s as old as this religious temple.
First of all, it takes a bit of a time to properly comprehend the time scale between the construction date and the present. That’s 818 years for this mosque. It’s certainly a lot of time and it clearly represents what’s already a distant history.
In other words, it’s a lot of time compared with the life-span of an average person. So much has happened since than, while Konya itself is a testament to the numerous changes: from Seljuks to Ottomans, from Ottomans to the modern day Turkish republic.
Otherwise, the Iplikçi Mosque is a typical Seljuk era building, with columns inside of the mosque and with minimal 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 original from when it was built, but that’s not so important. Certainly, the main structure is original and it stands as a testament to the long gone Empire.
THE ULVI SULTAN MOSQUE & TOMB
The original Ulvi Sultan Mosque and Tomb were destroyed in 1924-1925, when the city government wanted to build a new road. In the photo below, you can see the total reconstruction of this historical site. I assume that they are doing it according to photos taken before demolition. Ulvi Sultan was a prominent Seljuk era sheikh.
It’s amazing that 95 years after its demolition, the Konya municipality government now considers this historical building so important, to the point that they are reconstructing it completely. Apparently, original foundations are still in place, which means that one part of the building retains its original character.
You will see this site directly opposite the Iplikçi Mosque.
THE ŞERAFETTIN TOMB
The Şerafettin Tomb has a similar history as the Ulvi Sultan Mosque and Tomb. They also destroyed the original tomb in 1925 and then they 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. That mosque was damaged over time, then a completely new mosque was constructed in the place of the original one, in 1636.
THE 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 and the Ulvi Sultan Mosque and Tomb and this was one more historical site that I was going to miss.
I would’ve liked to see this place. Mehmet Şemseddin Tebrizi was a companion, inspiration and a spiritual guide to Mevlana Jelaleddin Rumi.
THE ŞAZIBEY MOSQUE (AK MOSQUE)
The Şazibey or Ak Mosque is north of the Alaeddin Hill. It’s 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
The Şifahane Mosque is at the edge of Kent Meydani (Old Town Square), not far from the Şazibey (Ak) Mosque. It’s the only surviving structure of a bigger, early 13th century complex that also included a hospital and a madrasa.
THE KARATAY MADRASA (1251)
Emir Celaleddin Karatay built the Karatay Madrasa in 1251, during the reign of Izzettin Keykavus II. Ottomans also used the madrasa, but they abandoned it eventually, towards the end of the 19th century. It occupies a significant place in the tile workmanship of the Anatolian Seljuk period.
The madrasa 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 and also of notable people of the palace and 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 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.
THE 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 Seljuk architecture elements, of which a minaret is certainly the most evident .
This 13th century small religious temple is still in function.
In fact, you will find many similar small Seljuk buildings all over Konya, but I didn’t have time and capacity to visit them all. There was already so much to absorb, especially because in addition to Seljuk Konya, there was also the Ottoman legacy to see and remember.
THE INCE MINARET MADRASA (1279)
The Ince Minaret Madrasa is actually the Museum of Stone and Wood Art, exhibiting various Seljuk and Ottoman era objects. Despite my best intention, I didn’t manage to see it. I simply didn’t 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.
THE MEVLANA MUSEUM
Certainly, this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Mevlana Museum. In my opinion, it is the most important Seljuk era historical monument in Konya, although several other sites that I’ve mentioned in this post are also historically significant and important.
But, because it’s so important, I will write about it in my next post.
THE SELJUK CIVILISATION
I knew very little about the Seljuk civilisation and the Seljuk Empire before I went to Konya. But, I read a lot and I 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, an enormous Seljuk legacy spreads from Anatolia to Iran. There is so much to see in that area. 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 the Seljuk Empire.
I didn’t know anything about this part of history, but I’ve now made some initial progress. Hopefully, I will have a chance to explore more of it in the future.