Caravansara, ancient Iranian hotels

By: Tamara Ebrahimpour

For more than 25 centuries Iranians accommodated foreign and domestic merchants and pilgrims at elaborate hotels called caravansara, which were built along roads and in cities.

The word caravansara 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 caravansara.

Interior of Sa'd al-saltaneh caravansara, Qazvin
Caravansara 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 caravansara, there were also many city caravansara where travelers could rest and recover from the day's journey.

City Caravansara 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.


Caravansara, Sabzevar, Iran
Although geographical location played an important role in the appearance of caravansara, they were mainly multi-roomed structures elaborately decorated with breathtaking tile works.

Most caravansara 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.


Stone caravansara, Zanjan
Some caravansara 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 caravansara for foreign merchants traveling the 2500-kilometer distance between the cities of Susa and Sard.


Caravansara, Yazd, Iran
Parthians continued the tradition by constructing similar buildings along the Silk Road to serve    travelers on their way to China and the Mediterranean Sea.


Isfahan's Shah Abbas caravansara

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