Caravanserais of Anatolian Seljuks
The Seljuk 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 endowed hans, or kervansarays along the Silk 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.
Walk through the main portal and you pass the room of the caravanserais 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.
The exception is the main portal, which is elaborately decorated with bands of geometric design, Kuranic inscriptions in Arabic script, and the sculpted geometric patterns of mukarnas (stalactite vaulting).
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 and the outlets for roof runoff may be stylized animal heads, but otherwise the exterior is severely plain.
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 weather.
Caravans were welcomed into the caravansarai in the 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.
The Sultan Han, grandest of all, is west of Aksaray on the Konya highway. The richest concentration of hans is along the Silk Road from Aksaray east to Nevsehir and Avanos: Agzikarahan, Tepesidelik Han, Alay Han, Sari Han.
Another Sultan Han and the fine Karatay Han are east of Kayseri.