"Funduq" redirects here. For the Palestinian village, see
A caravanserai (or caravansary; /kærəˈvænsəˌraɪ/) was a roadside
inn where travelers (
caravaners) 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
Southeast Europe, most notably the
Silk Road. Often located along rural roads in the countryside, urban versions of caravanserais were also historically common in cities throughout the
Islamic world, and were often called other names such as khan, wikala, or funduq.
Terms and etymology
romanized: kārvānsarāy), is the Persian compound word variant combining kārvān "
caravan" with -sarāy "palace", "building with enclosed courts". Here "caravan" means a group of traders, pilgrims or other travellers, engaged in long-distance travel. The word is also rendered as caravansary, caravansaray, caravanseray, caravansara, and caravansarai. In scholarly sources, it is often used as an umbrella term for multiple related types of commercial buildings similar to inns or hostels, whereas the actual instances of such buildings had a variety of names depending on the region and the local language. However, the term was typically preferred for rural inns built along roads outside of city walls.
The word khan (خان) derives from Middle Persian hʾn' (xān, "house"). It could refer to an "urban caravanserai" built within a town or a city, or generally to any caravanserai, including those built in the countryside and along desert routes. In Turkish the word is rendered as han. The same word was used in
Bosnian and Bulgarian, having arrived through
Ottoman conquest. In addition to Turkish and Persian, the term was widely used in Arabic as well, and examples of such buildings are found throughout the Middle East from as early as the
Ummayyad period. The term han is also used in Romanian being adopted from Ottoman Turkish.
The term funduq (
Arabic: فندق; sometimes spelled foundouk or fondouk from the
French transliteration) is frequently used for historic inns in Morocco and around the
Maghreb.: 116 The word comes from Greek pandocheion, lit.: "welcoming all", thus meaning 'inn'; it appears as pundak in Hebrew (פונדק), fundaco in Venice, fondaco in Genoa and alhóndiga or fonda in Spanish (funduq is the origin of Spanish term fonda). In the cities of this region such buildings were also frequently used as housing for artisan workshops.: 318
The Arabic word wikala (وكالة), sometimes spelled wakala or wekala, is a term found frequently in historic Cairo for an urban caravanserai which housed merchants and their goods and served as a center for trade, storage, transactions and other commercial activity. The word wikala means roughly "agency" in
Arabic, in this case a commercial agency, which may also have been a reference to the
customs offices that could be located here to deal with imported goods. The term khan was also frequently used for this type of building in Egypt.
The term okelle or okalle, the
Italianized rendering of the Arabic word wikala, is used for a type of large urban buildings in 19th century Egypt, specifically in
Alexandria. Here, the older Egyptian wikala was reinterpreted in an
Italianate style by the Italian architect
Francesco Mancini. Directed by
Muhammad Ali, he designed and built a number of okelles delineating the
Place des Consuls (the main square of Alexandria's European quarter), which served as consular mansions, a European-style hotel, and a stock exchange, among other functions.
Caravanserais were a common feature not only along the Silk Road, but also along the
Royal Road, a 2,500-kilometre-long (1,600 mi) ancient highway that stretched from
Susa according to
Herodotus: "Now the true account of the road in question is the following: Royal stations exist along its whole length, and excellent caravanserais; and throughout, it traverses an inhabited tract, and is free from danger." Other significant urban caravanserais were built along the
Grand Trunk Road in the
Indian subcontinent, especially in the region of
Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century Muslim traveler, described the function of a caravenserai in the region of China:
China is the safest and best country for the traveller. A man travels for nine months alone with great wealth and has nothing to fear. What is responsible for this is that in every post station in their country is funduq which has a director living there with a company of horse and foot. After sunset or nightfall the director comes to the funduq with his secretary and writes down the names of all the travellers who will pass the night there, seals it and locks the door of the funduq. In the morning he and his secretary come and call everybody by name and write down a record. He sends someone with the travellers to conduct them to the next post station and he brings back a certificate from the director of the funduq confirming that they have all arrived. If he does not do this he is answerable for them. This is the procedure in every post station in their country from Sin al-Sin to Khan Baliq. In them is everything the traveller needs by way of provisions, especially hens and geese. Sheep are rare among them.
In many parts of the Muslim world, caravanserais also provided revenues that were used to fund charitable or religious functions or buildings. These revenues and functions were managed through a waqf, a protected agreement which gave certain buildings and revenues the status of
mortmain endowments guaranteed under
Islamic law. Many major religious complexes in the
Mamluk empires, for example, either included a caravanserai building (like in the külliye of the
Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul) or drew revenues from one in the area (such as the
Wikala al-Ghuri in Cairo, which was built to contribute revenues for the nearby
complex of Sultan al-Ghuri).
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
animal stalls, bays, niches or chambers to accommodate merchants and their servants, animals, and merchandise.
Caravanserais provided water for human and animal consumption, washing and
ritual purification such as wudu and ghusl. Sometimes they had elaborate public baths (
hammams), or other attached amenities such as a fountain or a
sabil/sebil. They kept
fodder for animals and had shops for travellers where they could acquire new supplies. Some shops bought goods from the travelling merchants. Many caravanserais were equipped with small mosques, such as the elevated examples in the Seljuk and Ottoman caravanserais in Turkey.
In Cairo, starting in the
Burji Mamluk period, wikalas (urban caravanserais) were frequently several stories tall and often included a rab', a low-income rental apartment complex, which was situated on the upper floors while the merchant accommodations occupied the lower floors. While making the best use of limited space in a crowded city, this provided the building with two sources of revenue which were managed through the waqf system.
View of a typical courtyard layout in the Shah-Abbasi caravansarai in
^Petersen, Andrew (1996). "khan". Dictionary of Islamic architecture. Routledge. pp. 146–147.
abTouri, Abdelaziz; Benaboud, Mhammad; Boujibar El-Khatib, Naïma; Lakhdar, Kamal; Mezzine, Mohamed (2010). Le Maroc andalou : à la découverte d'un art de vivre (in French) (2 ed.). Ministère des Affaires Culturelles du Royaume du Maroc & Museum With No Frontiers.
^Wilbaux, Quentin (2001). La médina de Marrakech: Formation des espaces urbains d'une ancienne capitale du Maroc (in French). Paris: L'Harmattan.
^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.
^Denoix, Sylvie; Depaule, Jean-Charles; Tuchscherer, Michel, eds. (1999). Le Khan al-Khalili et ses environs: Un centre commercial et artisanal au Caire du XIIIe au XXe siècle (in French). Cairo: Institut français d'archéologie orientale.
^Vladimir Braginskiy. Tourist Attractions in the USSR: A Guide. Raduga Publishers, 1982. 254 pages. Page 104.
The whole of the centre of Sheki has been proclaimed a reserve protected by the state. To take you back to the time of the caravans, two large eighteenth-century caravanserais have been preserved with spacious courtyards where the camels used to rest, cellars where goods were stored, and rooms for travellers.
Branning, Katharine. 2018.
turkishhan.org, The Seljuk Han in Anatolia. New York, USA.
Schutyser, Tom. 2012. Caravanserai: Traces, Places, Dialogue in the Middle East. Milan: 5 Continents Editions,
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. [archnet.org/library/pubdownloader/pdf/8967/doc/DPC1304.pdf Available online as a PDF document, 1.98 MB]