Cosmic Motifs & Elements in Seljuk and Ottoman Architecture
all communities, religious architecture is shaped in conformity with
the functions required by the religious doctrine and the meanings and
contents of beliefs required by creeds. The form and order of a
sanctuary is also shaped in accordance with the religious principles
and the ritual essentials of the religion. Some fundamentals that were
brought about by the Holy Qur'an similarly gave rise to the form of the
mosque. Of these fundamentals, the most important one is "Arsh", namely
The literal meaning of the Throne is: altitude,
high place, ceiling, cover, the tent and it is used in the Qur'an and
in the Hadiths (the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) as "Divine
Sovereignty, Dignity and the Throne" (Devellioglu 1970: Ars.;
Golpinarli 1977: Ars, 1989:101; Akay 1991: Ars; DIA: Ars; IA: Kursu).
The concept of "Kursi" which occurred in Ayat al-Kursi in the Qur'an is
synonymous with the Throne that is attributed to "Allah" symbolically.
the metaphorical place from which Allah rules the world, the Throne is
the highest point of the cosmos. In the Qur'an, it is mentioned that
the Throne is over the waters (Huud: 7), it is carried by four angels
(Mu'min: 7) and eight angels will, on the Last Day, bear it (Haqqa:
17). He who created the cosmos is firmly established on the Throne
(Yunus: 3), (Ra'd: 2), (A'raaf: 54), (Ta-ha: 5), (Hadiid: 4), (Furqaan:
59), (Sajda: 4). His Throne extends over the heavens and the earth
(Baqara: 225). The Throne that has six directions and also, weight,
shade, corner and columns, is an enormous and valuable object that
stands over the heaven as a dome.
This concept has also been
used in the Old Testament (1. Kings: 22/19; Revelation: 7/11-12). Such
a similar concept might also have influenced Christian sanctuaries and
On the columns of the Throne is written the
declaration of Allah's Oneness (kalima-i tawhîd). According to the
Hadiths collected by Bukhari, the Throne - being on the waters before
the heavens and the earth are created - was also over the paradise that
was on the seventh stratum of heavens. As for Allah, He is over the
Throne. When commenting on the verse which says "the sun runs his
course for a period determined (or in a certain orbit)" (Ya-sin: 38),
the Prophet Muhammad said: "its orbit is below the Throne." That the concept of the Throne has the meaning of a frame with four corners is significant from our point of view.
the Seljuks came to Anatolia, they transmitted a kind of mosque plan
with them. This is the Cum'a Mosques in Isfahan, Ardistan and Zeware
which belong to the Iranian Seljuks and which have maintained their
essentials up today. They have a dome in front of the mihrab and an
iwan in front of it and side naves (sahn) constituting the sanctuary
(harîm). Not being isolated by a wall, the sanctuary opens itself to a
courtyard. The other three sides of the courtyard are surrounded by a
portico (revak), each of which has an iwan within and his connections
with the sanctuary. Moreover, in the middle of the courtyard at a point
where axes intersect each other, there is a square basin.
in Anatolia this type has undergone some variations. The part between
the basin and the iwan are covered by a vault and thus the courtyard
and basin are implied within the sanctuary. This time the basin was not
left open to the sky but instead covered by a dome with a lantern.
Being the archetypes of (Ulu) Great Mosques in Anatolia, Niksar (about
1135), Kayseri (about 1140), Erzurum (1197), Nigde (1225), Divrigi
(1228) and other mosques like Hunad in Kayseri (1237), Sahib Ata in
Konya (1258) and Esrefoglu in Beysehir (1299) and the others not
mentioned here are reproduced from the classical Anatolian Seljuk
scheme that has no side iwans and their basin is covered by a dome with
a lantern (Gabrial 1934: 177-178, Fig. 112; Kuban 1965:121-122;
Karamagarali 1976: 200-203). The most fundamental features of these
Anatolian Seljuk mosques - such as the height and width of the middle
nave and its dome in front of the mihrap, iwan, basin and dome with
lantern - come from the Iranian Seljuks. While the basin of the Iranian
Seljuks exists at the intersecting points of axes of the iwans, for the
Anatolian Seljuks it exists at a point where the axes of doors and main
The relationship we presume here is that the
basins (which are usually square and sometimes octagon) represent the
water which has taken place in the definition of the Throne and flows
under the Throne; the dome represents the heaven; the four pillars
which carry the dome represent the four angels carrying the Throne; and
the openness in the dome of the building refers to the concept of
ascension to heaven (Eliade 1991:158). This openness (lantern)
represents the centre of heaven (cosmos). It is in the middle of the
dome and since it is on the vertical axis, which is believed to bound
the earth and heaven, it represents the axis which is believed to pass
through the centre of the world (axis mundi) (Ardalan-Bakthtiar 1978:
75, Eliade 1991: 23-28). The placement of the basin, being right
beneath the dome carried by four pillars and on the intersection point
of axes of South and North, East and West of the mosque right under the
key stone and the lantern, metaphorically represents that the basin is
the centre of the sanctuary which is considered as a cosmos reduced for
human perception and that all cosmos takes place under and around the
Throne, which is on the uttermost stratum of the heaven, and that
Allah, the Absolute Sovereign, governs the cosmos from there.
far as Islamic philosophy is concerned, the concept of the Throne,
which is represented by the basin, the four pillars, the dome and the
lantern on the dome in a mosque, may refer to the conceptions that
Allah is eternal and pre-eternal, that He is over everything and their
only Sovereign and the Rule; all the cosmos is ruled from a single
centre. This can explain why this scheme appears in a place where one
can reach Allah and why it is just in the centre.
Alone with the
concept of the Throne, it is necessary to mention the iconographical
concept of "mandala" which is used in various ways in Turkish
architecture and which I suppose to have a close relationship with the
The mandala diagram has been taken as an example for some architectural plans.
means circle in Sanskrit, and is a symbolic drawing used in the rituals
and during meditations in Hinduism and Buddhism. Another definition of
mandala is circular diagram that one makes use of to obtain cosmic and
physical energy (Rawson 1978:211). According to Rawson it is a point in
which universal powers are gathered and it represents the cosmos as a
sacred area in which the gods dwell. Mandala is made to create a
microcosm and to reign over its elements. The mandala diagram has been
taken as an example for some architectural plans (Rawson 1982: 66).
shape of the cosmogram called mandala in architecture and handcrafts,
consists of a circle and a square, one within the other. While the
circle represents God, cosmos, mystical life, eternity, the world of
eternity and esoterical concepts; the square represents the world,
material life, worldly life and all exoterical concepts. This was
commonly used in Central Asia in the pre-Islamic life of Turks as well
as in India and Far East. However, we are not concerned here with the
origin and the development of the mandala but only with its parallelism
with the concept of the Throne.
The full meanings that the
square and the circle of the mandala include, both separately and
together, is in accordance with the philosophy of Islam. The plan with
four iwans and a central courtyard has been interpreted as an image of
the cosmos. This plan has a very long past; it has been identified with
the diagram of mandala and has been extensively applied in architecture
for centuries (Ogel 1986: 59-84; 1994: 63-115). The concept of mandala
which takes place in pre-Islamic Turkic beliefs and traditions, has
been united and integrated with the concept of the Throne, which has
played a significant role in the formation of religious architecture
Besides the mosque plans, the same ordinances with
respect to the Throne can be found in the madrasa and zaviya plans.
Some examples of these are Karatay Madrasa and Ince Minareli Madrasa in
Konya; Sahib Ata Hanegah in Konya; Karabas Veli Hanegah and Ibrahim Bey
Imaret in Karaman.
The Portal of Divrigi Ulu Mosque.
is not by accident that the mandala has been used as a motif outside
mosques, madrasas and zaviyes. Some instances of mandala motifs are:
the west portal of Divrigi Ulu Mosque and its door's wing, the window
on the north portal of Nigde Sungur Bey Mosque, the bases of the
minarets of Sivas Gok Madrasaand Cifte Minareli Madrasas and Erzurum
Hatuniye (Cifte Minareli) Madrasa which is very extensively decorated
with the words of Allah. These examples show how Turks were committed
to the Throne concept and gave an Islamic identity to the mandala while
uniting the two concepts.
we investigate Ottoman architecture, especially the buildings of the
sultan, we see the same mandala-Throne relationship. The same approach
exists in Bursa Yesil Mosque and Madrasa, Bursa Muradiye Madrasa and in
the Darussifa in Edirne Beyazid Kulliye. In Bursa Ulu Cami, the square
basin, which exists at the intersection point of, axes, is covered by a
dome with a lantern based on four pillars. Orbits and planets, which
exist at the eastern face of the wooden minbar of Ulu Cami of Bursa,
are a decorative indicator of the Throne's element.
The Portal of Erzurum Hatuniye Madrasa
Eski Cami, which is based on four pillars within a square plan, though
its basin has been removed, is another example of mandala-the Throne
composition having a dome with lantern where the axes passing through
the doors intersect each other (Ardalan-Bakthiar 1975: 31, 75, Fig.
49a). A square, made of nine equal squares is also a well-known
variation of mandala.
Selimiye Mosque, being the peak and the
masterpiece of the Ottoman Architecture, has great importance by using
cosmic motifs and elements like "mandala" and "the Throne" in perfect
harmony with its architectural structure. There are two great circles
on top of the gateway by which one can enter into the sanctuary through
the courtyard of the mosque. Having borders in three sides, it
represents a mandala. Besides, right in front of the door in the
basement, there is a mandala with a circular green stone in its centre;
and another mandala five meters towards the fountain with a purplish
brown colour. We see the same mandala on the entrance to Sultan Ahmet
Mosque and Behram Pasa Mosque in Diyarbakir. These can be interpreted
as the signs of holiness of the place that one enters to pray for Allah.
square sanctuary and the projection of the dome within this square,
looks like a mandala. The Plan of Selimiye Mosque). The fact that the
dome is based on eight columns has the implications of the Throne
(Hakka: 17). But the most significant place where the Throne is
manifestly showed, is the place of the muezzin's lodge (mahfil). Some
colleagues have also perceived the importance of the place of the
muezzin's mahfil and put forward various aspects (Akin 1988; Senalp
1988: 9-10; Akin 1993: 8-9, 20). The mahfil is placed right in the
centre of the sanctuary and beneath the key stone of the dome, which is
not seen in any other mosque. Undoubtedly, there are meanings and
reasons in addition to hearing "takbir" from every point, in the
preference of this place. This place exists on the vertical axis of the
keystone, which is the centre of the universe and the centre of the
harim, which is the centre of the world. An octagonal basin bordered by
a square frame, stands just beneath the muezzin's mahfil. The basin
refers to "Kawsar" (the holy water of Paradise) which flows under the
Throne. Not being contented with these, in order to express the concept
of the Throne, Architect Sinan has put a big central "chark-i falak"
representing the sun and the planets, on the bottom side of the mahfil
in relief, so as to face the basin; the way the Prophet Muhammad said
when he interpreted Ya-sin: 38. In other words, the orbit of the sun
and the planets are under the Throne, but over Kawsar.
the centre of the dome, Surah of Ihlas is written. When the dome is
considered together with this Surah, it absolutely denotes "The
oneness" and confirms the philosophy of the Throne. As much as Selimiye
Mosque is a masterpiece according to all architectural criteria; its
iconographical motifs and elements, and its connecting of those motifs
and elements within its architectural concept mean that it occupies an
As a conclusion, we can say that there is a
close relationship between "mandala" and "the Throne" concepts and
Turks have used the form of mandala before Islam and continued to use
it after. They accepted it in their scheme of religious architecture,
and that mandala lived together with the Qur'anic concept of the
Throne; and these two concepts and their connotations have extensively
influenced the art used in architecture.
Akay 1988: H. AKAY; "Ars" article, islâmî Terimler Sozlugu, Istanbul 1988.
Akin 1988: G. AKIN; "Edirne Selimiye Camii'ndeki Muezzin Mahfili Uzerine Dusunceler", Mimar Sinan Uluslararasi Sempozyumu, Ankara 1988, pp. 1-14.
1993: G. AKIN; "Mimarlik Tarihinde Pozitivizmi Asma Sorunu ve Osmanli
Mekan ikonolojisi Baglaminda Edirne Selimiye Camisi'ndeki Muezzin
Mahfili", Turk Kulturunde Sanat ve Mimari, (ed. Dogan Kuban), Istanbul 1993, pp. 1-40.
Ardalan-Bakhtiar 1973: N. ARDALAN-L. BAKHTIAR; the Sense of Unitiy, the Sufi Tradition in Persian Architecture, Chicago 1973.
Devellioglu 1990: F. DEVELLIOGLU; Osmanlica Turkce Ansiklopedik Lugat, Ankara 1990.
Eliade 1991: M. ELIADE; Kutsal ve Dindisi, Ankara 1991.
Gabriel 1934: A. GABRIEL, Monuments Turcs d'Anatolie, II, Paris 1934.
Golpinarli 1977: A. GOLPINARLI; "Ars" article, Tasavvuftan Dilimize Gecen Deyimler ve Atasozleri, Istanbul 1977.
1976: H. KARAMAGARALI; "Kayseri'deki Hunat Camii'nin Restitusyonu ve
Hunat Manzumesinin Kronolojisi Hakkinda Bazi Mulahazalar", A.U. Ilahiyat Fakultesi Dergisi, 21, Ankara 1976, pp. 199-245.
Karamagarali 1993: B. KARAMAGARALI; "Icice Daire Motiflerinin Mahiyeti Hakkinda", Sanat Tarihinde ikonografik Arastirmalar, Guner Inal'a Armagan, Ankara 1993, pp. 249-270.
Kuban 1965: D. KUBAN; Anadolu Turk Mimarisinin Kaynak ve Sorunlan, Istanbul 1965.
Ogel 1986: S. OGEL; Anadolu Selcuklu Sanati Uzerine Gorusler, Istanbul 1986.
Ogel 1994: S. OGEL; Anadolu'nun Selcuklu Cehresi, Istanbul 1994.
Rawson 1982: P. RAWSON; the Art of Tantra, Toledo 1982.
Senlap 1988: M. H. S. ENALP; "Sermimaran-i Hassa Sinan bin Abdulmennan", Lale 6, 1988, pp. 2-15.
Senlap: "Ars" article, Islam Ansiklopedisi, Turkiye Diyanet Vakfi.
Senlap: "Kursu" article, Islam Ansiklopedisi, Milli Egitim
As far as I am informed by M. Kiel in his letter on 10.12.1995; Irene
Beldiceanu, a specialist on the pre-Ottoman and early Ottoman Turkish
population of Anatolia and the Ottoman Tahrirs, had mentioned that the
Turkish tribes in 14-15th century in Anatolia still adhered
to Buddhism. In addition, he considers that, there are some symbols on
certain statues found in Afyon that can be taken as evidence of
Buddhist culture (gravestones). Remembering that Eretnaogullari were of
Uighur origin, as well as the fact that Sultan Bayezid II was said to
have been one of the last to have studied the Uighur language which
must have been spoken in Anatolia for quite a long time, these should
have been the bearers of elements of the Buddhist culture. It is
understood that the Buddhist culture continued to exist in Anatolia
during Seljuk and Ottoman periods. B. Karamagarali, in her article
(1993: 249-270) also points out many iconographical examples seen on
Islamic buildings and handcrafts, indicating or relating to Buddhist
by: Nakis Akgul, Thu 29 September, 2005