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Kubad Abad Palace and Its Tiles

Kubad Abad Palace and Its Tiles

3 March 2022

The palace is not a place of amusement for the upper classes of society, especially for the rulers. Of course there is that too, but the palace is an institution where all the skills and creations of ancient and medieval societies are realized at the highest level, in all areas from politics to philosophy, from intrigue to development projects, from gun-slinging to love, entertainment and art, and it is also like an academy where leaders and upper classes are trained. So to know the palace is to know a culture at its best. To counter the image of Seljuks as “barbarians who conquered this land of deeply rooted civilizations with brute force” one must look at their palaces, which can best tell us what kind of people they were, the level of their civilization and so forth.

The famous historian of the Seljuk period, Ibn Bibi, describes the founding of Kubad Abad as follows: “ During the Antalya-Alanya campaign, Kayqubad I stayed on the shore of Buhayre-i Gurgurum (today’s Lake Beyşehir). Here was a green lake with fresh water tasting sweet like milk. Admiring the lake, which was full of waves like velvet folds, the Sultan ordered the architect Saadeddin Köpek to build a palace that would resemble paradise in beauty, while drawing the ground plan of the building with his brilliant mind, depicting it in its details. Thereupon, Saadeddin Köpek built villas with beautiful views, heart-warming pools whose arches competed with the roof of the high sky, very richly decorated, spacious and furnished with motley furniture, in a short time according to the Sultan’s orders" [Ibn Bibi, 362-363].

It is not clear how much time Kayqubad I had to enjoy his work. The sultan, whose scandalous life was narrated in literature and historical documents, is his unsuccessful son Kaykhusraw II. It is likely that this ruthless prince was involved in the poisoning of his father, the great ruler Kayqubad I, at a banquet in the palace of Kayseri on June 1, 237. When it became known that he would not be the next one to the throne, he is suspected of having committed the act with help from his mother Mahpari Khatun, who was the daughter of the former pirate king of Alanya. When Kaykhusraw II ascended the throne, he almost opened the doors to a Mongolian invasion, which had hitherto been kept away from Anatolia with Kayqubad’s charismatic authority and brilliant political overtures. In 1243, he lost the war fighting the Mongols in Kösedağ near Sivas, setting the stage for the end of Seljuk unity, after which he spent most of his time in the palaces of Kubad Abad, and Alanya where he died suddenly, because he might have been poisoned (?) like his father.

Kubad Abad is a complex in ruins that spreads around the rocky hill that protrudes towards the lake and the Bronze Age mound called toprak tol in the small alluvial plain at the foot of the Anamas Mountains, a branch of the Taurus Mountains, in the southwest shore of Lake Beyşehir, as research has shown. Within the complex there are two buildings, the Great Palace and the Small Palace. The Great Palace was built on a terrace with a width of 50 x 55 meters extending in the northernmost part of the site to the lake. The Small Palace is almost square and its outer surfaces are covered with smoothly cut stones. The layout of the Small Palace in its outlines is reminiscent of the Great Palace. It is also said that the palace was designed by the vizier and architect Saadeddin Köpek, but this theory was not proven.

The creators of tiles with rich figures, used in Seljuk art only in palaces and adding color to architecture, created the dynamics and aesthetics of Seljuk painting art by combining their powers with the world of symbols. The tiles of the Great Palace and the Small Palace combine iconography reflecting Seljuk symbolism with an interesting painting style, creating a magical fairy-tale atmosphere. The most important figure of this fairy-tale world, the symbol of the palace and the sultan, the double-headed eagle, appears in all its majesty, and other birds fly around it. In Central Asian Turkish mythology, the eagle was considered a guardian spirit in relation to beliefs about the power of nature and shamanism. That is why eagle motifs feature in many war implements.

The most common motif in other interesting tiles with human figures of the palace are the depictions of the sultan and the dignitaries of the palace sitting with their legs crossed, known as “Turkish way of sitting”, seen from the front.

Another pattern is the sun figure with human face. The face depiction is decorated with stylized plant patterns. The sun motif magnificently placed in the center of the tile depicts a human face with thick eyebrows, almond eyes, speckled cheeks and a small mouth, just like a mask. The sun symbolizes brightness, goodness and strength.

The sphinx figure on the tiles also attracts attention. Sphinxes are winged creatures with a lion’s body and a human’s head who, with their extraordinary powers, protect people from evil and disease and the palace from enemies. Some have long hair, some have short hair. On their tops are caps of various shapes.

Finally, tree of life and star figures with bird figurines featured abundantly in the tiles of the palace. The tree of life is the axis of the universe. It is believed that the shaman moves along this axis between the underworld, earth and heaven. It is believed that the fruity branches belong to the pomegranate tree, which is the symbol of heaven and eternal life. Most of the bird figures in Seljuk ornaments also have symbolic meanings. According to the religious beliefs and shamanism in Central Asia, souls were carried to heaven by birds after death. Every person has a guardian spirit in the form of a bird. When a person dies, he ascends to heaven under the guidance of this guardian spirit.

Some of the Kubad Abad Palace tiles, which feature many other fairy-tale motifs, are on display at the Karatay Museum in Konya (‘Kubad Abad Selçuklu Saray ve Çinileri (Kubad Abad Seljuk Palace and Tiles), Rüçhan Arık, pp.43-165 and Paşabahçe Store “Kubad Abad ‘Kristalin Çiniler’‘’ (Kubad Abad Crystal’s Tiles) catalog).

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