x0x THE TILES OF KUBAD ABAD PALACE
- x0x THE TILES OF KUBAD ABAD PALACE
By Professor Dr Ruchan Arik
On the southwest shore of Lake Beysehir is a small verdant plain,
beyond which rise the foothills of the Anamas Mountains, a branch of
the Toros. Here, on the summit of a rocky headland, are the remains of
the 13th century Seljuk palace complex of Kubad Abad. The palace was
built by the most celebrated Seljuk sultan Alaeddin Keykubad in
1235-1236, and consists of the Great Palace to the north, the Little
Palace to the south, and a shipyard beyond.
Excavations carried out here in 2001 uncovered the palace baths to the
east of the Great Palace. The ruins and traces of numerous buildings
belonging to the palace are scattered over the site. The remains of
courtyard walls, ramps, water pipes, fountains, and a harbour can be
identified. South of the shipyard was the royal hunting park known as
firdevs or garden of paradise, where a dam created a small artificial
lake supplied from streams high in the mountains.
The buildings of both the Great and Little palaces of Kubad Abad were
arranged around central courtyards with eyvans (recessed bays in the
facade), a layout originating in Central Asian and Persian
architecture. The interiors of these buildings were decorated with
wall tiles in various techniques and decorated with a wide array of
designs incorporating human figures, a feature unique to palace
decoration. Tiles mainly in the form of eight pointed stars and
crosses have been found in the throne room and reception hall of the
Great Palace, and at various places in the ruins of the Little Palace.
The fascinating representational style of these tiles combines with
the symbols of Seljuk iconography to create a world of fantasy. The
most prominent figure is the double-headed eagle, both symbol of
royalty and a protective talisman of the palace. On the breast of many
of these eagles are inscribed the words 'Es-Sultan' (the Ruler),
'El-Muazzam' (the Magnificent), and 'Es-Saadet' (Felicity).
Also frequently depicted are birds of prey trained for hunting such as
hawks, buzzards and falcons. Stylised trees of life are common,
flanked by birds either facing towards or away from one another, the
most splendid of all being the pairs of peacocks.
Lions, foxes, rabbits, goats, bears, camels, wolves, wild goats,
donkeys, horses and hunting dogs are other creatures inhabiting the
luxuriant forests depicted on the tiling panels. As well as the wild
game and domestic animals so vividly painted by Seljuk artists,
fabulous animals of legend and folktale are also to be found here:
sirens with human heads and the bodies of birds, sphinxes with human
heads and the bodies of lions, winged griffons with birds' heads and
lions' bodies, and dragons. The latter symbolise the heavens and the
universe, to which they were givers of order.
Among the rest is a curious picture, deriving neither from traditional
folklore nor religion, but rather in the nature of a caricature. It
consists of a caml'st head attached to a bird's body in illustration
of the Turkish for ostrich, devekusu or 'camel bird', and is a typical
example of a conceptual picture, as found in Turkish and other
The tiles bearing miniatures style pictures found at Kubad Abad form
the most important source of information about the depiction of the
human figure in Anatolian Seljuk art. The largest single group among
these depict sultans and courtiers full-face, and seated cross-legged
in what is known as the 'Turkish posture'.
Some of the figures hold goblets in one hand representing both
universal sovereignty and the water of life, itself symbolising heaven
and immortality. In the other they hold pomegranates, opium poppies,
handkerchiefs or flowers. In some cases we find them holding fish,
symbolising the astrological sign of Pisces. Another group of figures
consists of people standing and engaged in various tasks. Some hold
goats or rabbits, and are presumably servants preparing for the feasts
which concluded hunting expeditions.
Most of the figures are oriental in character with round faces,
slightly slanting almond shaped eyes, curved eyebrows, pointed noses,
and small mouths, while a lesser number have typically Mediterranean
features. The decorative motifs on the tiles, particularly those with
figures, are clearly derived from a pictorial tradition traceable back
to Uighur art.
Details such as the clothing worn by the figures in the Kubad Abad
tiles are a valuable source of information about Seljuk ethnography.
* Professor Dr Ruchan Arik is head of the archaeological excavations
at Kubad Abad