Sivas lies on the central Anatolian plateau on the north side of the valley of the Kızılırmak, one of Turkey's largest rivers. It stands at the crossroads of historic trade routes between Ankara and Erzurum to the west and east, and between Amasya and Malatya to the north and south. The hilltop citadel offered many generations of conquering armies a defensible position from which to control trade through the valley. The surrounding lands include fertile and flat basins that supported agricultural enterprise.
The settlement mound at Sivas, now the site of the citadel, probably had a pre-historic town, but little is known about the city's history before the Roman period. Some scholars identify the site with the Roman statesman Pompey the Great's Megalopolis mentioned in historical sources, but this attribution is uncertain. By the second half of the third century CE, we know that a city named Sebasteia occupied the site, and that it served as capital of the Byzantine province of Armenia Minor. No traces from the Byzantine city survive save building materials that were used to construct later monuments under the Seljuks and their successors.
Sivas became a Muslim principality after the Battle of Malazgird in 1071/463 AH. At this time, it fell to the hands of the Danishmandids, a Turkmen dynasty who ruled north-central Anatolia from Sivas for approximately a century. In 1174/570, the Seljuks captured Sivas and it became a significant center in their central Anatolian empire.
Under the Seljuks, Sivas and the surrounding cities would reach peak affluence, becoming a center of the empire's trade within Anatolia and further abroad with city-states like Genoa and Venice.1 Sultan 'Ala al-Din Kayqubad I (r. 1220-1237/616-634 AH) constructed walls for the formerly unprotected city, and many public buildings were erected. Although the Seljuk walls do not remain, sources suggest that the periphery of the walled city was roughly circular with six gates. Near its center stood a congregational mosque (Ulu Cami) and a madrasa and hospital constructed by Seljuk Sultan Kayqawus I. The upper citadel, located on the ancient settlement mound, was located in the southwestern quadrant of the city, near the gate to the road to Kayseri. A second "lower" citadel was located close to the center of town. Building activity continued to boom in the second half of the thirteenth century, after the Seljuks had become vassals of the Ilkhans. During this period, three of the city's four remaining madrasas were constructed: the Çifte Minareli, Bürüciye, and Gök Madrasas.2
The invasion of Timur's armies in the late fourteenth century spelled disaster for Sivas, which surrendered to the Central Asian warlord in 1400/803 AH. Upon surrender, many inhabitants were killed and the city remained in ruins for some time thereafter. Few large projects were undertaken between the fourteenth century and the Ottoman period.
Under the Ottomans Sivas was a province of minor commercial importance. Despite this, the Ottoman governors continued to build mosques, hamams and other public buildings on a small scale. In 1919, Sivas was the host of a revolutionary congress led by Mustafa Kemal that started the Turkish War of Independence.
Today, Sivas is a city of close to 800,000 residents, and the capital of the Sivas province.
- Sinclair, Eastern Turkey, 295.
- On the layout of the city see Wolper, Cities and Saints, 44, and Gabriel, Monuments Turcs, 135.
Gabriel, Albert. Monuments Turcs d’Anatolie. 2 vols. 1:131-141. Paris: E. de Boccard, 1931.
Mitford, T.B., R. Talbert, Johan Åhlfeldt, Jeffrey Becker, W. Röllig, Tom Elliott, H. Kopp, DARMC, Sean Gillies, B. Siewert-Mayer, Francis Deblauwe, and Eric Kansa. "Sebasteia/Megalopolis?/Talaura?: a Pleiades place resource." Pleiades: A Gazetteer of Past Places, 2013 <https://pleiades.stoa.org/places/629075>
Sinclair, T. A. 1989. Eastern Turkey: An Architectural and Archaeological Survey. London: The Pindar Press II, 293-392.
Wolper, Ethel Sara. Cities and Saints: Sufism and the Transformation of Urban Space in Medieval Anatolia, 43-48. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.