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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A sample floorplan of a Safavid caravanserai.

A caravanserai or khan (Persian: كاروانسرا kārvānsarā) was a (usually Persian-inspired or built) roadside inn where travelers 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 South-Eastern Europe.

Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai

Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
Abode his destined Hour, and went his way.

Fitzgerald, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Stanza 17 in the 5th Edition



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.[1]

Caravanserais provided water for human and animal consumption, washing, and ritual ablutions. Sometimes they even had elaborate baths. They also kept fodder for animals and had shops for travellers where they could acquire new supplies. In addition, there could be shops where merchants could dispose of some of their goods.[2]


The word is also rendered as caravansarai or caravansary. The Persian word kārvānsarā is a compound word combining ''kārvān (caravan) with sara (palace, building with enclosed courts), to which the Persian suffix -yi is added. Here "caravan" means a group of traders, pilgrims, or other travelers, engaged in long distance travel.

The caravanserai was also known as a khan (Persian خان,) han in Turkish, funduq in Arabic, and fundaco in Venice.

In music

Loreena McKennitt's album An Ancient Muse features a track titled Caravanserai.
Kitaro has a song called "Caravansary" (Listen: [3])on his album Silk Road IV: Tenjiku/India (1983)[4]. It also appears on the albums Daylight, Moonlight: Live in Yakushiji (2002)[5] and Best of Silk Road (2003)[6]. The term also appears in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Pirates of Penzance.[7]

Santana produced an album by this name on the Columbia label.

Notable caravansaries


See also

Further reading

  • Branning, Katharine. 2002. The Seljuk Han in Anatolia., New York, USA.
  • Encyclopedia 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.
  • Yavuz, Aysil Tükel. 1997. The Concepts that Shape Anatolian Seljuq Caravanserais. In: Gülru Necipoglu (ed). 1997. Muqarnas XIV: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 80-95. Available online as a PDF document, 1.98 MB


  1. ^ Sims, Eleanor. 1978. Trade and Travel: Markets and Caravanserais.' In: Michell, George. (ed.). 1978. Architecture of the Islamic World - Its History and Social Meaning. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 101.
  2. ^ Ciolek, T. Matthew. 2004-present. Catalogue of Georeferenced Caravanserais/Khans. Old World Trade Routes (OWTRAD) Project. Canberra: - Asia Pacific Research Online.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^,-Moonlight:-Live-in-Yakushiji-201747/
  6. ^
  7. ^ Hold, monsters! Ere your pirate caravanserai / Proceed, against our will, to wed us all, / Just bear in mind that we are Wards in Chancery, / And father is a Major-General!

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CARAVANSERAI, a public building, for the shelter of a caravan and of wayfarers generally in Asiatic Turkey. It is commonly constructed in the neighbourhood, but not within the walls, of a town or village. It is quadrangular in form, with a dead wall outside; this wall has small windows high up, but in the lower parts merely a few narrow air-holes. Inside a cloister-like arcade, surrounded by cellular store-rooms, forms the ground floor, and a somewhat lighter arcade, giving access to little dwelling-rooms, runs round it above. Broad open flights of stone steps connect the storeys. The central court is open to the sky, and generally has in its centre a well with a fountain-basin beside it. A spacious gateway, high and wide enough to admit the passage of a loaded camel, forms the sole entrance, which is furnished with heavy doors, and is further guarded within by massive iron chains, drawn across at night. The entry is paved with flagstones, and there are stone seats on each side. The court itself is generally paved, and large enough to admit of three or four hundred crouching camels or tethered mules; the bales of merchandise are piled away under the lower arcade, or stored up in the cellars behind it. The upstairs apartments are for human lodging; cooking is usually carried on in one or more corners of the quadrangle below. Should the caravanserai be a small one, the merchants and their goods alone find place within, the beasts of burden being left outside. A porter, appointed by the municipal authority of the place, is always present, lodged just within the gate, and sometimes one or more assistants. These form a guard of the building and of the goods and persons in it, and have the right to maintain order and, within certain limits, decorum; but they have no further control over the temporary occupants of the place, which is always kept open for all arrivals from prayer-time at early dawn till late in the evening. A small gratuity is expected by the porter, but he has no legal claim for payment, his maintenance being provided for out of the funds of the institution. Neither food nor provender is supplied.

Many caravanserais in Syria, Mesopotamia and Anatolia have considerable architectural merit; their style of construction is in general that known as Saracenic; their massive walls are of hewn stone; their proportions apt and grand. The portals especially are often decorated with intricate carving; so also is the prayerniche within. These buildings, with their belongings, are works of charity, and are supported, repaired and so forth out of funds derived from pious legacies, most often of land or rentals. Sometimes a municipality takes on itself to construct and maintain a caravanserai; but in any case the institution is tax-free, and its revenues are inalienable. When, as sometimes happens, those revenues have been dissipated by peculation, neglect or change of times, the caravanserai passes through downward stages of dilapidation to total ruin (of which only too many examples may be seen) unless some new charity intervene to repair and renew it.

Khans, i.e. places analogous to inns and hotels, where not lodging only, but often food and other necessaries or comforts may be had for payment, are sometimes by inaccurate writers confounded with caravanserais. They are generally to be found within the town or village precincts, and are of much smaller dimensions than caravanserais. The khan of Asad Pasha at Damascus is a model of constructive skill and architectural beauty.

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