The word “kilim” refers to a flatweave rug or rug without knotted pile. Essentially nomadic in origin, kilims were made as a provision for the practicalities of everyday tribal life. They served as rugs, tent bands, bags, food covers, eating cloth and prayer rugs. They also were an integral part of a young woman’s dowry. Each article would contain symbols and motifs of family traditions and tribal or regional identity. Nowadays kilims are still widely used in Turkish houses.

The Kilim is the best-known flat-woven rug, but there are also three other kinds of flatweaves: the Cicim (pronounce djidjim), Zilli and Sumak.


The Seljuk Turks were skilled builders who applied the iwan-shaped hall architectural plan, of Iranian origin, to their different constructions: mosques , medreses (Muslim theological schools), orphanages, hospitals or caravansarais (which offered shelter to the travellers), were all characterized by a rectangular plan with a flat roof, a large horseshoe shaped (iwan) porch opening onto an inner space either open with a central courtyard surrounded by storied galeries, or entirely covered with a roof supported by pillars. They also combined this basic plan with some Byzantine and Arabic elements such as the dome, the vault or the multiple arcatures. The tomb monuments ( türbe and kümbet ) are cylindrical with a flat roofed dome, or polygonal with a conic roof. Their ornemental decoration is graphic and based on interlacings, ribbon effects, repeteted geometrical motifs, floral and animal stylization, heraldic patterns. In addition to woodcarving and stonecarving, the Seljuks mastered the technique of painted and glazed brick and tile making.

The first mosques and theological schooling institutions called “medrese”, appeared in Anatolia (Konya and Aksaray) during the time of Kiliç Arslan (1092-1107). Among the finest examples in Anatolian Seljuk architecture are the medreses  of  Sirçali, Karatay and Ince Minare in  Konya, Gök, Buruciye and Cifte Minareli in Sivas, Cacabey in Kirsehir, and the mosque and hospital in Divrigi, all built in the 13 th century.

The Ottoman Turks, heirs of The Seljuks, in turn were great builders. Two main schools florished in the 14 th century:

The school of Bursa
(14-15th century) is the period when Ottoman style mosques are built. A square structure on the ground is combined with a dome. A porch, a minaret and sometimes a convent or a hospital are added. This kind of great mosque is beautifully ornemented with polychrome tiles from Iznik.

Murat I Mosque (1360-1389) - Bursa

The school of Istanbul or school of Sinan
(16-17th century): the great architect Sinan, influenced by the discovery of Haghia Sophia, intended to surpass them, and started a new era in architecture. Cubic volume is converted into hemispheric faceted volume. Outside, volumes rising skilfully in tiers create a silhouette effect (Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul). Inside, geometric or floral tile decorations become more and more elaborate. The architectural development culminates in the construction of the great mosques in Istanbul and Edirne.

Süleymaniye Mosque

Topkapi Palace
, fountains, caravaserais, private residences in which freestone, carved wood and enameled ceramics were used together, are beautiful examples of civil architecture.

Topkapi Palace

Tophane Fountain (1732)

hammams: the Ottoman conception of public baths was different from that of the Romans and Byzantines, who considered that thermaes was a place of meeting and relaxation, mainly reserved to the high society. On the contrary, hammams built by sultans, vizirs or rich merchants, had a religious and popular origin deriving from both Koran (ablutions ritual) and the use of steamrooms by the Turks and the Mongols. They hold three rooms: a vestibule, a first temperate bath, and a steamroom heated by a stream of watersteam circulating under the slabs. Initially its plan was cubic with a dome, and was bare of any kind of ornementation. In the harems of palaces and rich houses, the hamam was a place of leisure and relaxation where women spent a lot of their time.

Sketch of a hammam

“Bath” painting by Gerôme, 1880

Modern hammam

Caravanserais and hans: the same remarks can be made for these richly sculpted monuments built along the Seljuk roads which offered shelter to travellers. They became purely utilitary edifices under the Ottomans who included them into the urban context where they were used as market places, each han specializing in a different type of marchandise (silk, spices...). They generally had two or three storeys around a central coiurtyard, and included a prayer room or a small mosque.

During the end of the 18th and 19th centuries, Ottoman art deviated from the principals of classical times, and came under the influence of the excessive decoration of the western Baroque and Roccoco styles.
Fountains became the characteristic structures of this period which can be found later in the Dolmabahçe and Beylerbeyi Palaces.
In the 20th century, Turkish architecture adapted its classical elements to the needs of a new era.

Porch of Agzikarahan

Clock Tower of
Dolmabahce Palace