A caravanserai (Persian: کاروانسرا) or caravansary was a roadside inn where travelers could rest and recover from the day's journey. In the Middle-East, it is often called by its Persian name khan, (خان). Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information, and people across the network of trade routes covering Asia, North Africa, and southeastern Europe, especially along the Silk Road.
These were found frequently along the Persian Empire's Royal Road, a 2,500-kilometre (1,600 mi) long ancient highway that stretched from Sardis to Susa according to Herodotus: "Now the true account of the road in question is the following: Royal stations exist along its whole length, and excellent caravansaries; and throughout, it traverses an inhabited tract, and is free from danger."
The word is also rendered as caravansara or caravansary. The Persian word kārvānsarā is a compound word combining kārvān (caravan) with sara (palace, building with enclosed courts), to which the old Persian suffix -yi is added. Here "caravan" means a group of traders, pilgrims, or other travelers, engaged in long distance travel.
A number of place-names based on the word sarai have grown up: Mughal Serai, Sarai Alamgir and Sarai Rohilla for example, though many places (for example, a great many of those listed in the disambiguation page) are also based on the original meaning of "palace".
The Persian caravanserai was built as a large road station, outside of towns. An inn built inside a town would be smaller and was known in Persian as a khan (خان). In the Middle-East the term "khan" covers both meanings, of roadside inn as well as of inner-town inn. In Turkish the word is rendered as han. The Greek pandocheion, lit.: "welcoming all", thus meaning ‘inn’, led to funduq in Arabic (فندق), pundak in Hebrew (פונדק), fundaco in Venice and fondaco in Genoa.
Caravanserai in Arab literature
Al-Muqaddasi the Arab geographer wrote in 985 CE about the hostelries, or wayfarers' inns, in the Province of Palestine, a country at that time listed under the topography of Syria, saying: “Taxes are not heavy in Syria, with the exception of those levied on the Caravanserais (Fanduk); Here, however, the duties are oppressive...” The reference here being to the imposts and duties charged by government officials on the importation of goods and merchandise, the importers of which and their beasts of burden usually stopping to take rest in these places. Guards were stationed at every gate to ensure that taxes for these goods be paid in full, while the revenues therefrom accruing to the Fatimid kingdom of Egypt.
Most typically a caravanserai was a building with a square or rectangular walled exterior, with a single portal wide enough to permit large or heavily laden beasts such as camels to enter. The courtyard was almost always open to the sky, and the inside walls of the enclosure were outfitted with a number of identical stalls, bays, niches, or chambers to accommodate merchants and their servants, animals, and merchandise.
Caravanserais provided water for human and animal consumption, washing, and ritual ablutions. Sometimes they had elaborate baths. They also kept fodder for animals and had shops for travelers where they could acquire new supplies. In addition, some shops bought goods from the traveling merchants.
Khan al-Wazir, Aleppo, Syria
- Caravan city
- Islamic architecture
- Turkish architecture
- Persian architecture
- Persian gardens and bagh
- List of caravanserai
- List of Seljuk hans and kervansarays in Turkey
- List of streets, hans and gates in Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
- "The History - Herodotus" - http://classics.mit.edu/Herodotus/history.mb.txt
- Mukaddasi, Description of Syria, Including Palestine, ed. Guy Le Strange, London 1886, pp. 91, 37
- Sims, Eleanor. 1978. Trade and Travel: Markets and Caravansary.' In: Michell, George. (ed.). 1978. Architecture of the Islamic World - Its History and Social Meaning. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 101.
- Ciolek, T. Matthew. 2004-present. Catalogue of Georeferenced Caravansaras/Khans. Old World Trade Routes (OWTRAD) Project. Canberra: www.ciolek.com - Asia Pacific Research Online.
- Vladimir Braginskiy. Tourist Attractions in the USSR: A Guide. Raduga Publishers, 1982. 254 pages. Page 104.
The whole of the centre of Sheki has been proclaimed a reserve protected by the state. To take you back to the time of the caravans, two large eighteenth-century caravanserais have been preserved with spacious courtyards where the camels used to rest, cellars where goods were stored, and rooms for travellers.
- Branning, Katharine. 2002. turkishhan.org, The Seljuk Han in Anatolia. New York, USA.
- Encyclopædia Iranica, p. 798-802
- Erdmann, Kurt, Erdmann, Hanna. 1961. Das anatolische Karavansaray des 13. Jahrhunderts, 3 vols. Berlin: Mann, 1976, ISBN 3-7861-2241-5
- Hillenbrand, Robert. 1994. Islamic Architecture: Form, function and meaning. NY: Columbia University Press. (see Chapter VI for an in depth overview of the caravanserai).
- Kiani, Mohammad Yusef. 1976. Caravansaries in Khorasan Road. Reprinted from: Traditions Architecturales en Iran, Tehran, No. 2 & 3, 1976.
- Schutyser, Tom. 2012. Caravanserai: Traces, Places, Dialogue in the Middle East. Milan: 5 Continents Editions, ISBN 978-88-7439-604-7
- Yavuz, Aysil Tükel. 1997. The Concepts that Shape Anatolian Seljuq Caravansara. In: Gülru Necipoglu (ed). 1997. Muqarnas XIV: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 80-95. [archnet.org/library/pubdownloader/pdf/8967/doc/DPC1304.pdf Available online as a PDF document, 1.98 MB]
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Caravanserais.|
- Shah Abbasi Caravanserai, Tishineh
- Caravansara Pictures
- Consideratcaravanserai.net, Texts and photos on research on caravanserais and travel journeys in Middle East and Central Asia.
- Caravanserais (Kervansaray) in Turkey
- The Seljuk Han in Anatolia