As much as any other city in Turkey, SİVAS has been a battleground for the successive empires struggling to rule central Anatolia. Now this well-planned city of 200,000 people wouldn’t figure on anybody’s itinerary were it not for a concentration of Selçuk buildings – among the finest in Turkey – conveniently located in a town-centre park. The 113km journey southeast from Tokat is uninspiring, over barren hills that rise to 1600m metres, with the presence of snow poles giving some indication of what this region looks like in winter.
Sivas has been settled since Hittite times and according to local sources was later a key centre of the Sivas Frig Empire (1200 BC), which seems to have been consigned to historical oblivion. The town’s real flowering came during Selçuk times, after the Battle of Manzikert (1071), and Sivas intermittently served as the Selçuk capital during the Sultanate of Rum in the mid-twelfth century, before passing into the hands of İlhanid Mongols during the late thirteenth century. The Ottomans took over in 1396 only to be ousted by the Mongols four years later under Tamerlane, who razed much of the city after an eighteen-day siege and put its Christian inhabitants to the sword. The Ottomans returned in 1408 and Sivas pretty much faded out of history until a nineteenth-century reawakening.Read More
Most of Sivas’s Selçuk monuments were built during the Sultanate of Rum and in the period of Mongol sovereignty that followed under the İlhanids. With their highly decorative facades and elaborately carved portals, the buildings epitomize Selçuk architectural styles, and nearly all are conveniently grouped together in and around a small area just off Konak Meydanı. Closest to the meydan is the Bürüciye Medresesi, founded in 1271 by the İlhanid emir Muzaffer Bürücirdi. The building consists of a series of square rooms laid out to a symmetrical ground plan around a central courtyard. As you pass through the entrance, the türbe of the emir and his children is to the left. The medrese now contains a few uninteresting pieces of stonework, as well as a popular courtyard café. Nearby is the Kale Camii, dating from 1580 and an oddity in this area since it’s a straightforward Ottoman mosque.
South of here is the stunning Çifte Minare Medrese (Twin Minaret Seminary), also built in 1271. The facade alone survives, adorned with tightly curled relief filigrees, topped by two brick minarets, which are adorned here and there with pale blue tiles. Behind, only the well-defined foundations of student cells and lecture halls survive. Directly opposite is the Şifaiye Medresesi (1217), a hospital and medical school built on the orders of the Selçuk sultan Keykavus I. At the time of writing it was the subject of heavy renovation, but it’s likely to revert to its previous function as a bazaar.
The rest of the town’s Selçuk monuments lie outside the park. If you turn onto Cemal Gürsel Caddesi (just south of the park), you’ll find the Ulu Cami, the oldest mosque in Sivas, built in 1197. If you step inside the northern entrance you will enter the subterranean cool of an interior supported by fifty wooden pillars. The peaceful silence is broken only by the murmur of boys reading from the Koran.
A right turn from Cemal Gürsel Caddesi will take you onto Cumhuriyet Caddesi where, on the left after a couple of hundred metres, you’ll find the Gök Medrese, with its ornate tile-studded minarets. Like the Şifaiye Medresesi, the stunning “Blue Seminary” was undertaking substantial renovation at the time of writing. It was built in 1271 by the Selçuk grand vizier Sahip Ata Fahrettin Ali, who was also responsible for buildings in Kayseri and Konya.