Ince Minare Madrasa

Ince Minare Madrasa is one of the most impressive structures introduced by the Seljuks to endorse the central plan scheme that was to dominate much of their late architecture and that of their Ottoman successors.

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Figure 1. The general plan of Ince minaret madrasa (1260-65)

Erected in Konya between 1260-65 CE, Ince Minare Madrasa meaning "The College of the Slender Minaret" is one of the most impressive structures produced by the Seljuks using the central plan scheme that was to dominate much of their late architecture and that of their Ottoman successors. This new design approach replaced the centrality of the traditional courtyard with a domed space giving it additional symbolism and mysticism. Ince Minare is also famous for its magnificent portal which displayed a high degree of attention and combines sophisticated design and skilful decoration rarely seen in another Muslim building.

It is widely accepted that the Seljuks who ruled between 1038-1327 were the real patrons of the madrasa, developing it into a recognisable building type designed essentially for public use. Pre-Seljuk madrasas were of a private domestic and non-official nature, usually houses with little structural or spatial alterations. The Seljuks were the first to develop a particular building form designed for teaching activity, giving the madrasa an official character [1]. These developments encouraged the spread of this building type across most of the Muslim lands initiating unprecedented learning activity. Anatolia, which was the centre of the Seljuk rule, received the majority of these structures with sources counting more than 200 surviving Anatolian madrasas [2], Konya, the Seljuk capital, alone had about twenty four [3]. The most fascinating of these buildings are without a doubt the Karatay (1251) and Ince madrasas.

Architecture and Plan of the Madrassa

Ince Minare Madrassa was built by architect Kelul ibn Abdallah [4], originally as an annex to a mosque, now in ruin. The madrasa consists of a square area arranged in a T-plan scheme. The qibla side contains the prayer hall, in the form of iwan flanked by a pair of dome chambers. Beyond this area, is a large space covered by a huge dome penetrated by a lantern whose main function was to provide light, an indication of the adaptation of the traditional open courtyard. Two sets of four dwelling cells were arrayed on the sides of this "enclosed court". At the front projects an entrance vestibule leading to the central domed space and behind it the prayer iwan. Close to the gateway stands the slender minaret which inspired the name of the madrasa. However, much of its original fabric was destroyed by lightening in 1901 [5], completely destroying its upper sections. The minaret originally had two balconies rising on a square masonry shaft which in a second stage was converted into an octagonal base of brick. The shaft of the first storey that rises above this has alternating segmental and angular sides, separated by reeds and ornamented with diagonally-coursed glazed brick ends producing blue-lined geometrical lozenges. The use of brick decoration is not unique to Ince madrasa as the Seljuks are known to decorate their minarets with both glazed tiles and bricks. Glazed tiles were widely used in Persia but bricks were more of Anatolian and Asian preferences; for example bricks forming geometrical patterns were inserted in the Yakutiye Madrasa in Erzerum (1308). In fact the whole cylindrical surface of this minaret is cut diagonally with projecting coursed brick bands forming a rigid mesh. On the other hand at the Ulu Jami and Guduk Minare in Sivas, the pointing between the bricks is recessed and the bricks are widely spaced, so that each brick seems to hover in free suspension [6].

Figure 2. The madrasa minaret and entrance

Returning to the central domed space, the main feature of this edifice, evidence shows that this design theme was first experimented with in Karatay Madrassa (Konya, 1251) where the traditional court was abandoned in favour of a huge central dome equipped with a lantern. The dome itself, as in Karatay, was supported on sets of four triangular fan pendentives, although here they are of bare bricks with recessed pointing forming long striations which are appealing in their own way.

The reason behind the adoption of this spatial configuration can be attributed to a number of factors. The climatic conditions have been suggested by some scholars [7]arguing that the level of rainfall in the Anatolia region was higher than that in other parts of the Islamic world. The use of the courtyard in these conditions became inappropriate. Others, however, dismissed this explanation suggesting that the heat of the region, despite the seasonal rainfall, would favour the open madrasa.

Regional and historical preferences provided a good explanation for many western academics. The spread of the Seljuk rule to Anatolia, an area of already well developed Roman and Byzantine architecture, had its influence on the general character of their architecture in the region and well beyond. The dome has been a central feature of the pre-Seljuk Anatolian architecture and the above plan with its large central dome and smaller domed or vaulted areas surrounding it recalls a standard type of Anatolian Byzantine church. Moreover, the prayer iwan and the domed chambers on its sides evoke the apse of these churches flanked by diaconicon and prothesis[8].

Figure 3. Ince Minare portal showing details of tapestry work and the bands of calligraphy forming a knot above the door arch

Turkish academics, such as Kuran[9] , provided a more sustainable explanation relating this phenomenon to a process of evolution which was derived from the interchanging uses and types of medieval Islamic buildings. The most typical example is undoubtedly the madrasa whose association with activities of burial and worship would make it natural for the forms of mausoleum and mosque to be integrated into its structure, slowly influencing its form and plan. This is indeed a reasonable justification. One cannot fail to notice the strong connection between the madrasa and these associations. The example of small madrasas is perhaps evidence which can prove this thesis. The madrasa of smaller surface area which receives a limited number of students does not need a large courtyard to accommodate this small number. In order to give the building extra identity and monumentality, the dome is placed on the central space, "while the memory of the courtyard would be retained by means of a skylight and/or a fountain". For these reasons the domed madrasa became popular all over Anatolia.

The Portal and its Decoration

The second element of the madrasa deserving our attention here is the portal. This gateway is considered by most academics as one of the most opulent works of Seljuk architectural decoration [10] . It is covered with a tapestry work incorporating a selection of some vegetal motifs, essentially leaves and fruits. Broad bands of concentrated Thuluth calligraphy, which interlace to form significant structural accents contrasting with the three-dimensional sculptural effect, provided a general framework for the whole decorative scheme. Another set of calligraphic bands was applied at the door recess springing from the base of its pointed arch. As they approach the summit they bend over each other in a knot fashion before they continue in parallel lines only to terminate at the top of the gate. The whole composition created a baroque effect; a style which later appeared in Europe in the 16th century. Again, this is not the first instance of portal sculpture as other examples are found in many buildings of Seljuk Anatolia, e.g. Ala- Al-Din Mosque (1223) and Sirtcheli Madrassa (1234). Furthermore, at the madrasa of Haji Kilij at Kayseri (1249), the gate was framed with a colonnette which later develops into a plat band followed by a low relief interlace brocade. However, the influence of Ulu Cami Mosque-hospital complex at Divrig[11](1228) is the most evident appearing in the vegetal sculptured trimmings in soft sandstone that decorate the corners of the big arch of the door recess of Ince madrassa. It should be noted that Seljuk sculpture/stucco work reached its zenith in this mosque complex, particularly in its northern portal where large leaves mixed with medallions which were executed in a three-dimensional scheme.


[1] See our article: Architecture Under Seljuk Patronage (1038-1327)

[2] Hillenbrand, R. (1994), ‘Islamic architecture: form, function and meaning', Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, p. 207.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jiarazbhoy put the date at 1251, see Jairazbhoy R. A. (1972), ‘An Outline of Islamic Architecture', Asia Publishing House; Bombay, Calcutta, New Delhi, Madras, Lucknow, Bangalore, London, New York., p.191.

[5] Michell, M. et al. (eds.) (1978), ‘Architecture of the Islamic World', Thames and Hudson, London, p.244

[6] Jairazbhoy R. A. (1972, op cit., p.198

[7] See for example Scerrato, U (1980), ‘Islam, Monuments of Civilisation', The Reader's Digest Association Ltd., London.

[8] Hillenbrand, R. (1994), op cit., p.211.

[9] Kuran, A. (1968), ‘The Mosque in Early Ottoman Architecture', Chicago: University of Chicago Press, London

[10] Scerrato, U (1980), op cit.

[11] Built under the patronage of Mengucekid ruler Ahmad Shah.

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