A caravanserai, or khan, also known as caravansary, caravansera, or caravansara in English (Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

: كاروانسرا kārvānsarā or کاروانسرای kārvānsarāi, Turkish
Turkish language
Turkish is a language spoken as a native language by over 83 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,...

: kervansaray) was a 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, especially along the Silk Road
Silk Road
The Silk Road or Silk Route refers to a historical network of interlinking trade routes across the Afro-Eurasian landmass that connected East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world, as well as parts of North and East Africa...


These were found frequently along the Persian Empire's Royal Road, a 2500 km long ancient highway that stretched from Sardis
Sardis or Sardes was an ancient city at the location of modern Sart in Turkey's Manisa Province...

 to Susa
Susa was an ancient city of the Elamite, Persian and Parthian empires of Iran. It is located in the lower Zagros Mountains about east of the Tigris River, between the Karkheh and Dez Rivers....

 according to Herodotus:: "Now the true account of the road in question is the following:- Royal stations exist along its whole length, and excellent caravansaries; and throughout, it traverses an inhabited tract, and is free from danger."


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 camel
A camel is an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as humps on its back. There are two species of camels: the dromedary or Arabian camel has a single hump, and the bactrian has two humps. Dromedaries are native to the dry desert areas of West Asia,...

s 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
Stall (enclosure)
A stall is a small enclosure of some kind, usually less enclosed than a room.-Market stall:A market stall is usually an immobile temporary structure erected by merchants to display and shelter their merchandise...

s, 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
Ritual purification
Ritual purification is a feature of many religions. The aim of these rituals is to remove specifically defined uncleanliness prior to a particular type of activity, and especially prior to the worship of a deity...

. Sometimes they had elaborate baths. They also kept fodder
Fodder or animal feed is any agricultural foodstuff used specifically to feed domesticated livestock such as cattle, goats, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Most animal feed is from plants but some is of animal origin...

 for animals and had shops for travelers where they could acquire new supplies. In addition, some shops bought goods from the traveling merchants.


The word is also rendered as caravansara or caravansary. The Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 word kārvānsarā is a compound word combining 'kārvān (caravan
Caravan (travellers)
A caravan is a group of people traveling together, often on a trade expedition. Caravans were used mainly in desert areas and throughout the Silk Road, where traveling in groups aided in defence against bandits as well as helped to improve economies of scale in trade.In historical times, caravans...

) 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, فندق funduq in Arabic (from the Greek, pandocheion, an inn), and fundaco in Venice.

In music

The term is used in lyrics of the Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...

 operetta The Pirates of Penzance
The Pirates of Penzance
The Pirates of Penzance; or, The Slave of Duty is a comic opera in two acts, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. The opera's official premiere was at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City on 31 December 1879, where the show was well received by both audiences...


Santana (band)
Santana is a rock band based around guitarist Carlos Santana and founded in the late 1960s. It first came to public attention after their performing the song "Soul Sacrifice" at the Woodstock Festival in 1969, when their Latin rock provided a contrast to other acts on the bill...

 released an album named Caravanserai
Caravanserai (album)
Caravanserai is the fourth studio album by Santana released in October 1972. It marked a major turning point in Carlos Santana's career as it was a sharp departure from his critically acclaimed first three albums...

 on the Columbia
Columbia Records
Columbia Records is an American record label, owned by Japan's Sony Music Entertainment, operating under the Columbia Music Group with Aware Records. It was founded in 1888, evolving from an earlier enterprise, the American Graphophone Company — successor to the Volta Graphophone Company...


Loreena McKennitt
Loreena McKennitt
Loreena Isabel Irene McKennitt, CM, OM, is a Canadian singer, composer, harpist, accordionist and pianist who writes, records and performs world music with Celtic and Middle Eastern themes. McKennitt is known for her refined, clear soprano vocals...

's album An Ancient Muse
An Ancient Muse
An Ancient Muse is the seventh full-length studio album of the Canadian singer, songwriter, accordionist, harpist, and pianist, Loreena McKennitt. It was released on November 20, 2006 internationally, and November 21, 2006 in the United States and Canada. It was her first studio album after a...

 features a track titled Caravanserai.

, better known as , is an award winning Japanese musician, composer and multi-instrumentalist who is regarded as one of the pioneers of new age music.-Early life:...

 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).

Notable caravanserais

  • Büyük Han
    Büyük Han
    Büyük Han is the largest caravansaries on the island of Cyprus and is considered to be one of the finest buildings on the island. Located in Nicosia, it was built by the Ottomans in 1572, the year after they had seized Cyprus from the Venetians. In the centre of the open courtyard is a mosque...

  • Caravanserai of Sa'd al-Saltaneh
    Caravanserai of Sa'd al-Saltaneh
    The Caravanserai of Sa'd al-Saltaneh is a large Caravanserai located in the city of Qazvin in Qazvin Province of Iran.Built during the Qajar era, the caravanserai is one of Persia's best preserved urban caravanserais...

  • Hanul lui Manuc
  • Khan al-Tujjar (Mount Tabor)
    Khan al-Tujjar (Mount Tabor)
    Khan al-Tujjar are the ruins of a caravanserai in the Lower Galilee, Israel, opposite the entrance to Beit Keshet.-History:The caravanserai was established near Mount Tabor by Grand Vizier Sinan Pasha around 1581...

  • Khan al-Tujjar (Nablus)
    Khan al-Tujjar (Nablus)
    Khan al-Tujjar is a 15th century khan in the Palestinian city of Nablus. Situated the Old City, it has been noted as the finest khan in the region.-History:...

  • Khan al-Umdan
    Khan al-Umdan
    Khan al-Umdan is the largest and best preserved khan in Israel. Located in the Old City of Acre, it is one of the prominent projects constructed during the rule of Ahmed Jezzar Pasha in Ottoman era Palestine.-Ottoman period:...

  • Khan As'ad Pasha
    Khan As'ad Pasha
    Khan As'ad Pasha is the largest khan in the Old City of Damascus, covering an area of . Situated along Al-Buzuriyah Souq, it was built and named after As'ad Pasha al-Azm, the governor of Damascus, in 1751-52. Khan As'ad Pasha has been described as one of the finest khans of Damascus, and the most...

  • Khan Jaqmaq
    Khan Jaqmaq
    Khan Jaqmaq is one of the few remaining khans in the Old City of Damascus. at the intersection of Street Called Straight and Suq Bab al-Barid, it was built and named after Mamluk Prince Sayf al-Din Jaqmaq al-Argunsawi, governor of Damascus, in 1419-1420....

  • Khan el-Khalili
    Khan el-Khalili
    thumb|200px|An old chandeliers shop at Khan el-KhaliliKhan el-Khalili is a major souk in the Islamic district of Cairo. The bazaar district is one of Cairo's main attractions for tourists and Egyptians alike.-History:...

  • Khan Sulayman Pasha
    Khan Sulayman Pasha
    Khan Sulayman Pasha is a large khan in the Old City of Damascus. Located in the walled city of Damascus on the eastern side of the Street Called Straight, facing Suq al-Khayyatin and Al-Buzuriyah Souq. It was built and named after Sulayman Pasha al-Azm, the governor of Damascus, in 1732-36...

  • Khan Tuman
    Khan Tuman
    Khan Tuman is a large khan is located about fifteen kilometers south of Aleppo, on the west bank of the Quweiq River. It was built in 1189 by Ayyubid Emir Tuman Nuri as a rural khan to protect travelers on the trade route linking the Euphrates to the Mediterranean Sea. A second khan was added...

  • Rabati Malik Caravanserai
    Rabati Malik Caravanserai
    Rabati Malik is a caravanserai in Uzbekistan which was constructed according to the orders of Karakhanid Shams-al-Mulk Nasr, son of Tamgachkhan Ibragim, who ruled in Samarkand from 1068 until 1080.-Site Description:...

  • Selim Caravanserai
    Selim Caravanserai
    The Selim Caravanserai was built along the Selim Pass in 1332, by Prince Chesar Orbelianis. The purpose was to accommodate weary travelers and their animals as they crossed from, or into, the Selim Mountains...

By Talib Al-Habib
Songs of the Wayfarer

See also

  • Islamic architecture
    Islamic architecture
    Islamic architecture encompasses a wide range of both secular and religious styles from the foundation of Islam to the present day, influencing the design and construction of buildings and structures in Islamic culture....

  • Persian architecture
  • Persian gardens
    Persian Gardens
    The tradition and style in the garden design of Persian gardens has influenced the design of gardens from Andalusia to India and beyond. The gardens of the Alhambra show the influence of Persian Garden philosophy and style in a Moorish Palace scale from the era of Al-Andalus in Spain...

     and bagh
    Bagh (garden)
    Bāgh which usually translates to garden, refers to an enclosed area with permanent cultures as well as flowers. It is common to near-, middle- and south-eastern countries...

  • Turkish architecture

Further reading

  • Branning, Katharine. 2002., The Seljuk Han in Anatolia. New York, USA.
  • Encyclopædia Iranica
    Encyclopædia Iranica
    Encyclopædia Iranica is a project whose goal is to create a comprehensive and authoritative English language encyclopedia about the history, culture, and civilization of Iranian peoples from prehistory to modern times...

    , 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 Caravansara. 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]

External links

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