Cosmic Tree and its Reflections on Anatolian Turkish Art

Fatma Ahsen Turan, Nermin Şaman Doğan

Cosmic Tree and its Reflections on Anatolian Turkish Art

(53rd Annual Meeting of the PIAC, St. Petersburg 2010)

The belief to view the tree holy is very old. The forms of this belief can be traced not only various cultures but also in Turkish history, folklore and art.

The life tree is viewed as the symbol of the earth centre. This tree is the horizental and the vertical centre binding the sky and the earth. It is assumed that it is located on a hill or a mountain, so its branches reach the highest layers of the sky.

The cosmic tree is about the opinions of creation and mortality, Besides, it is made rich with the symbols of woman, water, milk, and animal. This tree is the one that is always green, bloom, with much fruit, and the one that makes one immortal who eats its fruit. In different cultures it is believed that immortal water/spring feeds this life tree and there exists a snake, a dragon, and a lion that protect it.

The cosmic tree has a significant place in the old Turkish traditions. Especially, in Şamanist cultures it is a step for the şaman to reach god, a temporary road. Thus, the cloth and the drum used in Şaman ceremony have the picture of this specific tree.

From the Middle Assia to Anatolia and in different time zones the cosmic tree is used as an element of Turkish architectural art, handcrafts, and miniatures.

In this study we aim to determine the reflections of the cosmic tree on Anatolian’s Seljuks and İlkhanid Architecture and discuss it with samples. This cosmic tree is seen in some madrasas and tombs’ faces, portals and civil architecture samples, and the walls of the palaces.

Sivas Gök (1271), Erzurum Çifte Minare (1285-90) madrasa portals, Kayseri Döner Tomb’s faces (1276-1277), Beyşehir Kubad Abad Palace (1236) wall tiles are examples. The life tree motives on the faces of Ağrı/ Doğu Beyazıt İshak Pasha Palace ( 1784) show that this tradition dates back to 18th century.

The life tree motives mentioned above are seen in different compositions. Among these compositions are the life tree, the one with fruits that is protected by lions, dragons, and the one, on top of which a double-head eagle is seen.

The life tree descriptions are seen not only in architecture but also in some handcrafts such as carpet, rug, and chandelier.