Sultanhan Caravanserai

Sultanhan is a large 13th-century Seljuk caravanserai in the town of Sultanhanı, Aksaray Province. It is one of three huge caravanserais in the province, about 40 km (25 miles) west of Aksaray on the road to Konya. The fortified structure was built in 1229 during the reign of the Seljuk sultan Kayqubad I (who reigned between 1220 and 1237) by the Syrian architect Muhammad ibn Khalwan al-Dimashqi (Dimashqi means “from Damascus”) along the Uzun Yolu (or “long road”) trade route, which runs from Konya to Aksaray and continues into Persia.

After it was partially destroyed by fire, Sultanhan was restored and extended in 1278 by the governor Seraceddin Ahmed Kerimeddin bin El Hasan during the reign of Sultan Kaykhusraw III. It became the biggest caravanserai in Turkey and is still one of the best remaining examples of Anatolian Seljuk architecture.

The khan (ruler) would enter the caravanserai from the east through a pishtaq, a 13 meter high gate marble gate in the 50 meter-wide front wall.

The pointed arch enclosing the gate is decorated with muqarnas corbels (ornamented vaulting in Islamic architecture) and a geometrically patterned plaiting. The main gate leads into a 44 x 58 metre open courtyard which was used during the summer months. A similarly decorated archway on the far side of the open courtyard, with a muqarnas niche and joggled voussoirs (interlocking marble blocks in two contrasting colours) leads to a covered courtyard (iwan), used in winter.

The central aisle of the covered hall has a barrel-vaulted ceiling with transverse ribs, with a short dome-capped tower over the centre of the vault. The dome has an oculus (circular window) to provide air and light to the hall. A square stone kiosk-shaped mosque (köşk mescidi), the oldest example in Turkey, is located in the middle of the open courtyard. A construction of four carved barrel-vaulted arches supports the mosque on the second floor. Stables with accommodation above were located in the arcades on both sides of the inner courtyard.