was a roadside inn
where travelers (caravaners
) could rest and recover from the day's journey.
Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information and people across the network of trade routes
covering Asia, North Africa
and Southeast Europe
, most notably the Silk Road
Although many were located along rural roads in the countryside, urban versions of caravanserais were also historically common in cities throughout the Islamic world
, though they were often called by other names such as khan
, or funduq
Terms and etymology
The word کاروانسرای
is a Persian
compound word combining kārvān
" with sarāy
"palace", "building with enclosed courts".
Here "caravan" means a group of traders, pilgrims or other travellers, engaged in long-distance travel. The word is also rendered as caravansary
, and caravansarai
In scholarly sources, it is often used as an umbrella term for multiple related types of commercial buildings similar to inns or hostels, whereas the actual instances of such buildings had a variety of names depending on the region and the local language.
However, the term was typically preferred for rural inns built along roads outside of city walls.
The word khan
) derives from Middle Persian hʾn'
It could refer to an "urban caravanserai" built within a town or a city,
or generally to any caravanserai, including those built in the countryside and along desert routes.
In Turkish the word is rendered as han
The same word was used in Bosnian
, having arrived through Ottoman conquest
. In addition to Turkish and Persian, the term was widely used in Arabic as well, and examples of such buildings are found throughout the Middle East from as early as the Ummayyad
The term funduq
; sometimes spelled foundouk
from the French
transliteration) is frequently used for historic inns in Morocco and around western North Africa
The word comes from Greek pandocheion
, lit.: "welcoming all",
thus meaning 'inn', led to funduq
in Arabic (فندق
in Hebrew (פונדק
in Venice, fondaco
in Genoa and alhóndiga
in Spanish (funduq
is the origin of Spanish term fonda
). In the cities of this region such buildings were also frequently used as housing for artisan workshops.:318
The Arabic word wikala
(وكالة), sometimes spelled wakala
, is a term found frequently in historic Cairo for an urban caravanserai which housed merchants and their goods and served as a center for trade, storage, transactions and other commercial activity.
The word wikala
means roughly "agency" in Arabic
, in this case a commercial agency,
which may also have been a reference to the customs
offices that could be located here to deal with imported goods.
The term khan
was also frequently used for this type of building in Egypt.
Caravanserais were a common feature not only along the Silk Road, but also along the Achaemenid Empire
's Royal Road
, a 2,500-kilometre-long (1,600 mi) ancient highway that stretched from Sardis
according to Herodotus
: "Now the true account of the road in question is the following: Royal stations exist along its whole length, and excellent caravanserais; and throughout, it traverses an inhabited tract, and is free from danger."
Other significant urban caravanserais were built along the Grand Trunk Road
in the Indian subcontinent
, especially in the region of Mughal Delhi
and Bengal Subah
Throughout most of the Islamic period
(7th century and after), caravanserais were a common type of structure both in the rural countryside and in dense urban centers across the Middle East
, North Africa
, and Ottoman
A number of 12th to 13th-century caravanserais or han
s were built throughout the Seljuk Empire
, many examples of which have survived across Turkey
(e.g. the large Sultan Han
in Aksaray Province
) as well as in Iran
(e.g. the Ribat-i Sharaf
). Urban versions of caravanserais also became important centers of economic activity in cities across these different regions of the Muslim world, often concentrated near the main souq
areas, with many examples still standing in the historic areas of Damascus
In many parts of the Muslim world, caravanserais also provided revenues that were used to fund charitable or religious functions or buildings. These revenues and functions were managed through a waqf
, a protected agreement which gave certain buildings and revenues the status of mortmain
endowments guaranteed under Islamic law
Many major religious complexes in the Ottoman
empires, for example, either included a caravanserai building (like in the külliye
of the Süleymaniye Mosque
in Istanbul) or drew revenues from one in the area (such as the Wikala al-Ghuri
in Cairo, which was built to contribute revenues for the nearby complex of Sultan al-Ghuri
Caravanserai in Arab literature
the Arab geographer wrote in 985 CE about the hostelries, or wayfarers' inns, in the Province of Palestine, a province 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.
The courtyard of the Koza Han
(1490-91) of Bursa
; the domed building is a small mosque (mescit
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 animal 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 purification
such as wudu
. Sometimes they had elaborate public baths (hammams
), or other attached amenities such as a fountain or a sabil/sebil
. They also kept fodder
for animals and had shops for travellers where they could acquire new supplies. In addition, some shops bought goods from the travelling merchants.
Many caravanserais were also equipped with small mosques, such as the elevated examples in the Seljuk and Ottoman caravanserais in Turkey.
In Cairo, starting in the Burji Mamluk
s (urban caravanserais) were frequently several stories tall and often included a rab'
, a low-income rental apartment complex, which was situated on the upper floors while the merchant accommodations occupied the lower floors.
In addition to making the best use of limited space in a crowded city, this also provided the building with two sources of revenue which were managed through the waqf
Alphabetically, not taking article (al-, el-, etc.) into consideration.
- Ağzıkara Han, Ağzıkarahan (Aksaray Province), Turkey
- Akbari Sarai, Lahore, Pakistan
- Büyük Han, Nicosia, Cyprus
- Büyük Valide Han, Istanbul, Turkey
- Büyük Yeni Han, Istanbul, Turkey
- Caravanserai of Sa'd al-Saltaneh, Qazvin, Iran
- Corral del Carbón, Granada, Spain
- Funduq Nejjarine, Fes, Morocco
- Funduq Sagha, Fes, Morocco
- Funduq Shamma'in, Fes, Morocco
- Funduq Staouniyyin, Fes, Morocco
- Garghabazar Caravanserai, Kharabakh, Azerbaijan
- Khan As'ad Pasha, Damascus, Syria
- Khan Jaqmaq, Damascus, Syria
- Khan el-Khalili, Cairo, Egypt
- Khan Sulayman Pasha, Damascus, Syria
- Khan al-Tujjar, Mount Tabor, Israel
- Khan al-Tujjar, Nablus, West Bank
- Khan Tuman, Damascus, Syria
- Khan al-Umdan, Acre, Israel
- Koza Han, Bursa, Turkey
- Kürkçü Han, Istanbul, Turkey
- Manuc's Inn, Bucharest, Romania
- Multani Caravanserai, Baku, Azerbaijan
- Mughal Sarai, Surat, Gujarat, India
- Nampally Sarai, Nampally, Hyderabad, India
- Orbelian's Caravanserai, Armenia
- Rabati Malik, Uzbekistan
- Shaki Caravanserai, Shaki, Azerbaijan
- Sultan Han, Sultanhanı (Aksaray Province), Turkey
- Sultan Han, Sultanhanı (Kayseri Province), Turkey
- Wikala al-Ghuri, Cairo, Egypt
- Wikala Qaytbay (at al-Azhar), Cairo, Egypt
- Wikala Qaytbay (at Bab al-Nasr), Cairo, Egypt
- Zeinodin Caravanserai, Zein-o-din, Yazd, Iran
Caravanserai of Shah Abbas, now Abbasi Hotel
, in Isfahan
, Iran. View is from the courtyard (sahn).
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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. 2018. turkishhan.org, The Seljuk Han in Anatolia. New York, USA.
- Cytryn-Silverman, Katia. 2010. The Road Inns (Khans) in Bilad al-Sham. BAR (British Archaeological Reports), Oxford. ISBN 9781407306711
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- 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]
Last edited on 3 May 2021, at 22:09
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