During the heyday of overland travel, thousands of resting places popped up along what we now call the Silk Road. They were called caravanserais in Iran and Central Asia, sarays in India and han, khan or kervansarai in Turkey and the Middle East.
Many hundreds of them survived up until today. They serve as some of the finest examples of the architecture of the time, with sometimes spectacular brickwork. Some have been restored and are in use as hotels, teahouses or bazaars. Others are left to languish in the desert.
Here are, in our mind, some of the finest examples.
The textile museum in Meybod, Iran offers an interesting peek into the history of woven fabrics in a magnificent setting.
A detail from the roof of the museum.
Tash Rabat in Kyrgyzstan, an imposing fortress in a desolate setting.
Tash Rabat seen from a distance.
In Shaki, Azerbaijan, lies this beautifully restored caravanserai.
A scary, underground caravanserai in Selim, Armenia, near lake Sevan.
The caravanserai of Zein-O-Din has become a hotel once more.
Outside it’s lovely too.
Rabati Malik in Uzbekistan has been abandoned for a long time, but has made it onto the Unesco heritage list, and thus will live on for some time. Other caravanserais we will never see again, or are in the process of being destroyed right now.
The mud-walled city of Bam, Iran was flattened by a devastating earthquake in 2003. This sight no one will ever see again.
The As’Ad Pascha khan in Damascus, Syria, was returned in 1990 to its full glory. We don’t know what will be left when the destruction of the civil war finally ends.
The urban caravanserai of Sa’d al-Saltaneh in Qazvin is still standing, in the heart of Qazvin, near Tehran. To all policy makers: please don’t bomb it!
One more thing: don’t be like us when you’re trying to be smart. When commenting on architecture, note that while in most Turkish languages saray means palace, in Russian it means shed. So just watch out.