Achaemenid Structures > Caravanserai

Caravanserai

Background

A Caravanserai, known in Persian as کاروانسرا‎‎ and in Turkish as Kervansaray was a inn and rest stop for travelers, known as caravaners along the Royal Road. These important structures contained soldiers, fresh horses and provsions and were all spaced about a days travel from each other so soldiers, messengers, merchants and other travelers could easily rest. They also allowed the Persians to deploy small military garrisons all along their Royal Road stretching from Susa to Sardis.

These important hubs facilitated cultural diffusion as well as commerce, messages, information and travel all throughout the Persian Empire and would eventually sprout up along the Silk Road and covered nearly all of Asia, north Africa and south-eastern Europe. Caravanserai were described by Herodotus as;

"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."

Herodotus - Histories

Caravanserai were also built in India along the Grand Trunk Road and especially in the region of Mughal Bengal.

Caravanserai[edit]The word is also rendered as caravansary, caravansaray, caravanseray and caravansara. The Persian word Kārwānsarā is a compound word combining Kārwān (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, and a great many other places are also based on the original meaning of "palace".Khan[edit]The Persian caravanserai was built as a large road station, outside of towns. An inn built inside a town would be smaller[3] and was known in Turkic 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 same word was used in Bosnian, having arrived through Ottoman conquest. The Greek pandocheion, lit.: "welcoming all",[4] thus meaning 'inn', led to funduq in Arabic (فندق), pundak in Hebrew (פונדק), fundaco in Venice, fondaco in Genoa and alhóndiga[5] in Spanish.Caravanserai in Arab literature[edit]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...”[6] 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.Architecture[edit]A sample floorplan of a Safavid caravanseraiMost 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.[7]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.[8]

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