Architecture Under Seljuk Patronage (1038-1327)

by Rabah Saoud Published on: 13th April 2003

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The Seljuks were the first Turkish dynasty to rule the Muslim World reviving the dying Caliphate. Their arrival marked the introduction of the four Iwan mosque concept, the Caravanserais (Khans) and baroque art that spread to Europe in the 16th century.

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Muslim Architecture under Seljuk Patronage (1038-1327) by Rabah Saoud


The Seljuks were the first Turkish dynasty to rule the Muslim World reviving the dying Caliphate. Their arrival introduced a fresh inspiration marked by their religious devotion and strong leadership. This period is renown for the spread of two unique building complexes; the caravanserais which denoted the Seljuk’s enthusiasm to trade and commerce, and the Madrassa which reflected their desire to promote learning. This engendered prosperity and produced the desired intellectual and artistic revival for architectural and decorative activities. This series of 6 articles (linked below) concentrates on the architectural and artistic contribution of this dynasty. In its first stage, the analysis deals with some of the most prominent edifices of this period based on their innovative character. Later, the emphasis shifts to assess the Seljuk’s contribution to further development of Muslim architecture through a summary of the key architectural elements they introduced.


The first Turkish contact with the political power in Islam was in the 11th century at the hands of the Seljuks. Herdsmen descending from a Turkish tribe called Ghuz, these people converted from old Shamanism, the central Asian religion, to Islam in the tenth century. Since then they became devout Muslims striving to defend and proclaim it in all circumstances. Their rule quickly expanded to Persia, Azerbaijan and Mesopotamia entering Abassid Baghdad in 1055, then Fatimid Syria and Palestine. They defeated the Byzantines in the battle of Manzikert in 1071 and managed to hold and pacify eastern and central Asia Minor. Under religious devotion, strong leadership and social justice, the Muslim Caliphate regained its prosperity and prestige. In cultural and religious terms, this period saw the rise of mysticism known as Sufism.

In scientific and intellectual life, names such as al-Ghazali (1038-1111), in theology, and Umar Al-Khayam in poetry were some of the most renown personage of this era. In artistic and architectural production, this period was considered, by Grabar, as the second epoch of Islamic classicism, reviving the great works of the Ummayads and the Abbassids. The variety and quality of its ornaments and the adequacy of its architectural techniques and forms brought a new breath of inspiration to Muslim architects and masons world-wide. Such creativity can be seen in the enormity of its monuments especially in Persia, Anatolia and Muslim Asia Minor.

Due to the vast area the Seljuk controlled, historians often refer to them as Seljuk of the West (Seljuk of the Rum and Anatolia), and Seljuk of the East (of Persia). Western provinces, with their capital Konya, suffered from the lack of peace at early stages, later prospered from Mediterranean trade and the activation of the old trade routes in Asia. Eastern provinces, and their capital Isfahan, however, enjoyed considerable calm and had greater architectural heritage from both the Sassanian and Abbasid past easily nurtured architectural and artistic activities. Persia in particular saw one of its most prosperous periods.

The astonishing speed in which the Seljuks adapted the general character of Islamic architecture in all their edifices was partly due to the employment of Arab and Iranian architects and masons. This was in addition to the religious devotion of Seljuk leaders who identified more with Islam rather than with their geographical origin. Meanwhile, the cultural amalgamation, resulting from the contact of the Seljuks with Persians and central Asians, enriched their architecture and introduced a number of new features, techniques and building types. The first of these was the use of both, stone and brick material, the former extensively used in Rum (Anatolia) while the latter was chiefly used in Iran. This dual use of material and the advanced technical methods employed in the construction in load-bearing systems and vaults show the influence of local environments and building culture (see Mitchell, et al. 1978).

Contribution of the Seljuks to Muslim Architecture

There are numerous innovative architectural contributions made during the Seljuk Dynasty. Some of these are listed below:

  • Introducing the new concept of the four Iwan mosque.
  • Covering the courtyard which was widely used in Anatulia to cope with climatic circumstances.
  • Expanding the use of Madrassa to spread learning in the Islamic world.
  • Expanding and elaborating the Mausoleum architecture.
  • Introducing Caravanserais (Khans).
  • Advancing the use of the conical dome.
  • Promoting the use of muqarnas motifs.
  • Introducing the first elements of the baroque art that spread to Europe in the 16th century.

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