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A caravanserai ( 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.


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 stall, 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 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.


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: )on his album Silk Road IV: Tenjiku/India (1983). It also appears on the albums Daylight, Moonlight: Live in Yakushiji (2002) and Best of Silk Road (2003).The term also appears in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Pirates of Penzance.

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

Notable caravansaries


File:Sadolsaltaneh_caravanserai.jpg|Interior of the Caravanserai of Sa'd al-Saltaneh in Qazvinmarker.File:Hotel Shah Abbas Sahn.jpg|Caravanserai of Shah Abbas, now a hotel, in Isfahanmarker. View is from courtyard (sahn).File:Sangi caravansara.jpg|Caravanserai Sangi in Zanjanmarker.File:Caravansarai Karaj.jpg|A caravanserai in Karajmarker, Iranmarker of Safavid eraFile:Caravanserai-Sheki.jpg|Caravanserai in Shakimarker, AzerbaijanmarkerFile:Neyestanak_Caravanserai_Inner_Courtyard_2007-01-01.jpg|Abandoned caravanserai in Neyestānakmarker, IranmarkerFile:Akko-13-The Khan al-Umdan.jpg|Khan al-Umdanmarker in Acremarker, IsraelmarkerFile:Damascus Khan asad Pacha.JPG|Khan As'ad Pashamarker in Damascusmarker, SyriamarkerFile: Agzikarahan1.jpg|caravanserai portal near Aksaraymarker, Turkeymarker

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.
  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!

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