Karatay Han

Karatay Han, Kayseri

Patricia Blessing

Construction of the Karatay Han on the road from Kayseri to Malatya was probably begun under orders from sultan Alā al-Dīn Kayqubād I (r. 1220-37) in accordance with the practice of Seljuk rulers to commission their amirs to build elements of infrastructure. Its patron, Jalāl al-Dīn Qaraṭāy (d. 1254) was one of the Seljuk notables who remained in power after the Mongol conquest of Anatolia in 1243, and became a major patron once the sultans’ projects lapsed, and funds were freed up for personal investments. This is reflected in Jalāl al-Dīn Qaraṭāy’s endowment deed that establishes foundations centered on Konya, including the Karatay Medrese (completed in 1251-52).

The covered section was built during this initial phase of construction, which was probably interrupted for a few years after the death of the sultan until the project was revived again by Jalāl al-Dīn Qaraṭāy in 638/ 1241. Under his patronage, the courtyard was added to the foundation and a mausoleum was built. The latter, a rather unusual addition to a caravanserai, is heavily decorated with tiles and a carved frieze depicting animals. While Kurt Erdmann suggests that the founder’s burial is found here, but according to Osman Turan, it is more likely that Jalāl al-Dīn Qaraṭāy was buried in the mausoleum in his madrasa in Konya.

On the façade of the caravanserai, the portal forms a salient block, with frames surrounding a muqarnas hood over the doorway; the ornamentation on the frames is mostly geometric. The caravanserai consists of a courtyard and a covered section, a plan scheme common for thirteenth-century caravanserais in Anatolia. The portal of the covered section is also salient, yet with a simple pointed arch creating the frame for the doorway, and devoid of muqarnas. Suzan Yalman has argued that since the portal of the courtyard was completed later than that of the covered section, the patron had risen far enough in status to be able to build a muqarnas portal, an element rife with royal connotations in the early thirteenth century.

The size and wealth of the foundation were not lost on medieval observers. Writing about the Anatolian campaign that Mamluk sultan Baybars (r. 1260–77) undertook in 1277 against the Ilkhanids, the Syrian chronicler Ibn Faḍl-allāh al-ʿUmarī (d. 1349) described the monument, emphasizing its size, the wealth of materials used, and the services available for weary travellers.

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  • Aslanapa, Oktay, Turkish Art and Architecture, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971.
  • Crane, Howard Grant, “Materials for the Study of Muslim Architecture in Seljuq Anatolia: The Life and Works of Jalāl al-Dīn Qaraṭāy,” unpublished PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 1975.
  • Erdmann, Kurt, Das anatolische Karavansaray des 13. Jahrhunderts. 3 vols., Istanbuler Forschungen Bd. 21, 31, Berlin: Verlag Gebr. Mann, 1961–76, vol. 1, pp. 121–122
  • Ibn Faḍl Allāh al-‘Umarī, Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā. Al-‘Umarī’s Bericht über Anatolien in seinem Werke Masālik al-abṣār fī mamālik al-amṣār, edited by Franz Taeschner, Leipzig: O. Harrassowitz, 1929.
  • Turan, Osman, “Selçuklu devri vakfiyeleri III—Celâleddîn Karatay vakıfları ve vakfiyeleri,” Belleten XII (1948): 17–170.