The Great Mosque and Hospital of Divrigi is the most elaborately decorated medieval monument in Anatolia. It is well preserved and has a storied history, including use during World War II as the secret vault for the treasure of Topkapi Sarayi. The mosque was built in 1229 by the Mengujukid emir Ahmet Shah, while Melike Turhan Melek, his wife, commissioned the hospital at the same time. It is the oldest complex in Anatolia.
The mosque is south of the citadel on a platform raised above the modern town. At the time it was built, however, much of the town was probably contained within or near the walls of the citadel. The complex is built of light yellow cut stone throughout. From afar, one is struck by the eight-sided conical roof above the mihrab dome; there is also a lantern above the center of the mosque. The mosque and hospital are oriented on a north-south axis. Instead of a courtyard in such an alignment, the mosque has five aisles that run the length of the building. This is accentuated by the two domes, one (with a lantern) over the center of the mosque, and a larger one over the mihrab.
The hospital occupies the southern third of the complex. Its entrance is through a small door (made smaller in recent times) set within a magnificent arched portal on the western wall. The portal dominates the western façade, as it rises to the full height of the hospital walls, which are taller than the walls of the adjoining mosque. Only photographs can do justice to the plastic decoration of the entrance, all of which is carved out of the same stone of the building. The portal consists of two slightly pointed arches, one set within the other, projecting from the wall of the hospital. Within the arches is a rectangular recess in which the centrally located door is surrounded by elaborate decoration in relief, over which there is a large rectangular window with a column in the middle of it. There are circular moldings with human figures carved into them, one representing the sun and one the moon.
In plan the hospital is in the form of a covered madrasa with a central oculus. It has four iwans (one on each side) and two stories of rooms surrounding them. The vaulting within the hospital is also intricately carved. The detail and skill exhibited in the carving of the hospital, also seen in the mosque, is a development in stone of stucco decoration seen in the Iranian Great Seljuk style. The style did not get widespread use, but rather remained as a testament to the skill and creativity of the masons who built the mosque and hospital in Divrigi.
The mosque is larger but less refined than the hospital, although it too has elaborate and ostentatious carvings. The mosque has two portals, on the west and north, both of which are ornate and unusual. On the east side a portal was built in 1241 in Seljuk style; it has been since converted to a window.
The western entrance to the mosque, by which one currently enters, is mostly rectangular with regular patterned relief. In the center is a small round arch set above a wider door. The portal, which, like many others, sticks out from the wall, owes its influence to Armenian manuscript decoration. In particular this is seen in the twin free-standing columns flanking the entrance which are not part of Seljuk or Syrian architectural repertoires. The Armenian manuscript influence can also be found in the flowers of the relief.
The northern portal is clearly the main entrance to the mosque. Not only does it have dedicatory inscriptions to Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad and the builder Ahmet Shah, but it also rises well above the height of the rest of the mosque. Like the main entrance to the hospital, this portal is covered in elaborate carving which displays remarkable skill. The carving is both busy and uncoordinated. The various parts of the portal do not relate well; in fact, they are all so ornate as to compete with each other for attention.
Inside the mosque are twenty-five bays, divided in five aisles of five bays. The central aisle is wider, with a lantern vault in the center much like a courtyard. Other vaults throughout the structure are carved in detail. On the qibla wall (south) is Anatolia's largest and most ornate minbar. It too is carved in stone, elegant but more reserved than any of the portals. The ebony minbar, built by Ahmad of Tiflis in 1241, is also richly decorated. It has twenty calligraphic inscriptions incorporated into the carving.
The rich architectural carving of the Divrigi Mosque and Hospital is seen nowhere else. Its closest parallel is seen in the tombstones of Ahlat, the town from which the mosque's architect came. Undoubtedly many masons of that town were involved in creating this thirteenth century masterpiece.
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