Lodging in a Silk Road Caravansary

15 May, 2016 John Flint Travel Stories 764 Views 30 Shares
Lodging in a Silk Road Caravansary

Want to stay in a traditional Persian caravanserai? Here's what you need to know, including most popular ones to stay or simply visit.

Below photo of Maranjab Caravansary.


The Caravansary

Caravansary literary translates to "lodging for caravans,” from kārvān or “caravan” and sarāy “house.” These buildings were the inn of the Orient, providing accommodation for commercial, pilgrim, postal, and official travellers. Caravanserai's could be established by religious foundations on pilgrim routes or by merchants’ guilds, as well as by rulers and notables on normal commercial routes. Especially during the reign of Shah Abbās I (17th CE) the road system was systematically extended throughout Iran. This establishing majority of the common trade routes at the time and generally linked:

  1. Isfahan to Faraḥābād, Sīrjān, Yazd, Bāft, Kermān, Hamadān and Mašhad;
  2. Bandar-e Abbās to Shiraz;
  3. Kermān to Mašhad;
  4. Qazvīn to Jolfā;
  5. Tehran to Mašhad.

During the Safavid and Qajar times there was a state architectural department specifically concerned with the construction of caravanserai's and stations on the overland routes. Between the growing empires around Europe and China there was a growing desire for prestige and nobility.

The Architecture

This common designs developed from the 1st millennium BCE and evolved with the growing road networks and other political influences. Common caravanserai's consisted of square or rectangular plans around a central courtyard and one entrance. Whether fortified or not the caravanserai's provided security against animals of prey and attacks by pillagers.

The Persian caravansary significantly influences architecture of the Islamic lands. The crusades brought them to Europe which combined with cruciform aisles of Catholicism, castles of Teutonic Knights, Renaissance and Baroque palaces. Corner towers along the curtain walls conveyed a powerful and forbidding impression, after all the word 'rook' (chess) was borrowed from Persian 'rokh.'  The Mongol invasion brought a visible change in building forms and functions. Typically incorporating arched niches on both sides of portals, serving as cupboards and fireplaces for overnight guests outside of the caravansary. The portal was placed architecturally on the central axis of the façade, and emphasized with a projected entrance block. In the upper story there were residential quarters for more affluent travellers. There were series of anterooms (instead of porticos) with arched entrances to reach the guest rooms. Both anterooms and guest rooms were provided with niches and fireplaces, but only guest rooms had vented chimneys. The anterooms were often incorporated into the horse stables around the outer perimeter with sleeping platforms for caravan drivers. These were frequently divided into four sections in order to increase the capacity and privacy. On each side of the entrance usually had rooms for the guard and reception manager. Larger caravanserai's also had storerooms, latrines, baths and places for prayer.

Until the construction of caravanserai's came to an end at the beginning of the 20th century, they represented an unbroken tradition of considerable achievement within Iranian architecture.


Regional Variations

In certain regions of Iran there were caravanserai's without interior courtyards, mountain caravanserai's where completely roofed, and the Persian Gulf had pavilion types to hotter coastal areas.

Rebāṭs (mountain caravanserai's) were built around passes and partially dug into cliffs for shelter. They provided travelers shelter from snow storms and avalanches in the autumn and spring; in winter the roads through the passes are almost entirely blocked. The completely roofed type rebāṭs encompassed a broad range from small road stations to royal structures of the period of Shah Abbās I. In the hot, humid coastal areas along the Persian Gulf, the climatic pattern is entirely different from the desert basins or the highlands. The pavilion style had many variations in plan and construction. The basic type was square with a cruciform central space, corner rooms and stone platforms encircled the building for shade. These rooms could be entered from the outside, with minimal protection needed during the reign of Shah Abbās I, who provided general caravan route security. These pavilion types could be open on all sides in order to permit the cooling winds to blow through the buildings. The āb anbār (water cisterns) for pavilion caravanserai's were usually larger than the accommodations themselves.


The Engineering

The size of the caravanserai's, especially those built in courtyard form, depended upon the frequency of traffic on the different roads. The construction size provided function and the need for space, not necessarily ostentation. The significance of the roads and crossings therefore indicated relative size and capacity. The spacing between caravanserai's were around 30-40 km (average 35 km), representing a day’s caravan journey. However in slower mountainous regions the interval could be as small as 10-20 km. The pavilion caravanserai's in the lowlands were only about 5 km apart. There were also Čāpār-ḵānas (postal stations) frequently built next to the large caravanserai's mainly in the later Qajar Period (19th CE). The common caravanserai's were built of baked brick, however the rebāṭs (mountain caravanserai's) and the pavilion types more frequently had rubble with stucco facing.


Where to Find?

Most most famous ones to visit today include:

Zein-o-din (Yazd - Operational)

Maranjab (Aran o Bidgol)

Robat Sharaf (Mashhad)

Dayr-e Gachin (National Kavir Park)

Moshir-ol-molk (Bushehr)

Qasr-e Bahram (Tehran)

Abbas Abad (Semnan)

Miandasht (Semnan)

Robat Karim (Tehran-Saveh road)

Hoz-e Sultan (Qom)

Dodehak (Markazi)

Khargoshi (Yazd)

Pasangan (Qom)

About Author


John Flint

Tehran Sfiran Writing Editor

I'm John, I'm based in Tehran doing freelance writing, editing and marketing.

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