Mixing Seljuk tombs, mosques and modern developments, Kayseri is both Turkey’s most Islamic city after Konya and one of the economic powerhouses nicknamed the “Anatolian tigers”. Colorful silk headscarfs are piled in the bazaar, one of the country’s biggest, and businesses shut down at noon on Friday, but Kayseri’s religious leanings are less prominent than its manufacturing prowess. The city is overlooked by Erciyes Dağı and the Hilton may not boast central Cappadocia’s charms, but its residents are both confident of their city’s future and proud of its past. With no need to rely on the tourism game for their income, Kayseri’s people are often less approachable than folk in Goreme et al, and this can be frustrating and jarring if you arrive fresh from the fairy chimneys. However, if you are passing through this transport hub, it’s worth taking a look at a Turkish boom town with a strong sense of its own history.
Under the Roman emperor Tiberius (r AD 14-37), Eusebia (as the settlement at Kayseri was known) was renamed Caesarea. The Arabs renamed it Kaisariyah and the Seljuks gave its current name.
Kayseri became famous as the birthplace of St Basil the Great, who was responsible for organizing the monastic life of Cappadocia. Its early Christian history was interrupted by Arab invasions from the 7th century. The Seljuks took over in 1084 and held the city until the Mongol’s arrival in 1243, except for a brief period when the Crusaders captured it on their way to the Holy Land.
When Kayseri had been part of the Mongol empire for almost 100 years, its governor set up his own emirate (1335). This lasted just 45 years and was succeeded by another emirate, before being conquered by the Ottomans, captured by the Mamluks, and finally retaken by the Ottomans in 1515 – all in just over a century.
Orientation & Information
The basalt-walled citadel at the center of the old town, just south of Cumhuriyet Meydani, the huge main square, is a good landmark. Another convenient point of the reference is Duvenonu Meydani, 350m west of the citadel along Park Caddesi.
The train station is at the northern end of Ataturk Bulvari, over 500m north of Duvenonu Meydani, along Osman Kavuncu Caddesi and Cevre Yol.
Now acting as an overflow valve for the nearby bazaar, the monumental, black volcanic-stone walls of the citadel (hisar or kale) were constructed in the early 13th century, during the Seljuk sultan Alaattin Keykubat’s reign. Kayseri saw its first castle in the 3rd century, under the Roman emperor Gordian III, and the Byzantine emperor Justinian made alterations 300 years later. The present building has been restored over the years – twice in the 15th century.
Among Kayseri’s distinctive features are several important building complexes that were founded by Seljuk queens and princesses, including the austere-looking Mahperi Hunat Hatun Complex (Seyyid Burhaneddin (Talas Caddesi), east of the citadel. It comprises the Mahperi Hunat Hatun Camii (1238), built by the wife of Alaattin Keykubad; the Hunat Hatun Medresesi (1237); and a hamam, which is still in use.
Another striking monument is the Cifte Medrese (Twin Seminaries). These adjoining religious schools, set in Mimar Sinan Parki north of Park Caddesi, were founded at the bequest of the Seljuk sultan Giyasettin I Keyhusrev and his sister Gevher Nesibe Sultan (1165-1204). The Museum of Medical History inside was closed for renovations at the time of research.
Back towards the citadel is the Ottoman style Kursunlu Cami (Lead-Domed Mosque; Ataturk Parki). Also called the Ahmet Pasa Camii after its founder, it was built in the late 16th century, possibly following plans drawn up by the great Sinan (who was born in a nearby village). North of Cumhuriyet Meydani, be sure to have a look at the Sahabiye Medresesi (from 1267; Ahmetpasa Caddesi), an Islamic theological school that now functions as a book bazaar.
Another notable mosque is Kayseri’s Ulu Cami (Great Mosque), begun in the mid-12th century by the Danismend Turkish emirs and finished by the Seljuks in 1205. It features some good examples of early Seljuk style, such as the brick minaret, one of the first built in Anatolia.
Kayseri is dotted with conical Seljuk tombs, most famous of which is the so-called Doner Kumbet (Revolving Tomb; Talas Caddesi) at Kartal Junction. On the way to the archaeological museum, you’ll pass a cluster of Seljuk monuments, including the Alaca Kumbet (Alaca Tomb; Seyyid Burhaneddin (Talas) Caddesi), with a typical quadratic design and pyramidal roof.
The 19th-century Surup Krikor Lusavoric Kilise (Church of the St Gregory the Illuminator; off Nazim Bey Bulvari) is one of Anatolia’s few remaining Armenian churches. Asiatic Review described it as ‘tawdry’ back in 1937, and the seldom-used building is certainly dilapidated. However, the domed interior is worth a look, mostly for the three gilded altars, containing paintings that replaced the originals last century. The painting on the left, with four fiery columns topped by flaming crosses, depicts the vision of St Gregory, who grew up in Kayseri. Located in a bad part of town, the church is tricky to find, so take a taxi. Ring the bell on the west side of the building to gain entry and leave a tip for the caretaker at the end of your visit.
Just southeast of the citadel is the 18th-century Gupgupoglu Konagi (off Tennuri Sokak), a stone Ottoman mansion with beautiful wooden balconies and doorways. Inside, the Ethnography Museum (admission TL3; 8am-5pm Tue-Sun) is split between an exhibition of Ottoman craft and a mannequin-inhabited section, evoking how life was lived under the multicolored beams.
Nearby is the stylish Ataturk Evi (Tennuri Sokak; admission free; 8am-5pm Mon-Fri), a small, originally furnished Ottoman-era house where Ataturk stayed when he visited Kayseri.
If you have half an hour to spare, wander through the park to the small Archaeological Museum (Kisla Caddesi 2; admission TL3; 8am-5pm Tue-Sun), a minor magpie’s nest featuring finds from nearby Kultepe (ancient Kanis, the chief city of the Hatti people and the first Hittite capital). The largest city mound discovered in Anatolia, Kultepe yielded the area’s oldest written documents. Many relate to commerce, such as the Assyrian clay tablets and envelopes from 1920 BC to 1840 BC. Other exhibits include a stunning sarcophagus illustrating Hercules’ chores, a Bronze Age mother goddess idol, child mummies, Roman and Hellenistic jewellery, hieroglyphic inscriptions relating to King Tuthalia IV and a decapitated but imposing statue of the Hittite monarch.