Ulu Cami & Darüşşifası

Central Anatolia

This grand complex, combining both a mosque and hospital, lords it up on the hill above the village. Renowned for its craftwork, the entrance doorways are truly stupendous, their border reliefs densely carved in such minute detail that it's hard to imagine the stone started out flat. It's the tasteful Seljuk equivalent of having a cinema in your house, the sort of thing only a provincial emir with more money than sense could have dreamt of building.

Entered through the 14m-high Darüşşifa Gate, the hospital (one of the oldest in Anatolia) is pervaded by an air of serenity. The vast domed inner courtyard is centred on an octagonal pool with a spiral run-off, which allowed the tinkle of running water to break the silence of the room and soothe patients' nerves. A platform raised above the main floor may have been for musicians who likewise soothed the patients. The building was used as a medrese (seminary) from the 18th century.

Next door to the Darüşşifası, the West Gate of the mosque is a riot of kilim motifs, rosettes and textured effects. Note the carvings of the two-headed eagles on the far sides of the gate. Inside the mosque is very simple with an intricately carved wooden minber (pulpit) and unique mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca).

On the northern side of the mosque is the spectacular North Gate, a dizzying cornucopia of floral designs, Arabic inscriptions, and a wealth of geometric patterns and medallions. Climb the stairs to the eastern side to view the smaller Shah's Gate.

The Ulu Cami is currently undergoing a major restoration project, repairing its roof to protect the building from water damage. Nobody can enter the building during this time and the facade is covered in scaffolding. Restoration work is planned to finish by early 2020 but the word on the street while we were there was that it could extend until 2021 or 2022. Check in Sivas before making the long drive out here.

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