Mosque-Hospital, Divrigi

Oya Pancaroğlu

The Mosque-Hospital Complex (1228-29) of the Mengujekid dynasty in Divriği is often referred to as a “unique” monument in medieval Anatolia.  This perception is based especially on the form and decoration of the portals that give access to the two buildings.  While it is true that these sumptuous portals are not comparable to any other surviving medieval Anatolian example, it is also the case that the complex is, in a number of other aspects, a true child of its times.  The “unique” label does entirely not stand up to scrutiny if, for example, the architectural combination of two buildings into one socio-religious complex or their generally recognizable plans are taken into consideration.  Moreover, the possibility that the “unique” portals were actually not that unusual in their own time and place is strengthened in light of the fact that no medieval architecture has been preserved in Erzincan—the main seat of the Mengujekid dynasty in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries and a place likely to have had similar architecture—due to its location on the North Anatolian Fault.

The Divriği complex was built on the order of two members of the Mengujekid dynasty. The foundation inscription of the mosque ascribes it to Ahmadshah who was the ruler of Divriği at the time. The hospital inscription proclaims its founder as the “just queen” (al-malika al-‘adila) Turan Malik, the daughter of Fakhr al-Din Bahramshah (r. 1160s-1225), the best known of the Mengujekid rulers of Erzincan whose reputation rests as much on the sheer longevity of his reign as it does on his “good works” reported by medieval historians.  A common assumption is that the two patrons—who were also cousins—were married; though not impossible, there is no evidence for such a link between the two. What is more thought provoking is that the complex was built in the same year as the annexation of Erzincan by the Seljuk sultan ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad (r. 1220-37), sending its Mengujekid ruler, the brother of Turan Malik, into exile. Divriği appears not to have been annexed although a visually awkward and cramped inscription proclaiming the name of the Seljuk sultan on the north portal of the mosque suggests that Ahmadshah may have hastened to express his submission as a political maneuver to avoid the same fate.

There is no denying that the portals are perhaps the most impressive part of the complex.  The hospital portal consists of a grand arch enclosing a recessed façade punctuated by a mullioned window above a relatively diminutive doorway (which may have been constricted later). The grand arch is enlivened by a variety of projecting decorative elements, both geometric and vegetal.  Adding to the variety were two depictions of human heads though these were unfortunately de-faced, sometime before the early twentieth century.  The mosque has two main portals—on the western and northern façades—and a small private royal entrance (sometimes described as a window) on the eastern façade. The latter gave access to the now largely stripped down wooden gallery in the southeastern corner of the mosque’s interior.  The western portal, along with a good portion of the western façade, appears to have been (re-)built at a later date, probably following a partial collapse that also seems to have necessitated the bulky cylindrical buttress in the north-west corner above which rises the sixteenth-century Ottoman minaret.  The north portal of the mosque is a towering feature—one of the highest portals of medieval Anatolia—that is densely decorated with a great variety of vegetal and geometric motifs.  Both in terms of their decorative features and their architectural compositions, the three major portals of the complex are without equal in the surviving medieval architecture of Anatolia. The eastern royal portal, on the other hand, follows the general trend for monumental portals of the period in Anatolia with low relief interlacing geometric designs and a muqarnas hood.

Signatures of the builders involved in the construction of the complex are found in three locations. One, naming a certain Khurramshah b. Mughith al-Khilati, is located on the western arch carrying the dome in front of the mihrab in the mosque.  The same name, but with a slight variation perhaps due to a scribal error, appears to be inscribed on the eastern wall of the hall opposite the entrance to the hospital.  The third signature, on the mosque’s eastern portal, is too damaged to read with certainty but it appears to include the word al-Khilati.  Thus, whether or not the three signatures denote three different individuals, these names clearly refer to the city of Ahlat (Akhlat).  It is worth noting that, in a previous generation, the late twelfth-century ruler of Divriği, Sayf al-Din Shahanshah, had also employed a builder from Ahlat for the construction of his tomb (the Sitte Melik). Seen together with the minbar of the mosque which is signed by a craftsman named Ahmad b. Ibrahim al-Tiflisi and dated 1241, these signatures reveal Divriği as a junction in an extensive network of travelling craftsmen in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.

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