The Māhperī Khātūn Complex (locally known as Huand Hatun Complex) stands facing the medieval citadel of Kayseri. The complex consists of a mosque, madrasa, mausoleum, and the ruins of a bathhouse with separate sections for men and women. Inscriptions on both portals of the mosque date this section to 635/1237–38, while the other parts of the complex are undated. The patron, Māhperī Khātūn (d. after 1246), was the mother of the ruling Seljūq sultan Ghiyāth al-Dīn Kaykhusraw II (r. 1238–1246) and one of the widows of his father and predecessor, ‘Alā’ al-Dīn Kayqubād (r. 1219–1237). Māhperī Khātūn was one of the most prolific female patrons known in medieval Anatolia, although she is not mentioned in much detail in the written sources of the period, such as chronicles and hagiographies. The mausoleum of the patron, placed at the centre of the Māhperī Khātūn Complex, is the focal point of the foundation in spatial terms. Barely visible from the outside, the mausoleum is enclosed within the fabric of the building complex. Only its conical dome is visible above the surrounding walls.
Two portals, with muqarnas niches above the doorways, lead into the mosque, one on the eastern and the other on the western side of the building. Buttresses accentuate the surface of the walls and give the building a fortified aspect; otherwise, only small windows interrupt the strong walls built of stone. In the north-western corner of the mosque, a corridor leads from the portal into the prayer hall. Entering through the western portal, the viewer is offered a glimpse of the mausoleum through a partially open arch. The visual tease does not lead to access, however, and the visitor must either stop and contemplate the mausoleum from a distance, or walk on into the sanctuary of the mosque. Having entered through this portal on the western side of the mosque, the visitor has had the chance to see the foundation inscription, placed on a marble plaque high above the muqarnas niche, which provides information about the patron (RCEA, No. 4147). The mosque is the only part of the Māhperī Khātūn Complex that is securely dated with building inscriptions, pointing out the patron’s position as the mother of the ruling sultan. The inscription on the eastern portal closely echoes the one just cited, although it does not mention the patron’s name, only her titles and her role as the ruling sultan’s mother (RCEA No. 4146). Like its counterpart on the western portal, this foundation inscription is placed high up on the façade, and legibility from the ground is limited.
The chronology of the building beyond the date of construction of the mosque, clearly indicated in the inscriptions just discussed, is unclear. Scholars have suggested two possible sequences of construction that affect interpretation of the monument. Art historian Albert Gabriel and, later, archaeologist Mahmud Akok suggested that the mosque and the madrasa were built in close succession, perhaps as a single project and that the mausoleum was added later, at an unknown date.
Archaeologist Haluk Karamağaralı suggested that the site of the mausoleum was occupied by a baptistery or similar Christian structure before the Seljūq conquest of Kayseri, and that the mosque and madrasa were added later to transform the site into an Islamic place of worship and commemoration. This hypothesis finds a correlation in what little information is available about the patron. Māhperī Khātūn was probably born as a Christian who converted to Islam after the death of her husband, Seljūq sultan ‘Alā’ al-Dīn Kayqubād, in 1237. Hence, the mosque – built in 635/1238 – may have been her first act of patronage as a Muslim. This point of chronology is not easily solved, and it does not supersede the fact that the patron’s mausoleum clearly dominates the complex. Its position at the juncture between mosque and madrasa emphasises the commemoration of Māhperī Khātūn. The mausoleum is undated, and adorned only by a Qur’ānic inscription (II: 255, the so-called Throne Verse) that runs along the top of the octagonal section, just below the muqarnas cornice at the base of the dome. The mausoleum stands in a small courtyard, visible only from the entrance to the mosque. One of the funerary structure’s eight walls is connected to the madrasa; the latter extends to the north, at a ninety-degree angle to the mosque. The mausoleum used to be surrounded by tombstones, of which only a few badly decayed fragments survive, forming a little graveyard in the vicinity of the main tomb, and protected by its enclosure. On the northern side, access to the mausoleum is possible from a side chamber of the adjacent madrasa.
The mausoleum of the Māhperī Khātūn Complex is built of the same dark grey stone as the mosque and madrasa, but its base consists of rows of muqarnas in white marble. Inside the mausoleum, three stone cenotaphs mark burials. A miḥrāb (prayer niche) in the interior wall of the mausoleum marks the qibla, that is, the direction of Mecca as the guiding line of Muslim prayer. The lower level of the mausoleum, the burial chamber or crypt where the bodies of the deceased would have either been buried in the ground or, in parallel to other examples from medieval Anatolia, placed on the floor in wooden coffins, is entirely closed off.
- Akok, M. ‘Kayseri’de Hunad Mimari Külliyesinin rölövesi’, Türk Arkeoloji Dergisi XVI/1 (1967), 6–7.
- Blessing, P. ‘Buildings of Commemoration in Medieval Anatolia: The Funerary Complexes of Sahib Ata and Mahperi Khatun’, al-Masāq: Journal of the Medieval Mediterranean 27, no. 3 (December, 2015), 225-252, doi: 10.1080/09503110.2015.1102494.
- Blessing, P. ‘Women Patrons in Medieval Anatolia and a Discussion of Māhbarī Khātūn’s Mosque Complex in Kayseri’, Belleten (Türk Tarih Kurumu) LXXVIII, no. 282 (August, 2014), 475-526
- Eastmond, A. ‘Gender and Patronage between Christianity and Islam in the Thirteenth Century’, Change in the Byzantine World in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, 1 Uluslararası Sevgi Gönül Bizans Araştırmaları Sempozyumu / First International Sevgi Gönül Byzantine Studies Symposium, eds. A. Ödekan, E. Akyürek, N. Necipoğlu (Istanbul, 2010), 78-88.
- Gabriel, A. Les monuments turcs d’Anatolie (Paris, 1931), vol. 1, 39-50.
- Karamağaralı, H. ‘Kayseri’deki Hunat Camisinin restitüsyonu ve Hunat Manzumesinin kronolojisi hakkında bazı mülahazalar’, Ankara Üniversitesi İlahiyat Fakültesi Dergisi 21 (1976), 207-21.