A review of Building the Sultanate of Rum: Memory, Urbanism, and Mysticism in the Architectural Patronage of ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad (r. 1220-1237), by Suzan Yalman.
Suzan Yalman’s dissertation is the first comprehensive study of the architectural patronage of sultan ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad (r. 1220-37), whose rule has often been understood as the Golden Age of Rum Seljuk dominance over Anatolia. Soon ended by the Mongol conquest of Anatolia in 1243, which reduced the Rum Seljuk sultans to vassals of the Mongol Great Khan, and later of the Ilkhanids in Iran, this period has been depicted as the peak of Turko-Islamic rule in Anatolia. With a historiography that is closely connected to the rise of the Turkish nation state in the 1920s and 1930s (and later), as Oya Pancaroğlu has shown (Oya Pancaroğlu, “Formalism and the Academic Foundation of Turkish Art in the early Twentieth Century,” Muqarnas 24 (2007): 67-78), this period is nevertheless poorly understood beyond the cataloging of monuments. Here, Yalman’s contribution emerges with its detailed study of one patron and the his milieu around himwith in the capital Konya, but also in an itinerant court, and with a region that had only relatively recently come under Muslim rule. At the same time as using the sources closely related to the Seljuk court, Yalman also makes use of Byzantine and Crusader chronicles to illustrate the broader context (see primary sources at the end of this review). Most importantly, as Yalman explains at the very beginning of her text (pp. 1-2), she sets out to reevaluate the semi-mythical assessment of ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad, who is perhaps best known forof the monuments and particularly the splendid tile decoration that was excavated from his palace in the 1960s. Thus, it is the historical figure that emerges in the text, through a study of the written sources and the architecture.
In the introduction, Yalman explains her approach as a fundamentally historical one, interested in the facts behind ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s patronage rather than in the glorification of this ruler. Convincingly, she argues that Seljuq Anatolia, rather than the irrelevant periphery on the edge of Byzantium that it seems to be in much of modern history, was actually a crucial region connecting the Black Sea, Iran, and the Eastern Mediterranean (p. 3). This entails a critical look at the complex historiography of Seljuq Anatolia, a task that Yalman takes on in her introduction. At the same time, she recognizes the difficulties of any study of medieval Anatolia, a region almost notorious for the lack of primary sources compared to other parts of the medieval Islamic world. This clearly shows the influence of Yalman’s adviser, Gülru Necipoğlu, who is equally alert to such complexities in her own work (see,: Sibel Bozdoğan and Gülru Necipoğlu, “Entangled discourses: scrutinizing Orientalist and nationalist legacies in the architectural historiography of the ‘Lands of Rum’,” Muqarnas 24 (2007): 1-6).
One of the biggest challenges facing a historian of the Seljuqs is the multiple languages of primary sources that are in some way relevant to the region, ranging from Persian (the main court language of the Seljuqs, and hence that of many of their histories), Arabic (for Islamic texts, foundation documents, and building inscriptions), in addition to Greek, Armenian, Georgian, Latin, Turkish, and Mongolian, to say the least. As Yalman points out early on (p. 3), this plethora of research languages, all but impossible to master for a single scholar, has let to a fragmentation of the study of medieval Anatolia between specialists of the Seljuqs, Mongol history, Byzantine history, and Crusader studies, to name only a few. In choosing a monographic study of one patron, and hence focusing on the duration of his rule (17 years), Yalman consciously decides to frame her thesis in a way that will limit the body of monuments studied, and hence allow her to more broadly explore the historical and cultural context around. This is particularly important in a sub-field of Islamic art history, in which many studies have simply catalogued monuments by types (e.g. mosques, madrasas, or caravanserais), rather than exploring the socio-cultural history of the period that shaped them.
A thorough literature review (pp. 10-29) establishes the base for Yalman’s critical reassessment of medieval Anatolia, and of the place of ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s patronage in particular. Here, it is important to note that Yalman’s study is part of an ever- growing literature that critically reassesses the complex historiography of medieval Anatolia, with particular attention to the changing ideological tendencies that shaped a narrative that, even though exceedingly simplified, still permeates scholarship on the period. This overview of existing scholarship and its problems is followed by an – equally important – discussion of historical sources (pp. 29-34). The relative dearth of written sources from medieval Anatolia after the Seljuq conquest, particularly compared to the extensive works available for other regions of the Islamic world such as Syria or Egypt, has been deplored ever since Mehmed Fuad Köprülü’s account of the ‘local’ sources concerning the period (Mehmed Fuad Köprülü, The Seljuks of Anatolia: their history and culture according to local Muslim sources, trans. Gary Leiser, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1992, first published as “Anadolu Selçuklu Tarihinin Yerel Kaynaklari,” Belleten 7 (1943): 379-458). Here, Yalman offers a corrective in that she underlines the importance that of sources such as inscriptions and foundation documents (waqfīyas) must be considered in addition to chronicles, particularly in the absence of a Seljuq archive (p. 29). In fact, the absence of anything even remotely comparable to the rich archival sources related to Ottoman history may be one of the main frustrations of working on Seljuq Anatolia.
The first chapter, “Selective Memory: Sovereignty, Self-definition, and Legitimacy inm Rum Seljuq Anatolia,” focuses on the construction of kingship and legitimacy during the rule of ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad. In particular, Yalman views the ruler through the lens of the ‘capital’ (dār al-mulk, literally “the abode of sovereignty”) of Konya, a city located in central Anatolia and today best known for Mevlana, the shrine of Jalal al-Din Rumi, that is, Mevlana. In the 1220s, as Yalman shows throughout her dissertation, ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s patronage was intended to shape the city as the center of his rule. This project, begun immediately after ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s accession in 1220, is best viewed through the lens of the chronicler Ibn Bibi, who wrote in the 1280s and hence was not a contemporary of the ruler, as Yalman duly notes (pp. 35-36). Nevertheless, considering that much of ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s Konya is no longer extant (most notably the city walls, razed in the nineteenth century), Ibn Bibi remains the most important source on this project (p. 36). His descriptions of the richness of materials (while lacking specifics on motifs and forms), combined with those of later travelers, allow Yalman to present an image of the complex decorative program, and its connection to Seljuq legitimacy reaching back to the dynasty’s Iranian origins (pp. 36-40).
In the following analysis of the texts that were deemployed on the city walls and other buildings commissioned by ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad, Yalman argues that various texts were integral parts of the ruler’s self-fashioning (p. 40), including in architecture. Examples of this are fragments of inscriptions from the city walls of Konya. The fragmentary state of these pieces renders a full assessment of the project quite difficult (although Yalman does an excellent job at this). The city walls of Antalya, built under ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s brother and predecessor ‘Izz al-Din Kaykavus (r. 1211-20), briefly described in this dissertation and studied in detail by Gary Leiser and Scott Redford (Gary Leiser and Scott Redford, Victory Inscribed – The Seljuk Fetihnāme on the Citadel Walls of Antalya, Turkey, Antalya: Suna-İnan Kıraç Akdeniz Medeniyetleri Araştırmaları Merkezi, 2008), however, show the extent of planning required for such a program. Furthermore, Yalman includes a wide range of examples to discuss the Seljuq “public” text, and ways to define the royal genealogy (silsila) that reaches back to the Seljuqs of Iran (pp. 41-47).
In addition to these public signs of ancestry, the royal lineage and upbringing of ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad were also highlighted in Ibn Bibi’s chronicle that refers to the sultan’s reading (actual or expected) of advice literature for princes, known in Persian as naṣīḥatnāmes (pp. 47-49). Here Yalman points out that at the time Ibn Bibi was writing his chronicle in the 1280s, large parts of Anatolia had been under Mongol-Ilkhanid rule for several decades, and the chronicler may have been particularly keen on emphasizing ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s legitimacy (pp. 49-51). Nevertheless, fragments from the city walls in Konya—to connect back to patronage—suggest a broader interest in this advice literature in the education of the Seljuq princes (p. 52).
One question for discussion here is whether the local past of Anatolia was integrated into this narrative, and how. While Scott Redford has argued for a rather mythical inclusion of this past based on vague ideas of Roman imperium (Scott Redford, “The Seljuqs of Rum and the Antique,” Muqarnas, 10 (1993): 148-56), Yalman looks for a more concrete implementation of the past that brings together both the past of Anatolia and that of Iran (pp. 52-54), particularly relying on the quote from Ravandi, a writer of advice literature in the early thirteenth century. This leads Yalman to a detailed discussion of role models for ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad (pp. 54-56), particularly the eleventh-century sultan Mahmud of Ghazni (today in Afghanistan), who was often praised as the epitome of a Turkic ruler who had embraced Persian court culture (Ferdowsi, the author of the Shahname, was his protéegée). The Seljuqs, themselves Turkic Muslim rulers of Central Asian origin, were ideally suited to adopt this model in their court culture, titles, and behavior as rulers, as Yalman shows based on both textual evidence, including Ibn Bibi’s mention that passages from the Shahname were quoted on the city walls of Konya. In the absence of manuscripts of the Shahname from this period, this presents crucial evidence for the Seljuqs’ interest in the text, along with names like ‘Kayquybad’, ‘Kaykavus’ and ‘Kaykhusraw’, which were based on the Shahname and popular with the dynasty (pp. 55-59). Even though direct references have not been preserved, close attention to texts in conjecture conjunction with objects from Seljuq Konya reveals further knowledge of poetry associated with the Ghaznavid court, as Yalman (based on an earlier observation by Julie Scott Meisami) argues for a stone relief of a rhinoceros chasing an elephant (pp. 59-61) , and examples that connect the Seljuqs to the local, particularly the abundantly used double-headed eagles, evocative of the (one-headed) Roman one (pp. 62-68).
Moreover, reference to the dynasty’s own past, Great Seljuq rule in Iran (1040-1191), are extensive, as Yalman convincingly shows, for instance throughin ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s titles, for instance, which were used both in inscriptions and on tiles (pp. 68-70). This section contains an important reassessment of the Seljuq use of animal imagery (e.g. the eagle just mentioned), long thought to be talismanic symbols evocative of a shamanistic Turkic heritage that persisted after the conversion to Islam (p. 70). In Kayqubad’s case, however, the eagle was a more specific symbol of the ruler himself, and the numerous artifacts from Konya with eagles labelled “al-sultan” or “al-sulṭānī” only enhance this argument (p. 72). This association between ruler and eagle went so far that eventually, the eagle could be omitted entirely, and “al-sulṭān” as a title bestowed by the caliph stood out as a status symbol (pp. 76-77).
Eventually, “This pedigree of Perso-Islamic kingship helped legitimize Seljuq rule in Anatolia and superseded any Turkic identity” (p. 78). Although Yalman doesn’t explicitly state so, this observation in fact contravenes a historiography that often posits the Seljuqs as the Turkic (or, more often than not, Turkish) dynasty per se. Then, Yalman moves on to an analysis of the Seljuq’s acquisition of Abbasid legitimization—particularly important before the Mongol conquest in Baghdad in 1258 as the seal of caliphal approval. Again relying on Ibn Bibi, Yalman analyses how the Seljuq sultans gained legitimacy when the Abbasid caliph al-Nasir (r. 1180-1225) permitted them to join the futuwwa, a fraternity with strong symbolism, and ties to the caliph’s authority visible in titles on coins and buildings (pp. 81-87).
The analysis of the various dynastic, literary, and Islamic references discussed above leads Yalman to a new understanding of the Seljuq public text, addressing both these broader references and the local context of Rum (pp. 87-91). Moreover, in addition to these mostly patriarchal ties, marriage alliances played a role, both with surrounding Christian areas (including the Byzantine Empire) and other Muslim dynasties (pp. 92-103). Kayqubad was no exception, as his three wives (an Armenian noblewoman, an Ayyubid princess, and a cousin from a disgraced branch of the family), who also emerged as patrons of architecture, clearly show (pp. 104-10).
The next section of the chapter deals with the use of spolia, another way in which the Seljuqs related to the local heritage of Rum, in which Yalman reviews both the practical and symbolic usage of spolia in Konya and elsewhere in Anatolia (pp. 110-38). On the symbolic side, the analysis extends into the connection with Shihāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī, known as al-maqtūl (d. 1191), whose Platonic philosophy was influential at the Seljuq court (pp. 128-35). Yalman argues for a close connection between the spolia, and inscriptions on the walls of Konya, and the patron’s biography when she suggests that: “Kayqubad’s unusual childhood spent in exile traveling from court to court—from regional Seljuq to Cilician Armenian, Artuqid, Ayyubid, and finally Byzantine—set the foundations for a culturally sophisticated portrait of a ruler well-versed in universal symbols of sovereignty. Thus, it comes as no surprise that his conceptualization of the city wall of Konya was palimpsestuous in its layers of meaning, as it address an international audience both within the Rum Seljuq territories and beyond them” (p. 140). This statement,, and the underlying approach it reveals, are significant because it they revises the idea of Seljuq Anatolia as a closed unit, which continues to permeate scholarship on the period.
In her second chapter, “Division of Labor under the Philosopher King: Architectural Patronage and State Hierarchy in Kayqubad’s Anatolia,” Yalman looks more closely into the mechanics of the relationship between the sultan and his court, particularly as they play out in the context of construction projects. A central source here is Ibn Bibi’s account of the construction of the city walls of Konya in 1221 (the year after Kayqubad’s accession to the throne). According to this account, the sultan decided where the walls should be built, ordered his grandees to begin with the project at their expense, and inspected it when completed (pp. 142-45). This account, even though rather brief, is significant for its reference to some stages of the planning and construction process, and hence it forms the base for Yalman’s further study of Kayqubad’s patronage in this chapter, together with the naṣīḥatnāmes already discussed in Chapter 1.
There first part of the chapter discusses these texts as sources for the understanding and ideology of kingship at the Seljuq court, and its social stratification (pp. 148-52).
In three naṣīḥatnāmes dedicated to Kayqubad, including Najm al-Din Razi’s Mirṣād al-i’bād, which that was presented to the sultan, metaphors of rule appear that reflect the court’s hierarchical structure, while also showing to what extent the court in Konya attracted scholars (pp. 153-59). An understanding of this hierarchical structure is essential to reevaluate the notion of “military patronage state” (p. 160) as it has often been applied to Turkic Muslim dynasties , and its bearing on the Seljuqs of Rum. Yalman combines the analysis of these texts with the discussion of symbols such as eagles and spolia from Chapter 1, and images of rulers such as those on frescoes from the Ghazvanid palace in Lashkari Bazar. The naṣīḥatnāmes, it emerges, provide the conceptual frame, while Ibn Bibi’s texts presents the names of important offices that fill this hierarchical structure (p. 167). Overall, writes so Yalman: “The Rūm Seljuq state, in its organization, hierarchy and ceremonial, inherited a blend of Hellenistic and Perso-Islamic conceptions of political theory through Abbasid practice that was infused with Turkic traditions of kinship with similar traditions of divinely ordained kingship and ideas of world rulership” (p. 169).
During the rule of ‘Izz al-Din Kaykavus (r. 1211-20), as inscriptions on the walls of Sinop, a city on the Black Sea show, the grandees of the Seljuq court were responsible for financial contributions to construction, and had their names recorded in inscriptions on said walls, as Scott Redford’s recent study has shown (pp. 171-75); and similar processes took place in other cities. After ‘Izz al-Din Kaykavus’s death, according toso Ibn Bibi, the grandees met to decide about succession, given that the sultan had died without issue; Kayqubad emerged as the first choice (pp. 176-78). As far as the fragmentary evidence in the form of Ibn Bibi’s account and pieces of inscriptions from Konya allows Yalman to understand (pp. 178-91), the new sultan proceeded to commission the city walls of Konya and Sivas, using the same patronage structure that is recorded in Sinop for his brother’s reign (pp. 178-91). The epigraphic record is more complete in Antalya and Alanya, where an image similar to that in Sinop emerges (pp. 191-93). The extensive construction of city walls, according toso Yalman, harks back to the broader Islamic and Byzantine context, but also evokes the Roman tradition of Anatolia where many citadels had been built in some of the same cities that were still important under the Rūm Seljuqs (p. 198). Yet the authority expressed in these construction projects did not remain uncontested: in 1223, several grandees conspired against Kayqubad, albeit unsuccessfully. Once the rebellion was suppressed and the grandees’ power curtailed, the sultan pushed towards increasing centralization of the Seljuq state, including its finances, in an effort to secure his rule (pp. 202-11). Several grandees, however, remained powerful and new ones rose, most importantly Jalal al-Din Qaratay (d. 1254), who would become famous as a patron of architecture and remain in power even after the Mongol conquest (p. 212). In architecture, particularly in caravanserais, the patronage of Kayqubad and these grandees seems to have been associated with an increasingly centralized style, thewhose most striking feature of which were salient portals with muqarnas hoods over the doorway. Yet, Yalman rightly concludes: “This brief sketch of epigraphic and architectural details involving the caravanserais of Kayqubad and his amirs of ghulām origin seems to corroborate the idea of this sultan’s systematization of symbolic vocabulary that fell apart after his death” (p. 220).
In her third chapter, “A Civilized and Ideal Realm: Building and Urban Development in Kayqubad’s Anatolia,” Yalman moves from her discussion of Seljuq kingship and the associated construction of city walls to ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s patronage in Konya as the center of his realm, now consolidated and expanded, and on systems of infrastructure such as caravanserais, waterworks, and bridges thatwhich were built throughout the realm. At the center of Chapter 3 stands a discussion of Seljuq urbanism through building projects, particularly in Konya, Kayqubad’s palaces, and the caravanserai network. Thus, this chapter is an extensive discussion of the sultan’s architectural patronage, based on an analysis of written sources and extant sites. The discussion of urbanism in medieval Anatolia is marred by the lack of well-preserved urban structures—in many cities in the region, only individual monuments, but not the context of the medieval city has been preserved, but not the context of the medieval city. Hence, Yalman needs to rely on written sources, scarce as they are, to expand on the discussion of the extant monuments. The lack of archaeological investigation renders any understanding of urban space difficult, particularly the decades-old debates of continuity vs. rupture, and rise vs. decline, as Anatolia came from Byzantine under Turkish-Seljuq rule (pp. 236-37). Moreover, Yalman argues, the notion that the Seljuqs were a quintessentially nomadic dynasty is belied by the fact that Kayqubad’s imperial culture was an essentially urban one, both in its textual and architectural expressions (pp. 239-41). Of the monuments that have been preserved, the Alaeddin Mosque in Konya is perhaps the most well-known one, and although not Kayqubad’s foundation, it is one of the Friday Mosques that were essential to embedding the presence of Islam in a newly conquered region where conversion to Islam had only just begun (and, by all accounts, progressed slowly for centuries to come). At the same time, epigraphic evidence suggests that of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century foundations of mosques, many were smaller structures (masjid) rather than the larger ones (jāmi’) intended for the communal Friday prayer (pp. 245-47). The completion of the Alaeddin Mosque in Konya was part of his larger project to transform the city into his dār al-mulk, a royal center appropriate for the ideal ruler whose representation has been described in Chapters 1 and 2.
When Kayqubad assumed the throne and reconstructed the city walls, Konya had long been settled; geographers and travelers testify to the quality of the new construction in the Seljuq capital (pp. 255-61). Only the fragmentary remains of a pavilion remain survive from the Seljuq palace within Konya, and reconstructions based on archaeological finds from the 1940s remain problematic (pp. 261-63). The Alaeddin Mosque, located on top of the citadel hill, is better preserved and its epigraphic program allowed Scott Redford to trace the sequence of its construction, with Ala al-Din Kayqubad’s project leading to an expansion of the mosque to reach its current size (p. 272). In addition to the mosque, little is known of the patronage Kayqubad extended to Konya; in Alanya, he built a hospital (known only from written sources), as did other Seljuq rulers and their relatives; the at the same time, in Yalman’s view, the absence of a madrasa (a college of Islamic law) is somewhat curious (p. 285).
In the following section, Yalman discusses Kayqubad’s construction of palaces outside of Konya (pp. 285-305); none of these buildings have been preserved, but several have been excavated, including the most well-known site, that of Kubadabad near Beysehir in the Konya region (, but also others, particularly in the coastal region between Alanya and Antalya). The number of such sites, as well as their locations, show that although Konya was Kayqubad’s dar al-mulk, it was not his only residence (p. 286). The construction of caravanserais along important trade routes across Anatolia was another of Kayqubad’s projects, one that Yalman presents as part of the larger centralization project during the rule of Kayqubad (but also of his predecessor), that aimed at securing the Seljuq realm (pp. 305-18). Reaching an estimated 300 buildings in the thirteenth century, this network was crucial in connecting Anatolia to the trade networks that ran from Central Asia to Iran and the Levant, but also across the Black Sea and the Mediterranean (pp. 314-15). In the last section of this chapter, Yalman examines Konya as an ideal city where,: “Ultimately, Kayqubad’s aim to create a civilized and ideal realm was achieved. Konya became an urban and ideal pilgrimage destination at the heart of the empire” (p. 320).
The final chapter, “Aladdin’s Light: Illuminationism and Signs of Kayqubad as a Cosmic Ruler,” focuses on the sultan’s relationship to Sufism, and on his representation as a cosmic, ideal ruler. (A revised version of this chapter was published as, ” ‘Ala al-Din Kayqubad Illuminated: A Rum Seljuq Sultan as Cosmic Ruler,” Muqarnas 29 (2012): 151–86, for which Yalman received the Ömer Lütfi Barkan Article Prize from the Turkish Studies Association for the best article in Turkish and Ottoman Studies published in 2012.) Here, Yalman convincingly uses textiles, coins, and lead seals as evidence for the sultan’s antiquarian interest, apparent in the use of ancient symbols of sovereignty such as lions (pp. 326-60). The seals, in particular, had not been studied in detail previously, and many of them were found in relatively recent excavations (pp. 333-35); hence, Yalman’s interpretation of these objects is a central contribution of her work. A seal that Yalman interprets as an idealized bust of Kayqubad, created on Roman models, sets the Seljuq sultan on par with contemporary rulers such as Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (r. 1220-50), and displays his imperial ambitions (pp. 335-37). This points to a shared language of antiquarianism among the Seljuq, Byzantine, and Hohenstaufen courts (p. 340). Once more, Yalman successfully demonstrates that the Seljuqs were an integral part of a network of courts,, and well connected beyond Anatolia. At the same time, the comparison to the coins of Islamic dynasties such as the Artuqids in south-eastern Anatolia, who also used antique references on their coins, ties the Seljuqs to a broader Islamic context. In particular, representations of angel-like figures may reflect the illuminationist teachings of Suhrawardī, influential at both the Seljuq as well asand the Artuqid court, which that were in any case were quite closely connected (pp. 360-379). Cosmological symbolism goes further, appearing in stone reliefs on Seljuq monuments which that represent, for instance, signs of the zodiac; this went hand in hand with a broader interest for in the sciences, including astrology (pp. 379-84). Additionally, Kayqubad’s relationship to Sufis, including Suhrawardī and Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (better known as Mevlana), was part of the larger image of the ruler, even though it remains to be studied in more detail (pp. 385-397). Yalman is particularly interested in Suhrawardī’s influence, a theme that reappears throughout her dissertation. The light symbolism of light inof his writings, she observes, may be traced into Seljuq architecture, particularly inscriptions and geometric, stellar patterns (pp. 397-415).
Throughout her dissertation, Yalman subtly argues for a connected Seljuq court, effectively refuting the notion of an Anatolian unit through the analysis of texts and objects, rather than through rhetoric. This certainly is Yalman’s most significant contribution. This is true not only for the fields of Turkish studies and Islamic art, but also into the study of the medieval Mediterranean. Once published, this dissertation will be accessible and readable to historians and art historians who study medieval Europe, and wish to understand one of the courts in the Islamic world that was contemporary to, say, the Normans in Sicily and the construction of many Gothic cathedrals. By focusing on the creation and representation of the ruler’s image, both in texts and through construction projects, Yalman provides points of comparison that will be useful for a larger scholarly audience beyond her own field.
Stanford Humanities Center
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Harvard University. 2011. 485 pp. Primary Advisor: Gülru Necipoğlu.
Image: Alaeddin Mosque, Konya, Turkey, 1220-21 CE. Photograph by reviewer, Patricia Blessing.