Stone and wood were the main construction material in Anatolian Turkish culture. Carved decorations in the form of figurative and ornamental compositions appeared on mosques, madrasahs, turbes, tombstones, and caravan sarays. By the thirteen century designs moved towards more complex and intricate decorations and embroidery-like low reliefs with dense geometrical interlace angular motifs, Kufi inscriptions. In the Ottoman period emphasis shifted to plainer decorations and more imposing architectural elements. In the eighteenth century, stone decorations were largely replaced by stucco interior decorations, Baroque interlace and motifs, as intensive Westernization took place.
There is a widely held but quite erroneous belief that figurative painting, relief or sculpture is to be found in Islamic art due to prohibition by the Koran. Religious rulings issued only in the ninth century discouraged the representation of any living beings capable of movement but they were not rigidly enforced until the fifteenth century. Figurative art is especially rich in stone and stucco reliefs of the Seljuk period, adorning both secular and religious reliefs and tiles. The subjects included nobility as well as servants, subjects, hunters and hunting animals, trees, birds, sphinxes, lions, sirens, dragons and double-headed eagles. Some of the symbols are proof that shamanistic religious beliefs survived. The eagle was regarded, for example, as a holy bird, a protective spirit, and the guardian of heaven. It was also a symbol of potency and fertility. Eagles on tombstones or turbes reflect shamanistic beliefs that the souls of the dead rose up to Heaven in the form of birds. In Seljuk architecture, small human heads are sometimes scattered among arabesques.
Reference: E. Akurgal. The Art and Architecture of Turks, Rizzoli International Publications, NY, 1980.
Some selected examples (please click on pictures to enlarge):