Caravanserais, ancient Iranian hotels
For hundreds of years Persians accommodated foreign and domestic merchants and pilgrims at elaborate hotels called caravanserai, which were built along roads and in cities.
The word caravanserai is a combination of caravan and the Persian word sara, which means dwelling, palace, or enclosed courts.
The development of Iran’s road system, increased export to Europe, China and India, which in turn gave rise to the need for more trade routes and roadside caravanserais.
Caravanserais also facilitated the flow of commerce and information across the Silk Road and other trade routes running through Asia, North Africa, and South-eastern Europe.
Apart from the numerous roadside caravanserais, there were also many city caravanserais where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey.
City Caravanserais also served as marketplaces, an example of which can be seen around Isfahan’s Naqsh-e-Jahan Square. Some continue their commercial activities to this day.
Although geographical location played an important role in the appearance of caravanserais, they were mainly multi-roomed structures elaborately decorated with breathtaking tile works.
Most caravanserais were square or rectangular buildings with a single tall wide gate, which allowed the entrance of heavily laden camels and other animals.
The open-roofed courtyard of the structure was surrounded by chambers, stalls and storage bays to accommodate travelers along with their servants, animals, and merchandise.
Some caravanserais had elaborate baths where travelers could wash away the dust from the road.
Merchants could feed their mounts, sell their products and stock up on supplies for the rest of their journey.
The Achaemenid kings were the first to build caravanserais for foreign merchants traveling the 2500-kilometer distance between the cities of Susa and Sard.
Parthians continued the tradition by constructing similar buildings along the Silk Road to serve travelers on their way to China and the Mediterranean Sea.
Caravanserais flourished during the Safavid era when Iran ‘s economy was at its peak and newly constructed roads, connecting the eastern and western parts of the country, attracted a large number of pilgrims to visit religious sites especially Imam Reza’s shrine in Mashhad.
Today, many of the old Iranian caravanserais have been restored, some have been converted into modern hotels as is the case of the Shah Abbas caravanserai in Isfahan. — PressTV
Photo: Silvan & Annamaria