Izzeddin Keykavus Tomb Gok Madrasa in Sivas, Turkey


The Beauty of 13th Century Seljuk Architecture...

Sivas is one of the most ancient and important settlements in Central Anatolia Turkey. The ancient name of Sivas was Sebastea which was later transformed into the city. The recent excavations date the first settlements in the area back to 8th century BC.

Subdued by many civilizations throughout the history, Sivas contains an extraordinary abundance of historical traces belonging to Hittites, Medes, Persians, Alexander the Great, Roman Empire, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman Empire.

The Great Mosque & The Hospital at Divrigi

Divrigi is a county seat in Sivas province located in eastern Anatolia. The site is situated 177 km south-east of Sivas at an altitude of 1.250 meters. It is bordered on the east by Ilic, in Erzincan province; on north and west by Imranli and Kangal, both in Sivas province; on the south by Hekimhan, in Malatya province. Divrigi was important during Seljuk times, especially under Mengucek rule (1071-1252) when it was the capital of their emirate.

The complex, built on the south-west slope of the citadel mound, comprises the Great Mosque, the Hospital attached to it on the south, and the Tomb on the northwest side of the Hospital. Several scholars suggest that the "Bekir Cavus Bath" almost 40 meters south-west of the complex and the "Fountain" situated 2 meters south of the Hospital are also part of the complex, making a total of five buildings.

The Great Mosque and Hospital drew the attention and interest of numerous local and foreign travelers and scholars. Evliya Celebi, William Francis Ainsworth, Vital de Cuinet, V.W.A. Yorke, Max van Berchem, Albert Gabriel, and Von der Osten all describe the buildings with praise.

The History of The Settlement

The earliest settlement of Sivas can be traced as far back as the Hittites. The region came under Persian control in 550 BC. After a brief occupation by the Macedonians in 334 BC, it fell within the borders of the kingdom of Cappadocia in 330 BC. After the annexation of Divrigi and Cappadocia to the Roman Empire, it came under the domain of the kingdom of Pontus and Sassanids respectively. The region was called "Tephrike" during the Byzantine period. In the 1080's we find Divrigi under the control of the Danishmendid emirate. In 1142, an independent state was subsequently organized around Sivas until, in 1228-29, it was compelled to recognize the suzerainty of the Seljuks. The chief monuments of Divrigi were erected during this period, especially from the last decade of the 11th to the first half of the 13th century. Following the Battle of Kosedag in 1243, though sacked by the Mongols, Divrigi still continued to depend upon minor local dynasties. For a time reunited with the Ottoman possessions by Sultan Bayezid I in 1397-98, it was later captured by the Mamluks. Finally, during, the reign of Sultan Selim I, Divrigi became Ottoman in 1516. Under the Ottoman Empire, it remained a sanjak until 1850, when it became a lieutenant governorship. During the reorganization of Sivas in 1922, it became a county seat.

In 1937, the Sivas-Erzurum railway line was routed through Divrigi. The exploitation of local iron ore deposits revitalized the regional economy.

At Divrigi were located the following buildings besides the Great Mosque complex: on the north part of the settlement is the Castle (Sehinsah) Mosque dating to 1180-81; on the south-west, the Tomb of Emir Kamereddin in a cemetery dating to 1196; on the north-west of the complex, the Tomb of Sitte Melik (Sehinsah) dating to 1195-96; on the south part of the site, tile Tomb of Nureddin Salih dating to 1240-41; south of this building, the Tomb of Nasreddin Muhammed dating to 1469 or 1489; southwest of the Kamereddin Tomb, the undated Anonymous Tomb. These monuments are mostly from the Mengucek Period.


The inscriptions of the complex give the construction dates of the two main buildings, the names of the founders, and the artists. The mosque was constructed during the reign of the Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I by the order of the Mengucek prince Ahmed Sah whereas the construction of the Hospital was begun by the order of Turan Melek Sah, the daughter of Fahreddin Behramsah, both built in 1228-29 by the architect Hurremsah of Ahlat. From the inscription on the pulpit dating to 1240-41 and giving the name of the founder, we can assume that the construction continued up to this date. Other artists were responsible for the east window (originally the portal of the sultan's loge; decorator Ahmed of Ahlat), pulpit (Ahmed of Tiflis) and the painted decoration inside the mosque (Ahmed, the son of Mehmed). The complex of the Great Mosque and Hospital, with its five artist inscriptions, is a very important example amongst the Seljuk monuments, which usually bear only one or two inscriptions indicating the names of the artists. It also brings to light a very significant problem concerning the team-work of artists conducted during the Seljuk period, which unfortunately can only be traced from inscriptions and rare literary sources.


The buildings of the complex have been restored several times from the 16th century up to the present. These restorations were mostly carried out on the west facade, east portal and the interiors. However, the basic scheme and decoration do not appear to have been greatly modified. The minaret at the north-west corner of the mosque is not original. According to the inscription on the shaft, it was constructed in 1565 by order of the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent.

The Great Mosque

The mosque has a longitudinal plan in its north-south axis. Besides the portals on the north and west facades, there is a monumental window on the southern part of the east facade which was originally the portal opening to the sultan's loge and was later replaced by a window. Twelve octagonal piers in two rows with pointed arches divide the interior into twenty-five units. The largest section in front of the mihrab (prayer niche) is covered with a ribbed dome borne on squinches, whereas the central unit is covered by a dome with an oculus. Both domes have octagonal drums expressed externally. The five domes of the west section are not original but are assumed to have been altered from vaults during restorations. The remaining spaces are covered with a highly inventive system of ribbed vaults. One of these covers the original sultan's loge. This building is one of the few significant examples bearing the original sultan's loge from the Seljuk period.

Traces of red, white and some green paint can still be observed on the mihrab dome, transitional elements, vaults and the beams of the sultan's loge. The originally painted brushwork of this building is one of the rare surviving examples amongst Seljuk monuments.

The cut-stone mihrab has a semi-circular niche and the half-dome covering the niche is decorated with scrollworks and floral patterns (especially palmettes), partly in high-relief. The pulpit located to the western part of the mihrab is built of timber and represents one of the best examples amongst Seljuk timber-work pulpits with its geometric interlaces. Especially the vaults are decorated with floral and geometric interlaces mostly distributed freely.

Although the interior is highly decorative, the most remarkable elements of the mosque are the portals on north and west facades as well as the monumental window on the east facade. Besides these elements entirely dominant to the building with their size, structure, and decoration, the facades are very plain. The impressive north portal is named "Baroque portal" by the scholars for its incomparable, partly high-relief splendid floral and geometric interlaces. Palmettes in vases are also seen. The most remarkable feature of the portal amongst the other examples of the Seljuk period is not merely the high-relief interlaces or floral motives projecting from the surface, but also the decoration unlimited within the defined outlines of the framework as observed on most Seljuk portals. On the contrary, most of the decorative elements, especially the floral ones are freely distributed on the surface.

The west portal, compared with the north one is less monumental and bears more superficial decoration. The decorative elements, limited within the defined outlines of the bands and niches composing of floral and geometric patterns covering the whole surface reminds textile-work and is called "Textile portal" by the scholars. In addition, the stalactite niches on both sides of the portal are decorated with figural representations. On the north, there are single and double-headed eagles, whereas on the south only a double-headed eagle can be observed. The single-headed eagle is said to symbolize the founder and the double-headed one the Seljuk Sovereign, most probably the Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I.

The east window, originally a portal opening to the sultan's loge was later replaced by a window. The stalactite portal niche with a pointed arch is surrounded from each side by two bands adorned with floral and geometric interlaces respectively. The structure and decoration of this portal bear many characteristic features common in most of the monumental portals from the Seljuk period and is called the "Seljuk portal" by scholars.

The Hospital

The Hospital, attached to the south wall of the mosque, is known to have been used as a madrasa during the 18th century. The rectangular building lids a longitudinal plan in its east-west axis. The building, with its closed courtyard and three-aiwan scheme, is two-storeyed in its west and south flanks. The courtyard is divided into nine cross-like units by pointed arched pillars. The central section having an octagonal pond is covered with a canopy. On the east, the rectangular chamber built as a tomb, attached to the north side of the main aiwan is divided into two parts by a pointed arch on the west; the west section is covered with a barrel vault whereas the east one with a dome borne on squinches. There are sixteen sarcophagi inside. The sarcophagus on the west, in the first row after the entrance covered with turquoise-glazed bricks, belongs to the founder of the Hospital, Turan Melek; the second one from the west in the middle row, covered with hexagonal turquoise tiles, belongs to the founder of the mosque, Ahmedsah. The remaining parts of the building are covered with ribbed vaults, resembling the ones in the mosque.

The portal of the hospital on the west facade is surrounded by pointed arch-shaped moldings. An arched window divided into two by a column can be seen on top of the pointed-arched gateway. The portal, quite different in arrangement from the portals of the mosque, bear superficial decorative elements like the west portal and high-relief ones like the north portal. Concerning the structure of the portal with projecting moldings and quite unfamiliar elements, it is called the "Gothic Portal" by scholars. The portal is decorated with floral, geometric and figural motives. The mutilated figures on both sides of the portal representing two human heads are considered as the symbols of moon and sun, in relation to earlier representations especially found on minor artworks in Central Asia. The other two heads on the north side of the portal are most probably the representation of the founders or the artists.

The complex of the Great Mosque at Divrigi, Sivas embracing three (or possibly five) buildings is a unique monument bearing various influences with its two unfamiliar buildings attached to each other; the ribbed mihrab dome and the variety of vaults, existence of the sultan's loge, the unusual arrangement and decoration of the mihrab, painted brushwork inside the mosque; the structure and quite unaccustomed various decorative elements as well as the artists indicated by the inscriptions as coming from Ahlat and Tiflis besides several other unknown ones.