Empire of Rum spanned
the ancient trade routes of Anatolia,
the camel trails along which the
riches of Persia and China had
been carried to the markets of
Europe, and vice-versa.
With trade came wealth,
so the Seljuk sultans and the grandees
of the empire worked to encourage,
increase and protect commerce by road.
The great men and women of the empire
(“caravan palaces”) along
Road and other major routes.
These huge stone buildings were made
to shelter the caravaneers, their camels,
horses and donkeys, and their cargoes,
to keep them safe from highwaymen and
to provide needed travel services.
The typical Seljuk caravanserai is
a huge square or rectangular building
with high walls of local stone. The
walls are smoothly finished but devoid
of decoration. Supporting towers or
buttresses may be in geometric shapes
(half-cylinder, half-octagon, half-hexagon,
etc) and the outlets for roof runoff
may be stylized animal heads, but otherwise the
exterior is severely plain.
The exception is the main
portal, which is elaborately
decorated with bands of geometric
design, Kur’anic inscriptions in
Arabic script, and the sculpted geometric
patterns of mukarnas (stalactite
Walk through the main portal and you
pass the room of the caravanserai’s
manager and enter a large courtyard.
At its center may be a mescit (small
mosque or prayer-room), usually raised
above ground level on a stone platform.
(The mescit may also be built into
the walls above the main portal.) Around
the sides of the courtyard, built into
the walls, are the service rooms: refectory,
treasury, hamam (Turkish
bath), repair shops, etc.
At the far end of the courtyard from
the main portal is the grand
hall, a huge vaulted hall
usually with a nave and three side
aisles. The hall is usually lit by
slit windows in the stone walls and/or
a stone cupola centered
above the nave. The hall sheltered
goods and caravaneers during bad winter
Most caravanserais were built as pious
endowments: a wealthy Seljuk
gave money for the building’s
construction and also made available
a source of income to be used for
Caravans were received into the caravansarai
each evening, and were welcome to stay
free for three days. Food,
fodder and lodging were provided free
of charge, courtesy of the building’s
founder. (Most caravans probably moved
on the next morning.)
Nearly 100 Seljuk caravanserais still
exist along the Silk
Road and other routes in former Seljuk
lands. Many are in ruins, but some
are well preserved and real treats
to visit and explore.
concentration of hans is along
Road from Aksaray east
to Nevşehir and Avanos: Ağzıkarahan, Tepesidelik
Han, Alay Han, Sarı
Han and more. The Sultan
Han, grandest of all,
is west of Aksaray on
the Konya highway.
Another Sultan Han and
the fine Karatay Han are
east of Kayseri.
There is a bilingual (Turkish & English) book on Seljuk caravansarays: Selçuklu Kervansarayları: Korunmaları, Kullanımları Üzerine bir Öneri (English title: The Seljuk Caravanserais: A Proposal Regarding Their Protection and Use), by Cengiz Bektaş. Istanbul: Yapı-Endüstri Merkezi A.Ş., May 1999, ISBN 975-7438-75-8. Profusely illustrated with quality color photos and architectural plans, it not only lists and describes them, but includes material on their builders and the era in which they lived.