The Izadkhast caravanserai (early 17th century), Fars Province, Iran

A caravanserai (or caravansary; /kærəˈvænsəˌr/)[1] was a roadside inn where travelers (caravaners) could rest and recover from the day's journey.[2] 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.[3][4] Often located along rural roads in the countryside, urban versions of caravanserais were also historically common in cities throughout the Islamic world, and were often called other names such as khan, wikala, or funduq.[5]

Terms and etymology

The Ganjali Khan Caravanserai (1598), in Kerman, Iran


Caravanserai (Persian: کاروانسرای, romanizedkārvānsarāy), is the Persian compound word variant combining kārvān "caravan" with -sarāy "palace", "building with enclosed courts".[6] Here "caravan" means a group of traders, pilgrims or other travellers, engaged in long-distance travel. The word is also rendered as caravansary, caravansaray, caravanseray, caravansara, and caravansarai.[4] 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.[5] However, the term was typically preferred for rural inns built along roads outside of city walls.[7]


Khan As'ad Pasha, a caravanserai built in 1752 in Damascus, Syria

The word khan (خان) derives from a clipping of Middle Persian: 𐭡𐭩𐭲𐭠, romanized: xānag, lit.'house'.[8][5] It could refer to an urban caravanserai built within a town or a city[5][9] or to any caravanserai in general, including those built in the countryside and along desert routes.[10]

In Turkish the word is rendered as han.[5] The same word was used in Bosnian and Bulgarian, having arrived through the 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 Umayyad Caliphate.[5][9] The term han is also used in Romanian being adopted from Ottoman Turkish.[citation needed]


Funduq al-Najjarin in Fes, Morocco

The term funduq (Arabic: فندق; sometimes spelled foundouk or fondouk from the French transliteration) is frequently used for historic inns in Morocco and around the Maghreb.[5][11][12]: 116 

The word comes from Koinē Greek: πανδοκεῖον, romanized: welcoming all; an inn;[13][5] it appears as Hebrew: פונדק, romanizedpundaq, fundaco in Venice, fondaco in Genoa and alhóndiga[14] or fonda in Spanish. In the cities of this region such buildings were also frequently used as housing for artisan workshops.[15][11][16]: 318 


The Wikala of Sultan al-Ghuri (1504-05), one of the best-preserved examples in Cairo

The Arabic word wikala (وكالة), sometimes spelled wakala or wekala, 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.[17] The word wikala means roughly "agency" in Arabic, in this case a commercial agency,[17] which may also have been a reference to the customs offices that could be located here to deal with imported goods.[18] The term khan was also frequently used for this type of building in Egypt.[5]


The term okelle or okalle, the Italianized rendering of the Arabic word wikala, is used for a type of large urban buildings in 19th century Egypt, specifically in Alexandria. Here, the older Egyptian wikala was reinterpreted in an Italianate style by the Italian architect Francesco Mancini. Directed by Muhammad Ali, he designed and built a number of okelles delineating the Place des Consuls (the main square of Alexandria's European quarter), which served as consular mansions, a European-style hotel, and a stock exchange, among other functions.[19]


Kāṭrā (Bengali: কাটরা) is the name given to the caravanserais built by the Mughal Empire in Bengal. The Bara Katra (Bengali: বড় কাটরা, romanized: Baṛa Kāṭrā, lit.'Great Caravanserai') and Chhota Katra (Bengali: ছোট কাটরা, romanized: Chōṭa kāṭrā, lit.'Small Caravanserai') refers to two magnificent Mughal katras in Dhaka, Bangladesh.[20][21][22][23][24]


See also: Safavid Iran § Travel and caravanserais

The entrance portal of the Sultan Han (13th century) near Aksaray, Turkey

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 to Susa 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."[25] 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 (seventh 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 Europe.[5] A number of 12th to 13th-century caravanserais or hans were built throughout the Seljuk Empire, many examples of which have survived across Turkey today[26][27] (e.g. the large Sultan Han in Aksaray Province) as well as in Iran (e.g. the Ribat of Sharaf in Khorasan province). 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 bazaar areas, with many examples still standing in the historic areas of Damascus, Aleppo, Cairo, Istanbul, Fes, etc.[28][29][30][31][16]

Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century Muslim traveler, described the function of a caravenserai in the region of China:

China is the safest and best country for the traveller. A man travels for nine months alone with great wealth and has nothing to fear. What is responsible for this is that in every post station in their country is funduq which has a director living there with a company of horse and foot. After sunset or nightfall the director comes to the funduq with his secretary and writes down the names of all the travellers who will pass the night there, seals it and locks the door of the funduq. In the morning he and his secretary come and call everybody by name and write down a record. He sends someone with the travellers to conduct them to the next post station and he brings back a certificate from the director of the funduq confirming that they have all arrived. If he does not do this he is answerable for them. This is the procedure in every post station in their country from Sin al-Sin to Khan Baliq. In them is everything the traveller needs by way of provisions, especially hens and geese. Sheep are rare among them.[32]

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.[33][34] Many major religious complexes in the Ottoman and Mamluk 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).[31][30][35]


A sample floor plan of a Safavid Empire-era caravanserai in Karaj, Iran

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.[36]

Caravanserais provided water for human and animal consumption, washing and ritual purification such as wudu and ghusl. Sometimes they had elaborate public baths (hammams), or other attached amenities such as a fountain or a sabil/sebil. They kept fodder for animals and had shops for travellers where they could acquire new supplies. Some shops bought goods from the travelling merchants.[37] Many caravanserais were equipped with small mosques, such as the elevated examples in the Seljuk and Ottoman caravanserais in Turkey.[31][38][30]

In Cairo, starting in the Burji Mamluk period, wikalas (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.[39][29] While making the best use of limited space in a crowded city, this provided the building with two sources of revenue which were managed through the waqf system.[34][40]

View of a typical courtyard layout in the Shah-Abbasi caravansarai in Karaj, Iran

Notable caravanserais

Further information: List of caravanserais

Alphabetically, not taking article (al-, el-, etc.) into consideration.


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See also


  1. ^ " – caravansary". Archived from the original on 12 December 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2016.)
  2. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Caravanserai" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ "Caravanserais: cross-roads of commerce and culture along the Silk Roads | Silk Roads Programme". Archived from the original on 29 May 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  4. ^ a b "Caravanserai". National Geographic Society. 23 July 2019. Archived from the original on 29 July 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j M. Bloom, Jonathan; S. Blair, Sheila, eds. (2009). "Caravanserai". The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-530991-1.
  6. ^ "caravanserai | Origin and meaning of caravanserai by Online Etymology Dictionary". Archived from the original on 18 June 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  7. ^ "Caravansary | building". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 27 July 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  8. ^ MacKenzie, D. N. (1971), "xān", in A concise Pahlavi dictionary, London, New York, Toronto: Oxford University Press, p. 93.
  9. ^ a b "Khan | architecture". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 27 July 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  10. ^ Petersen, Andrew (1996). "khan". Dictionary of Islamic architecture. Routledge. pp. 146–147. ISBN 9781134613663.
  11. ^ a b Touri, Abdelaziz; Benaboud, Mhammad; Boujibar El-Khatib, Naïma; Lakhdar, Kamal; Mezzine, Mohamed (2010). Le Maroc andalou : à la découverte d'un art de vivre (in French) (2 ed.). Ministère des Affaires Culturelles du Royaume du Maroc & Museum With No Frontiers. ISBN 978-3902782311.
  12. ^ Wilbaux, Quentin (2001). La médina de Marrakech: Formation des espaces urbains d'une ancienne capitale du Maroc (in French). Paris: L'Harmattan. ISBN 2747523888.
  13. ^ "Strong's Greek: 3829. πανδοχεῖον (pandocheion) -- an inn". Archived from the original on 29 December 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
  14. ^ "alhóndiga in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española". Archived from the original on 6 August 2017. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
  15. ^ Parker, Richard (1981). A practical guide to Islamic Monuments in Morocco. Charlottesville, VA: The Baraka Press.
  16. ^ a b Le Tourneau, Roger (1949). Fès avant le protectorat: étude économique et sociale d'une ville de l'occident musulman (in French). Casablanca: Société Marocaine de Librairie et d'Édition.
  17. ^ a b Hathaway, Jane (2008). The Arab Lands under Ottoman Rule: 1516-1800. Routledge. p. 141. ISBN 9780582418998.
  18. ^ AlSayyad, Nezar (2011). Cairo: Histories of a City. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. pp. 143. ISBN 978-0-674-04786-0.
  19. ^ Pallini, Cristina (2006). "Italian Architects and Modern Egypt". Studies in Architecture, History & Culture: Articles by the 2003-2004 AKPIA@MIT Visiting Post-Doctoral Fellows (PDF). Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. pp. 39–50.
  20. ^ Mamun, Muntasir. Dhaka: Smriti Bismritir Nagari ঢাকা: স্মৃতি বিস্মৃতির নগরী [Dhaka: City of Memories and Oblivion] (in Bengali) (3rd ed.). pp. 201–206. ISBN 984-412-104-3.
  21. ^ Rahman, Mahbubur. City of an Architect. Dhaka: Delvistaa Foundation. ISBN 978-984-33-2451-1.
  22. ^ Ahmed, Nazimuddin (1980). Islamic Heritage of Bangladesh. Dacca: Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. pp. 50–51. OCLC 8476199.
  23. ^ Asher, Catherine B (1984). Inventory of Key Monuments. Art and Archaeology Research Papers: The Islamic Heritage of Bengal. Paris: UNESCO.
  24. ^ Hasan, S. Mahmudul (1980). Muslim Monuments of Bangladesh. Dhaka: Islamic Foundation.
  25. ^ "The History - Herodotus" - Archived 29 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ "Seljuk Caravanserais". Archnet. Archived from the original on 18 June 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  27. ^ "Seljuk Caravanserais on the route from Denizli to Dogubeyazit". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Archived from the original on 22 June 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  28. ^ "Khans of Damascus". Archnet. Archived from the original on 18 June 2020. Retrieved 17 June 2020.
  29. ^ a b Williams, Caroline (2018). Islamic Monuments in Cairo: The Practical Guide (7th ed.). Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.
  30. ^ a b c Kuban, Doğan (2010). Ottoman Architecture. Antique Collectors' Club.
  31. ^ a b c Sumner-Boyd, Hilary; Freely, John (2010). Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City. Tauris Parke Paperbacks.
  32. ^ Gibb 2010, p. 894.
  33. ^ "Waḳf". Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill. 2012.
  34. ^ a b Behrens-Abouseif, Doris. 2007. Cairo of the Mamluks: A History of Architecture and its Culture. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press.
  35. ^ "Wakala Qansuh al-Ghawri". ArchNet. Archived from the original on 3 January 2018. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  36. ^ Sims, Eleanor. 1978. Trade and Travel: Markets and Caravansary.' In: Michell, George. (ed.). 1978. Architecture of the Islamic World - Its History and Social Meaning. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd, 101.
  37. ^ Ciolek, T. Matthew. 2004-present. Catalogue of Georeferenced Caravansaras/Khans Archived 2005-02-07 at the Wayback Machine. Old World Trade Routes (OWTRAD) Project. Canberra: - Asia Pacific Research Online.
  38. ^ Freely, John (2008). Storm on Horseback: The Seljuk Warriors of Turkey. I. B. Tauris.
  39. ^ Yeomans, Richard (2006). The Art and Architecture of Islamic Cairo. Reading: Garnet. pp. 230-231. ISBN 978-1-85964-154-5.
  40. ^ Denoix, Sylvie; Depaule, Jean-Charles; Tuchscherer, Michel, eds. (1999). Le Khan al-Khalili et ses environs: Un centre commercial et artisanal au Caire du XIIIe au XXe siècle (in French). Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale.
  41. ^ Vladimir Braginskiy. Tourist Attractions in the USSR: A Guide. Raduga Publishers, 1982. 254 pages. Page 104.

    "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."

Further reading