A sample floorplan of a Safavid caravanserai.
Caravanserai of Qalat el-Mudiq, in Syria.

A caravanserai, or khan, also known as caravansary, caravansera, or caravansara in English (Persian: كاروانسرا kārvānsarā or کاروانسرای kārvānsarāi, Turkish: 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.

These were found frequently along the Persian Empire's Royal Road, a 2500 km long ancient highway that stretched from Sardis to Susa according to Herodotus:[1]: "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 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 stalls, bays, niches, or chambers to accommodate merchants and their servants, animals, and merchandise.[2]

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 travelers where they could acquire new supplies. In addition, there could be shops where merchants could dispose of some of their goods.[3]


The word is also rendered as caravansara 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, فندق funduq in Arabic (from the Greek, pandocheion, an inn), 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):[4] on his album Silk Road IV: Tenjiku/India (1983).[5] It also appears on the albums Daylight, Moonlight: Live in Yakushiji (2002)[6] and Best of Silk Road (2003).[7]

The term also appears in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance.[8]

Santana released an album named Caravanserai on the Columbia label.

Notable caravanserais

Caravanserai By Talib Al-Habib Songs of the Wayfarer


See also

Further reading

  • Branning, Katharine. 2002., The Seljuk Han in Anatolia. New York, USA.
  • Encyclopædia 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 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]


  1. ^ "The History - Herodotus" -
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Ciolek, T. Matthew. 2004-present. Catalogue of Georeferenced Caravansaras/Khans. Old World Trade Routes (OWTRAD) Project. Canberra: - Asia Pacific Research Online.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ 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!

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Caravanserai — Studioalbum von Santana Veröffentlichung 1972 Label Columbia Records Format …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • caravanserai — CARAVANSERÁI, caravanseraiuri, s.n. (În Orient) Han mare la care poposesc caravanele. – Din fr. caravansérail. Trimis de valeriu, 11.02.2003. Sursa: DEX 98  caravanserái s. n., pl. caravanseráiuri Trimis de siveco, 10.08.2004. Sursa: Dicţionar… …   Dicționar Român

  • caravansérai — ou caravansérail (ka ra van sé rè ou ka ra van sé rall, ll mouillées) s. m. Dans l Orient, grand bâtiment au milieu duquel existe une vaste cour et où les voyageurs rencontrent, pour eux mêmes et pour leurs bêtes de somme, tous les… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • caravanserai — 1590s, Eastern inn (with a large central court) catering to caravans, ultimately from Pers. karwan sarai, from karwan (see CARAVAN (Cf. caravan)) + sara palace, mansion, inn …   Etymology dictionary

  • caravanserai — is pronounced with stress on van and the final syllable rhyming with eye. It means an inn for travelling merchants or pilgrims in the Middle East (first noted by the geographer Hakluyt in 1599), and is of Persian origin. Several other spellings… …   Modern English usage

  • caravanserai — (US also caravansary) ► NOUN (pl. caravanserais or caravansaries) 1) historical an inn with a central courtyard for travellers in the desert regions of Asia or North Africa. 2) a group of people travelling together; a caravan. ORIGIN Persian,… …   English terms dictionary

  • caravanserai — Caravansary Car a*van sa*ry, n.; pl. {Caravansaries}. [F. caravans[ e]rai, fr. Per. karw[=a]nsar[=a][ i]; karw[=a]n caravan + sar[=a][ i] palace, large house, inn.] A kind of inn, in the East, where caravans rest at night, being a large, rude,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • caravanserai — noun see caravansary …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • CARAVANSÉRAI — s. m. (Quelques uns disent, Caravansérail. ) Espèce d hôtellerie, dans le Levant, où les caravanes sont reçues gratuitement, ou pour un prix modique …   Dictionnaire de l'Academie Francaise, 7eme edition (1835)

  • caravanserai — noun /kærəˈvænsəraɪ/ a) A roadside inn having a central courtyard where caravans can rest. b) A home or shelter for caravans. Syn: khan …   Wiktionary

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