Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Kervansaray as new Building Type

The Kervansaray or Han

       In this my first post to Ottoman Building Types I will present one of the specific civil building types, the Kervansaray or Han as it is called also. Originally built by the Persians and the Seljuks for giving shelter to pilgrims on their way to Mecca, these buildings could be found at a distance of thirty to fourty kilometres, the distance a traveller could make a day in those times. The Ottomans followed this tradition by building numerous hans throughout the huge Empire, mainly for lodging the traders with their animals and goods. It used to be a most secure fortress-like edifice with a single big entrance giving way to a spacious court with a fountain. There the travellers gathered for conversation or for trading their wares. A sober exterior, often without any or only scarce windows underlines the han's purpose of protecting traders and their valuable goods.

        Kursunli Han in Skopje dates from the first half of the16th century and is one of the three trading inns preserved in the capital. This han represents one of the highest achievements of civil Ottoman architecture from the Classic period that captivates with its aesthetics, functionality and monumentality. At the time of construction it formed part of a complex of buildings, that included a now vanished mosque and a hamam whose remains can still be observed. Differing from the usual one-court han this trading inn features the unique structural feature of a second adjoining court with a separate entrance for servants and animals while the main court was reserved for up to a hundred travellers with their goods. The massive main entrance covered with a dome-like roof leads to the large courtyard, surrounded on all four sides and on two levels by arches over the galleries that lead to the guest rooms. Each of these rooms behind the galleries shows a cross-vaulted ceiling and is equipped with a chimney, a real luxury for that time. Next to the portal two original symmetric stone staircases with stone railing lead to the upper floor. The whole building is made of the classic mixture of stone and brick arranged in decorative layers, a technique already used by the Byzantines. Another outstanding feature of this monument is its roofing: small domical vaults are lined up along the entire building  contributing to the harmony of the monument. In the past this extraordinary roof was covered not with brick tiles as nowadays, but with lead. Hence the name of this monument. After the post-earthquake restoration Kursunli Han houses a permanent collection of sculptures from Antiquity to the Islamic period.

If you want to know more about Ottoman Heritage in Macedonia my illustrated book is now available:
Teresa Waltenberger, Architecture in Macedonia: The Ottoman Heritage, Skopje 2014

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