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Roadside Inn or Caravansary on the Silk Road


Dogubayazit Caravansary in Turkey

Dogubayazit Caravansary in Turkey

Charlie Phillips
Khan al Umdan Caravansary, Israel

Khan al Umdan Caravansary, Israel

James Emery

A caravansary (plural caravanseries or caravanserai) is a roadside inn or way station, in particular (but not exclusively), an inn located on the various connecting roads making up the ancient Silk Road. In general, the main structure within a caravansary was a long rectangular stone-built wall with one large gated opening. The opening had to be large enough to permit the entry of camels stacked high with tall packs and led by their very long-distance traders. The entryway opened up on a large courtyard, the corners of which included additional buildings for sleeping and other purposes, sometimes including a mosque.

In addition to sleeping facilities, a caravansary provided water and supplies for travelers on the Silk Road. There was generally a market where travelers could trade goods for needed road supplies; and fodder and water for the camels.

Extant Caravansaries

Many caravansaries are still extant: they were used, reused and newly built from the second century BC and well into the middle ages, and are found throughout Asia and North Africa. Some which can be visited include Zazadin, Dogubayazit, Agzikarahan, Sultanhan (all in Turkey); Bukhara, Saifuddin (Uzbekistan), Selim (Armenia); Yazd, Qazvin, Zein-o-din, Meybod, Kerman (Iran); Khan al-Umdan (Israel); Fondouk el-Nejjarine (Morocco).

The Zazadin Caravansary, also known as Saadeddin Kopek Khan, is a rest station, located approximately 22 kilometers (~14 miles) away from Konya in Turkey on the Aksaray-Konya road, part of the network of trackways that eventually connect to the greater Silk Road. Constructed in 1236 for the Seljuk (13th-century Islamic) sultan Alaaddin Keykubad by his architect Saadeddin, Zazadin provided water and food for travelers and fodder for animals.

Much of the Zazadin Caravansary is still extant. Standing structures include a hall measuring 620 square meters (.15 acres), with a large adjacent courtyard of 1,625 m² (.4 ac), surrounded by a fortification wall. The courtyard is surrounded by small buildings, each 62x27 m (203x89 ft). The fortification wall has a single portal, wide enough to allow loaded camels to enter; the gate is adorned with a mosaic made of black and white stones. Zazadin has a small mosque also decorated with a variegated mosaic rock face.

Ahovan Caravansary

Ahovan, a way station with over 1,000 years of use and located on the Silk Road in Iran, consisted of two caravansaries separated by approximately 100 meters, and a separate bathhouse. Located on the Khorasan highway in Iran, Ahovan was first built in the Sassanid period of the Persian Empire at the behest of Sharf Al-din Maali Anushirvan. The earliest way station at Ahovan was a stone caravansary (called Ahovan Anushirvani Ribat), constructed perhaps as early as the fifth century AD. The exterior wall is constructed of local river rock with a gypsum, mud and ash mortar; it has 15 towers, and includes an area of 16,000 m² (4 ac). The portal to the caravansary has four bays on each side, and is decorated by stucco with ocher-painted inscriptions, and a brick mosaic veneer. Four iwans (rectangular buildings with one completely open end) are located within the caravansary, which also boasts a central courtyard, and a qanat (underground watering system).

Some five centuries later, a new brick caravansary was constructed at Ahovan, apparently because it was too expensive to reconstruct the original structure. Located approximately 100 m (~300 ft) to the east of the original caravansary,and of approximately the same size, the adobe brick caravansary (called Ahovan Shahsoleimani Caravansary) was built in 1097 under the direction of Shah Soleiman Safavi. This building includes four towers, with a brick portal decorated with mosaic patterns in white and red bricks with Arabic inscriptions. Associated buildings include stable kitchen and warehouse in the four corners of the main building.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Rest Houses and Way Stations, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Hashemi S, Talebian MH, and Taleqni EM. 2012. Determining the Position of Ahovan Caravansary in Silk Road Route. Journal of Basic and Applied Scientific Research 2(2):1479 – 1489.

Wescoat Jr. JL, Brand M, and Mir N. 1991. Gardens, roads and legendary tunnels: the underground memory of Mughal Lahore. Journal of Historical Geography 17(1):1-17.

Yilmaz HM, Yakar M, and Yildiz F. 2008. Documentation of historical caravansaries by digital close range photogrammetry. Automation in Construction 17(4):489-498.

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