Certain aspects of Seljuk Architecture

SELJUK 001Interlocking stonework detail Ala’ al-Din Kay-Qubadh Kullyesi, Source: Aga Khan Visual Archive

Hundreds and hundreds of pages could be written about Seljuk Architecture. This is just a short impression, regarding certain aspects of architecture, regarding mostly the construction of religious structures, notably MADRASAS.



Seljuks or Selçuklular in Turkish, was a dynasty ruling from the 10th century in the Sultanate of Rum, establishing the Seljuk Empire, which comprised the territories from Anatolia to Persia… Following the conquest of Baghdad in 1055, the Seljuk dynasty, descendants of the Central Asian Oghuz tribe, established hegemony over the most of West Asia, including the present-day territories of Iran, Iraq, and Syria.

Selçuklular 1 

Military campaigns on the Byzantine frontier eventually led to the Battle of Manzikert (modern Malazgirt in eastern Turkey) in 1071 and the Seljuk victory defined the territory of Anatolia as the future Turkic settlement. A branch of the Seljuks started ruling from Nicaea (Iznik) in northwestern Anatolia (1078–81) and became known as the Seljuks of Rum (“Rome”), referring to the Roman Byzantine past of the Seljuk territories.


The Çifte Minareli Medrese in Erzurum, Turkey (Bjorn Christian Torrissen, 2009)

The first half of the thirteenth century corresponds to the zenith of Seljuk power in Anatolia until their defeat by the Ilkhanids, the Mongol dynasty ruling in Iran, at the Battle of Köse Dagh (1243), after which the Seljuks became the Mongol vassals.

SELJUK 004Ala’ al-Din Kay-Qubadh Kullyesi, Source: Aga Khan Visual Archive

Before the defeat and especially during the reign of Ala’ al-Din Kay-Qubadh (r. 1220–37), the Seljuk realm witnessed tremendous commercial, artistic, and cultural activity, the heart of which was the new Seljuk capital, KONYA. 


Ala’ al-Din Kay-Qubadh Kullyesi, Source: Aga Khan Visual Archive


Anatolia was practically the new territory to Islam and the Seljuks were among the first to cultivate ISLAMIC ART AND ARCHITECTURE in these areas. The sultans of Rum adopted Perso-Islamic traditions and, for the most part, maintained established designs, materials, and techniques in their mosques, madrasas, mausolea, caravanserais, and palaces.


Ala’ al-Din Kay-Qubadh Kullyesi, Interior; Source: Alexander Ostrovsky, 2012

The Ala’ al-Din Mosque (1156–1220), the Karatay (1252) and Ince Minareli (1258) madrasas in Konya, the Sifahiye (1217–18) and Gök madrasas (1271) in Sivas, the Great Mosque and Hospital in Divrigi (1228–29), the Khuand Khatun complex in Kayseri (1237–38), and the Cifte Minareli Madrasa in Erzurum (1253) are among the important examples of monumental ANATOLIAN SELJUK ARCHITECTURE.

Ince Minaret Medrese in Konya, Turkey.

Ince Minareli Madrasa, Konya


In the arts, the use of luster- and overglaze-painted tiles, as well as creations in wood and metal, are especially noteworthy.

h2_1976.245Tile panel with sphinx, Seljuks of Rum period (1081–1307), late 12th–early 13th century; Turkey, probably Konya; Stone-paste; overglaze-painted and gilded [In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000] http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1976.245

The characteristic features of Seljuk architecture include:

  • Stone portal façades carved in deep relief
  • Small covered courtyards
  • Vaulted structures and
  • The introduction of tiles as architectural decoration.

h2_aselj3 The traditional Islamic architectural style with geometrical and vegetal themes lead to figural carving on both – religious and secular buildings. The expansion and development of geometry through Islamic art and architecture can be related to the growth of science and technology in the Middle East, Iran, and Central Asia during the 8th and 9th centuries. By the 10th century, original Muslim contributions to science became significant: the earliest written document on geometry in the Islamic history of science is that authored by Khwarizmi in the early 9th century.

Gök Madrasa (1271) in Sivas.
Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Seljuks exerted tremendous efforts in transforming their ornaments from floral and figural into geometrical decorations, and their architecture is strongly characterized by geometrical patterns. Seljuk architects and artisans designed sophisticated patterns; abstract 6- and 8-point geometrical patterns can be observed throughout this era. The abstract 6-point patterns, are based on Tetractys motifs, were extensively used by Muslim architects in both Seljuk and late Fatimid buildings. During the late 11th and early 12th century, 5- and 8-point star concepts were frequently used in decorative elements and the techniques of integrating these decorative concepts with structural elements had already been invented.


Buyuk Karatay Madrasa, Konya, Source: Aga Khan Visual Archive

Apart from the common 6- and 8-point geometrical patterns, other amazing patterns can be found on the walls of the southern domed area, which dates back to 1086 CE. The first wall features the rarest examples of patterns containing a heptagon, and another wall is adorned with what may be one of the earliest examples of 10-point geometrical patterns.


Ala’ al-Din Kay-Qubadh mosque, Konya: woodwork on the minbar

The citadel mosque of Ala’ al-Din Kay-Qubadh in KONYA is a great example of Seljuk eclecticism. Built in the mid-eleventh century, restored in 1219 by Kay-Qubadh, was a hypostyle in an early Islamic tradition. It has an imposing stone wall and a marble and stone doorway in the Syrian style, but also a conical dome. The Seljuks created a fine dome before the MIHRAB, making the transition by clusters of triangular pendentives. 8, 12- point rosette patterns were used for the decoration of Ala’ al-Din Kay-Qubadh mosque. By the early thirteenth century, the Seljuk style had become apparent.

SELJUK 008Ala’ al-Din Kay-Qubadh Mosque in Konya: Mihrab and minbar. Source: Art and Architectural History, Urban Design – Marlboro College


Ince Minareli Madrasa, Detail, Konya,  Source: Aga Khan Visual Archive

MADRASAS were educational institutions that first appeared in Islamic countries. Before madrasahs, mosques were used as schools only outside the hours of worship and the education consisted solely of making students memorize the Holy Qur’an and giving them religious information. The earliest MADRASAS date from the 10th century and the famous Anatolian Seljuk MADRASAS were built in 12th and 13th century.

Original plans occur in the MADRASAS:

  • built around small courtyards roofed with domes or vaults with the central courtyard surrounded with arcades, with a varying number of IWANS, of which one was always connected with the entrance and sometimes framed by two high minarets, as well as possibly an IWAN on the QIBLA side serving as a prayer hall.

PLAN MADRASSAPlan:  İnce Minareli Madrasa in Konya, Source: Foundation for Science Technology and Civilization, Muslim Heritage

Anatolian Seljuk Madrasahs have two main plan type:

  • Open court madrasas and
  • Covered court madrasas.

A courtyard, iwan, winter classroom and student cells are found in all of the madrasas constructed by Anatolian Seljuks. In addition to these architectural elements, some madrasas also have elements like masjids, türbes, fountains and minarets.

This architectural plan layout always repeated and developed after Anatolian Seljuks Civilization. General architectural features of Anatolian Seljuks Madrasas is unique to Anatolia.

INCE MIARELLI 008Some of the most important MADRASAS include: İnce Minareli Madrasa and Karatay Madrasa in Konya; Çifte Madrasa and Sahibiye Madrasa in Kayseri; Buruciye Madrasa, Çifte Minareli Madrasa and Gök Madrasa in Sivas; Çifte Minareli Madrasa and Yakutiye Madrasah in Erzurum; Cacabey Madrasa in Kirşehir.

Seljuk Anatolian architecture was considered highly original. The area was one of the latest Islamic provinces developed in medieval times: inspired by a variety of sources from Iran, Syria and Arabia and the Christian traditions of Anatolia and the wider tradition of Byzantine architecture.

İnce Minareli Madrasa in Konya, Source: Foundation for Science Technology and Civilization, Muslim Heritage


Buyuk Karatay Madrasa, Konya, Source: Aga Khan Visual Archive

The famous ‘Turkish Triangle’ started to emerge, as a “rationalization” of the pendentive with the simple geometric forms: a combination of long triangles gave greater movement and vigor to the passage from square to dome.


Buyuk Karatay Madrasa, Konya, Source: Aga Khan Visual Archive

Seljuk architecture is referred to as a ‘bold eclecticism with dignity of form and fineness of detail’. It is also considered the first architectural artistic movement in Islamic architecture, followed by the Mamluks.



Mevlana Celaeddin Rumi Turbesi ve Dergahi, Konya, Source: Aga Khan Visual Archive

Citations, Photos and References: 

Abdullahi Y, Bin Embi MR. Evolution of Islamic geometric patterns. Frontiers of Architectural Research (2013) 2, 243-251

Anatolian Seljuks Madrasahs. Permanent Delegation of Turkey to UNESCO. Apr. 2014

ARCHNET, Version 2.0 (2014), Aga Khan Trust for Culture / Aga Khan Documentation Center; http://archnet.org/

Discovering Seljuk Art in Konya. Bilikent University. The Department of Archaeology and History of Art, Newsletter No.3, 2004

Krajwski N. What are the distinctive features of the art and architecture of the Seljuks of Rum? Essay, University of London, Jan. 2011

Yalman S. The Art of the Seljuq Period in Anatolia (1081–1307). Department of Education, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000 – 2015;

About necessities123editor

Necessities123... "We live in an age where unnecessary things are our only necessities." [O. Wilde]
This entry was posted in Architecture & Design, Art: Ars altera pars, Design, History of art, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Certain aspects of Seljuk Architecture

  1. Anil Tiwari says:

    As a professional govt guide, it’s very very fruitful information to me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s