Divrigi Great Mosque and Hospital are an ornately decorated mosque and a medical complex recognized for their exquisite carvings and architecture.
In 1228-29, while Divrigi was under the rule of the Bey of Mengücek Emir Ahmed Shah, he commissioned the mosque which stands fully intact. The adjoining Hospital was built simultaneously with the mosque by Turan Melek Sultan. The geometrical and floral patterned reliefs found on the main door in particular attract great interest. The architect probably was inspired by Armenian and Georgian constructions.
Map of DivrigiLoad map
I visited this WHS in Spring 2021 after a very long drive from Ani WHS. Having visited I'd rate it as a worth visiting site as much as the Ichan Pasha Palace tWHS but it can be disappointing if you invest so much time to get there solely for the one inscribed building housing the Great Mosque and Hospital of Divrigi, and not as part of a longer road trip as we did. That said, we really were glad that the major restoration works on the four ornate portals had been completed, as these were the highlights we were after and the main reason why we were eager to visit notwithstanding the long drive.
Divrigi was an important city as one of the transition points between Central Anatolia and the Euphrates basin. Although Erzincan was the most important center of the Mengujek's, it is noteworthy that the largest monument built by them is the Divrigi Great Mosque and Hospital which towers south of the Divrigi Castle and the west foothill of the Igimbat Hill. The construction of the Great Mosque of Divrigi was initiated in 1228-1229 on the order of Ahmet Shah, grandson of Mengucek Bey Sahinsah who also built the Kale Castle, and son of Suleyman Shah. The head architect of the monument was Hurremsah of Ahlat. In the southern side of the Great Mosque, there's the hospital constructed adjacent to the mosque. It is difficult to distinguish them at first glance as two separate buildings as they share the southern Qiblah wall.
There are four exquisite portals on the Great Mosque and Hospital at Divrigi. The north portal of the mosque and the portal of the hospital are better known due to their proportions and their decorative programs which have drawn more attention from scholars. These monumental portals, defined by Kuban as the "Miracle of Divrigi" rise above the side walls and come forward from the side surfaces of the north and east elevations. The decorative programs, the details of the floral and geometric patterns and calligraphy in the form of an inscription band on the north portal have outstanding peculiarities that overshadow the other special features of the building. This period of portals in Seljuk period architecture display a determined order in their design, with the arrangements of the architectural elements and the composition of their decoration and they also show a chronological development between the early and the late 13th century. However, each one of these portals is unique in small details. No Seljuk portal is the copy of another one. They are differentiated from each other with their special elements, decoration program and the application methods for all of these. The rear portal is the smallest and the least ornate of the four portals.
The plan and carvings of the qiblah portal enjoys superior features through its unique design craft, composition, facade beauty, material choice, reliefs, monumental effects, and light and shade depths. It is like the artist designed a garden of Eden through plant motifs, so much so that it is nicknamed as the "Portal of Heaven". Among the two epigraphs located on the portal, the thin one contains two lines that indicate that it was constructed during the reign of Kayqubad, while the other one containing larger characters, high-reliefs and a flower motif base, indicate that it was constructed in 1228 on the order of Ahmed Shah. It is probably the most ornate portal and truly unique.
The dimensions and proportions of the Market portal, located on the west side of the mosque, are really harmonious. The portal contains another epigraph dated 1228, which enjoys unique features in Seljuk art and all the surface of the portal is carved with fine details and rich vegetal motifs. Due to these intricate carvings, the portal has been compared to a carpet or a cloth covered with lovely patterns, and has been also nicknamed as the "Textile Portal". There are double-headed eagle motifs on the right and left surfaces of the portal wings. There are also single-headed bird figures right next to the motif in the northern side. These symbols were used by many dynasties as a sign of strength and sovreignity. With a bit of imagination and an interplay of light and shadow, on a sunny day you'll be able to spot the image of a human shadow on the western port of the structure.
The portal on the rear eastern side of the mosque is known as the Shah Portal, and is also nicknamed as the "Crow Portal". The surfaces are carved with vegetal, geometrical, star, knot and braid motifs. The minaret is located at the northwest side of the mosque. This cylindrical minaret was constructed during the Suleiman the Magnificent era in 1523. The Divrigi woodwork remains which once adorned the mosque can be admired mostly at the Ankara Vakıf Etnography Museum and the Atatürk Congress and Ethnographic Museum in Sivas.
The hospital adjacent to the mosque from the south side, has an arched door covered with magnificent and rich carvings. The building is modeled after the classical Seljuk madrasas with iwans. Its ground plan includes four iwans and a closed courtyard. It's a Mengucek monument faithful to the Central Asia Turkic building tradition. It is one of the oldest medicine centers still standing without much alterations or damage, like the Kayseri Hospital constructed in 1205 and the Sivas Hospital constructed in 1217. This building was used to treat patients with mental illness. With patient rooms on either side, the large iwan stands directly opposite the entrance and the small iwans. The chief architect used the fanning and molding of the iwan to give it acoustic properties. The reciting of sacred texts, sacred music and the sound of the water in the pool below were used to soothe the patients. The large iwan’s ceiling was constructed with a spiral key-stone system and is an example of a type of vaulting whose secret has yet to be deciphered. The chief architect carved his name in a simple manner in a high and not easily noticed spot in the eastern arch bearing the iwan vault and prayed that his work would last until Judgment Day.
The hospital portal displays brand new features in terms of height and plan. The arc of the arched portal, through its carvings, resembles a headband or a crown. It displays an extraordinary level of art through columns rising from the ground and intricate discs on the portal. The entrance side in front of the portal is decorated with star motifs. The geometrical and patterned stonework, which is typical of Seljuk architecture, are among the most beautiful samples of the period they belong to. Many patterns, typical of stone craftsmanship of the early Seljuk architecture, observed frequently in the buildings in Sivas, Konya and Divrigi can be seen on the portal of this building. The relief of a kneeling man on the keystone of the arch of the portal, which is surrounded with a triangular niche, adorned with muqarnas edging was first used in this building. The aesthetic quality of the facade is complemented with the grand windows on both sides of the portal.
Sleeping overnight at Divrigi, we were able to easily appreciate the beautiful lighting at sunrise and sunset, in an incredible ambience created by the echoing calls to prayer from scores of muezzins in the valley.
We visited the Divriği Great Mosque (Ulu Camii) and Hospital (Darüşşifası), an extraordinary example of Islamic art, twice in recent months. Once in spring amidst a deep green landscape coming by car from Sivas, which is about a three hour drive away. It is an important historical site in its own right with some of the most impressive Seljuk monuments like the Şifaiye Madrasah, an important medical school in the 13th century, and the Gök Madrasah and the Double Minaret Madrasah or the Subaşı Han, an Ottoman-period Caravanserai still used today as spice market. Sivas is also the place where the 1919 Congress was held, one of the stepping stones in establishing the Republic of Turkey. On the way to Divriği we passed through Kangal, the home of Turkey’s famous shepherd dogs.
The second visit took place in February 2020. We had come overnight from Ankara on the fabulous (Doğu) Eastern Express Train via Kayseri and Sivas. We arrived at Divriği station in the early morning. The scene was winter wonderland with a good half meter of snow at minus 15°C. After a hearty breakfast close to the railway station we went up to the Great Mosque of Divriği passing several kumbets (small mausoleums with a pointed dome) and the citadel. The mosque and hospital complex is currently undergoing restoration work; there is a lot of scaffolding and a metal roof covering the building. The site is likely to reopen in the course of 2020 or 2021.
Like on the previous occasion we were lucky that the mosque’s imam was there and showed us around. He explained that the first Turkish buildings inscribed in 1985 on the World Heritage List were the Great Mosque and Hospital of Divriği. Built in the 13th century the complex is famous for its traditional stone carving decorations on the gates to both the Hospital and the Mosque. The Hospital was revolutionary for its time as it was known for trying to heal the sick applying water and music treatments.
Our first visual impression was the almost baroque and gothic style of the gates had it not been actually Seljuk. Every ornamental figure is a unique piece of art displaying a three-dimensional geometric style. Some are designed in a such a way that they throw shadows of praying men and women; some are designed as rotating pieces, now no longer moving because of damage sustained in earthquakes. Apparently because of the hard winter conditions there is no courtyard and no outdoors ablutions place but rather a closed single building complex.
From afar the mosque looks plain but once you come closer to the great portals, particularly the Paradise or Castle portal, and once you step inside you will be amazed by the building’s features, its prayer room with the two crowning domes. The mimbar is made of ebony and is as old as the mosque and still in use. Now with the restoration work going on we could even climb up to the domes.
You can come by train or bus from Istanbul or Ankara; by minibus or car from Sivas where there is the closest airport. Hotels and restaurants as well as tea houses can be found in Divriği. Given the ongoing restorations you should check if the mosque is accessible at the time of your visit.
Divrigi is about 600 kilometers from Ankara, so it takes a little while to get there by car. I'm sure you can get there by bus, but it would be quite a long haul. The town of Divrigi is a small village perched on a hillside and the fall was the perfect time to go. I will say the signage to teh Mosque and hospital complex was a little lacking, but it is a small town, so we did find it. Using the word "complex", I expected a larger area then the one building that housed both of the facilities. The outside of the building is pretty non-descript until you get up close to the doors. There were so many carvings and it was so intricately done. They were gorgeous! The first part is the mental hospital, and going inside there are carved columns and a few tombs. Next door was the mosque and it is very much in use today, so it's best to stay away during prayer times. There was no cost to enter this site, but there was a small tea kiosk inside the walls. We felt obligated to buy a cup of tea and watch the visitors that came. There was only one other foreigner there, a European. I wouldn't say this was one of the most interesting World Heritage Sites in Turkey, but I probably would not have made the effort to go otherwise, and honestly that would have been dissappointing, because I had not seen any other mosques decorated in that fashion. If you have some time to kill, and especially if you don't mind renting a car and driving, I would try to do this site. To see some photos and read more about Turkey, please visit my website at http://rovingvails.com/blog/2011/11/07/hdr-divrigi/ .
I've been there in August 2008. A place really worth to visit (although finding accomodation in the town is somehow difficult) hosting valuable historical remains but also home to a beautiful natural landscape. I traveled there from Sivas by the morning train along a breathtaking river valley and I came back the same day by the local minibus in the late afternoon. The six hours that we spent there were quite enough to visit the Great Mosque & Hospital Complex (UNESCO World Heritage), to climb to the Kale (Citadel) Hill, to walk through the picturesque narrow streets of the city centre and to have a brief lunch but were insufficient to visit all the historical monuments (mosques, tombes, old houses) spread all around. I would reccomend a 1-2 full days visit.
I spent a day in Divrigi in May 2003 whilst making a trip from the west to east of Turkey. This place is a marvel and it is a shame that so few tourists come here. Of course the most famous attraction here is the Grand Mosque, but there are quite a few other archtectural remains from pre-Ottoman Turkish times: the ruined castle and the burial chambers (turbe) that bear testament to times when Divrigi was a major settlement. It was prized for its iron ore, which is still the major form of economic activity here today. However, for me as a fan of the genre the old Ottoman town houses were probably the greatest delight. These wonderful half-wood half-brick constructions have almost completely dissapeared from the urban regions of Turkey, their places taken by soulless apartment blocks. For me, Divrigi above all is a living museum of Ottoman architecture. I don't recall seeing a single ugly apartment block. You can roam for hours here through an unspoilt sea of twisting little lanes flanked by traditional Turkish town houses, and a lot of them have been kept in quite good condition. Then there is the natural beauty of the place. A fast flowing river passes just by the town, the railway follows this course. This river has cut a steep ravine in the mountains. Take the path up to the castle from the road leading from the town centre to the railway station and continue round from the castle for a really spectacular view of this ravine. (I don't mean the approach to the castle from the Grand Mosque - you can't get round to the side with the view from here!) On the way back down double back along the path taking you past some commercial-looking buildings and you are right beside the river. We are really talking far from the madding crowd. For the most part the landscape in this part of the province of Sivas consists of gentle, green pastureland with higher land in the background. It really is a good place to come for some peaceful inner contemplation. In a word I was totally enraptured by the place. As a postscript, I should add that I am a fluent Turkish speaker and you may seriously have problems locating anyone who can speak a foreign language here. The local people are very genuine and friendly however, although you should realise that this region of Turkey is noted for being fairly fundamentalist, and visitors should make some effort to avoid behaviour that may upset devout Muslims. On the other hand a lot of people in this area belong to the liberal Alawite sect which is characterised by tolerance and open mindedness. There has been intersectarian strife in the region in the past between Alawites and mainstream Sunnis, so I would certainly advise steering clear of this topic.
I stayed at the Belediye Hotel near the station. A single room with en-suite shower costs in the region of 4-5 USD per night. It is basic but very clean and well run.
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