Karatay Madrasa in Konya
Today we are going to the middle of Anatolia, where once Seljuks were ruling their empire. If you wonder who are Seljuks, then continue reading below.
At the beginning of 11th century, the area in the central Asia from Caspian Sea till Indian Ocean, was led by the Ghaznavids (Gazneliler in Turkish). Some time they led some nomads from the Turkic Oghuz clan to live on their lands. Later these nomads moved down to Khorasan, most part of which is today’s north eastern part of Iran. Khorasan is a Persian name which means the land of the rising sun. Yes, in history you can find cool names.
Anyway, this movement later caused a conflict and those nomads defeated the Ghaznavids and this was the beginning of the Seljuk Empire.
Under the leadership of two brothers, Toghril Beg (Tuğrul Bey) and Chaghri Beg (Çağrı Bey), the Seljuks conquered Khorasan and continued their invasion by taking Baghdad in 1055. Within a short period of time, the Seljuk Empire extended their lands from Central Asia till some parts of Anatolia.
But in the second half of the 12th century, they began to fall apart. As the Turkic – Mongol tradition of inheritance, their territory was divided among the members of the family. Although the last Seljuk Sultan was killed in 1194, a bunch of minor dynasties found life from the ruins of the Seljuk Empire. One of them later called as the Sultanate of Rum or the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate.
They were the only ones who managed to remain from the former Seljuk Empire. They could survive till the middle of the 13th century, until Mongols invaded Anatolia and divided it into small emirates, which later all were conquered by the Ottomans.
Ok, enough with the history, now let’s get to the cultural part.
During the Seljuk period, Islam itself was almost 400 years old, but it was quite new for the Turks and Seljuks promoted this new religion with a splendid program especially by building madrasas, which can be count as today’s schools. The building which I will introduce you today is one of those madrasas.
This is the Karatay Madrasa in Konya, one of the biggest cities of modern Turkey. Its name comes from Celaleddin Karatay, a powerful vizier who made this madrasa built. The construction finalized in 1251 and its architect is unknown.
The building now hosts the ceramic tile section of the Konya Museum. This means that you won’t only see some beautiful colored tiles on the walls of the madrasa, but some more impressive samples from Seljuks and Ottomans too.
Seljuks developed a number of new artistic techniques and forms of expression and in ceramics they created highly detailed patterns. Figurative motifs were used a lot during their time and this is one of the reason which makes their art interesting for me. While with Ottomans motifs were getting more abstract, in Seljuk time they had depictions of human and animals. I find their almond shaped eyes and high cheekbones quite charming.
But the tiles are not the reason that I brought you in here. The large hall in the center of the building creates an impressive atmosphere. That hall is covered with a huge dome which is rising on triangular pendentives. These kind of pendentives are also known as Turkish triangle.
The center of this dome at the top is open for skylight. It was fully open back then when it was built, now they have windows there. Just under this skylight, in the middle of the hall there is a pool. This central space makes you feel that there is some kind of power which is far above you. But unlike the mosques with huge domes where you feel that you are just a simple human being, this madrasa hugs you.
I know photos are not enough to describe this, you need to be there to get that feeling. I was thinking how that mysterious architect achieved this? I believe by using the correct scale and proportions. Back then I was not shooting much videos, so let me try to explain this on photos.
This is a square planned room and the height of the wall till those Turkish triangles and the height of the wall with the triangles and the height of that dome are if not equal, quite close to each other. It is almost like a hemisphere on the top of a cube. I guess this creates a balanced space. Not too vertical as in a traditional church or not too wide as in a traditional mosque. Yes, madrasas are not temples but when we see a dome, we compare with the images in our head, don’t we?
Such vaulted chambers (like on the photo below) with an arched opening on one side called as iwan (eyvan) and both sides of this iwan, there are rooms with smaller domes above. One of those rooms has the tomb of Celaleddin Karatay, the patron of this madrasa.
Apart from that tempting central space, the building has couple of more unique features as well. As in many madrasas the portal has beautiful stone works. But unlike a usual muqarnas which has a hat-like shape, Karatay Madrasa’s muqarnas on its portal is like cut out at the top.
You may tell that this is too much detail to pay attention. But there is more. These portals mostly are aligned in the center of the facade. Here that mysterious architect again had a trick. He put it on the left, not in the middle. I would like to have couple of words with that architect. But my mistake, I am late a bit.
So, do you like to visit old buildings and find some corners there which are interesting for you? Let me know by writing down on comments section.
About Karatay Madrasa (first one in English, second in Turkish)
More on Karatay Madrasa (in Turkish)
10 books about Seljuks (in Turkish)