Although these caravanseri are not quite Byzantine, we visited two that would have been built in the late Byzantine era and I thought my readers might be interested in seeing photos of them from our recent trip to Turkey. Like many of us, I had read and enjoyed Peter Frankopan’s book, The Silk Roads, so was curious to see what these places were like.
Caravanseri were the medieval version of truck stops but for camels – a place where traders and their animals could safely rest and recuperate from their arduous journeys. The ones we visited in Turkey were probably built by the Seljuk Turks, with funding for their construction from the sultan. They were built along the trading route to Konya, which was the Seljuk capital.
The rules were (or so we were told) that traders could spend two nights in the caravanseri without charge, paid for by the Sultan. Any more than that, and payment would have to be made by the caravan’s owner. Their exterior stone walls were probably 40 to 50 feet (12 to 15 meters) high and had few, if any windows. The heavy oak doors at the entrance reached just high enough to let camels in.
The first one we visited was quite large and in the center of the courtyard when you entered was a two storey building, which we were told was an interfaith chapel. To the right were large open stalls where the camels and their caretakers stayed. Obviously they are clean now, but I could almost imagine what they must have smelled like during the busiest trading months of the year. On the left were large rooms with heavy doors where the caravan owners would stay with their valuable merchandise, except for the last room, on the far end of the courtyard, which was a bath house. Having now experienced a Turkish bath myself, I can appreciate how important that room would have been to weary travelers. The rooms where the caravan owners stayed had high ceilings and probably had enough space that they could hold the equivalent of 2 or 3 cars.
The second one we visited was in Cappadocia. It is still in use, having been given to members of a Sufi foundation for its use. Its structure was very similar to the larger one we visited first, but without the interfaith chapel/building in the courtyard’s center. We were fortunate to be able to witness an authentic Sufi ceremony there, also known as Whirling Dervishes.
It is often difficult to imagine what lives were like in medieval times, but the visit to the caravanseri helped bring the lives of those who travelled the silk roads into sharper focus. Definitely a worthwhile visit!