Sultanhan & Ihlara Valley

Sultanhan & Ihlara Valley

Sultanhan Caravansary

A caravansary on the way from Konya to Aksaray 40km/25mi before the city. It was built by Sultan Alaattin Keykubat I during the Seljuk period, in 1229. It has two sections, one open with a courtyard and another covered. It is the largest of all Seljuk caravansaries in Anatolia with an area of 4,800 sq m / 1.2 acres.

Sultanhan is a monumental caravansary which looks like a fortress. The entrance is through a huge, geometrically decorated portal. The courtyard is surrounded by an arcade of rooms on the left and covered places on the right. In the middle is a small mosque. The entrance to the second part is through another portal which is located on the fourth wall. The center of this second part is barrel-vaulted, containing cathedral-like aisles covered with a dome and capped by an octagonal conical roof.


These are public buildings built on the caravan routes for trade in normal times and for military use in times of emergencies. Because they were made to be utilized by the caravans, the distances between them were arranged according to the usual distance a camel could walk. A caravan could walk for about a day, and would not want to continue at night time. This meant that caravansaries were needed every 25-40km/15-26mi.

The Anatolian Seljuks particularly understood the importance of trade and did a lot to encourage it. In these buildings they provided the caravans with every possible service such as places to sleep, hamams, mosques, doctors and veterinarians, kitchens, coffeehouses, libraries, etc. There were times in which any service was free of charge for the sake of active trade. For example, they even gave animals without charge to people who may have lost them.

The rulers of caravansaries were responsible for security. As a general rule they closed the gates at sunset and did not open them until sunrise unless they were sure that no belongings of people had been lost. According to the weather conditions, people sometimes had to share the covered section with animals. In such cases the smell of animals was lessened by using a variety of incenses.

Today there are approximately 120 caravansaries still standing in Anatolia.

Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Canyon is a deep, narrow river gorge cut through the tufa by the Melendiz River. The river running through the Ihlara Canyon at its lowest level is still contributing to the erosion of it. The canyon runs for 20 km / 12 miles offering one of the most enjoyable trekking routes to those people who can spare the minimum of half a day.

The canyon is approximately 150 m / 500 ft below the ticket office and reached by more than 300 steps. It has to be noted that the way back is not an easy climb. In the canyon there are about 60 churches, monasteries and cells of anchorites. There are a few major churches which are easier to reach.

Agacalti Kilisesi (The Church under the Tree)

It is a cruciform church with two small aisles and an apse. Due to a few collapses the entrance to the church is from the altar section. In the dome there is a fresco of Christ in a mandorla being carried up to heaven by four angels. It is in primitive style, the faces orange and white with eyes unfocused and empty.

  • South; Annunciation, Visitation, Joseph, Nativity, Presentation.
  • North; Flight into Egypt, Baptism, Dormition of Mary.
  • West; Daniel in the lions' den.

Yilanli Kilise (The Church of the Serpent)

It is a cruciform church with a horseshoe-shaped apse. It has a burial chamber in the north side. There is not enough light inside the church so the visitor might need a flashlight.

  • West wall; Christ, the judge, flanked by angels, is seated in a mandorla. Below him are the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste in oriental robes and the Twenty-four Elders of the Apocalypse. Below the west wall again, on the left, Day of Reckoning by weighing the Souls, a monster with three heads, and the body of a serpent devouring some of the damned representing the torments of hell. The name of the church derives from this painting. Next to it, on the right, naked women are being assaulted by snakes. One of them is in the coils of eight snakes probably because of her adultery. Another one's breasts are being gnawed by snakes because she left her children. Others guilty of disobedience and calumny are attacked on the ear and mouth. To the right of the door of the burial chamber is Entry into Jerusalem. To the left is St. Onesimus. Apse; Last Supper, Crucifixion.
  • East wall; At the top is a cross in a halo, on the inclined wall to the left is the Crucifixion (not well preserved) and Visitation. Top of the north face; St. John the Baptist, right hand raised and left hand holding an amulet. Top of the wall, east of the altar; Christ sitting on a rainbow, Christ dressed in red and holding a book surrounded by archangels Michael, Raphael, Gabriel and Uriel.
  • South wall; Michael and Gabriel on both sides. Below the window is the Dormition, near the cross is the fresco of Constantine and Helena.

Sumbullu Kilise (The Church of the Hyacinth)

The name comes from the abundant hyacinths around the church. Sumbullu Kilise has a domed single nave and was part of a two-storied monastery, the upper floor being living quarters. The arched doorways which are divided by pillars and linked with an architrave in the facade of the church carry the traces of Persian influence.

  • Central dome; Christ pantocrator.
  • North wall; (next to the altar) St. George and St. Theodore.
  • West wall; (in the niche) Constantine and Helena.
  • Altar section; Gabriel and Michael.
  • On the following wall Annunciation is depicted.