Caravanserais are of the most spectacular and important historical monuments in Iran. Once upon a time, they served places of rest and refreshment for Caravans (Groups of Travelers) who could stop, eat and spend some time there in peace.
What is a Caravanserai?
As traffic along the Silk Road increased, so did the construction of caravanserais. They were needed as safe havens—not just from extreme climates and weather, but also from bandits who targeted caravans carrying silk, spices, and other valuable goods.
The layout of these structures also reflected their protective purpose. Often built just outside the nearest town or village, they were surrounded by immense walls resembling those of a fort with watch towers.
During 16th and 17th centuries, the busy roads of Iran were full of these caravanserais, each of which was built by a local ruler as a symbol of safety, security and comfort for Caravan Routes. They appeared roughly 32-40 Km (20–25 miles) apart—about a day’s journey—on the busiest Silk Road routes; A great achievement of old times!
Once very prosperous, these fascinating monuments have kept thousands of stories in their hearts and sometimes have become the treasury of their guests' secrets.
Today, some of these old Caravansaries have been restored and converted into traditional hotels that you can stay in for your few day desert trips … and feel the peace of the desert with all your being!
Pasangan Caravanserai plan by Pascal Coste
From the number of surviving caravansaries and from their appearance, it is clear that in Safavid and Qajar Eras there was a state architectural department that was specifically in charge for the construction of caravansaries and stations on the overland routes. Furthermore, in the cities a number of caravansaries were erected as lodging houses, depots, and commercial offices in the vicinity of the bazaars. They resembled the road caravansaries in form, except that most had two floors.
One of the most important caravanserais in Iran is the Saad al-Saltanah caravanserai located in the city of Qazvin, which stands out in this city with its unique beauty. known as the largest roofed caravanserai in Iran, this ancient guest house dates back to the time of Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar (late 19th century) and is also known as "Sarai Saadieh" and "Sarai Saadat". This structure has been used commercially in the past as the largest commercial center of the city. The architecture of this caravanserai is so amazing and unique that you will be amazed to see it.
Saadieh Caravanserai is made up of labyrinth buildings and is surrounded by beautiful rooms with artistic decorations. Caravanserai has several entrances, 7 large courtyards, rooms, corridors and vestibules decorated with delicate brickwork. The most important part of the caravanserai is the Chahar-Sooq section, on top of which there is a large dome with spectacular tile-works.
Caravanserai of Saad al-Saltanah, Qazvin, Iran
Located near Garmsar town, 154 km south of Tehran, Caravanserai of Qasr Bahram was built during the Sassanid period (5th C) and rebuilt under King Abbas Safavid (16th C).
Qasr-e Bahram is notable for its architecture. When you look at this building from the outside, you will see a square building whose facade is covered with large white limestone. Unlike the most caravanserais in Iran, no brick or clay is used in constructing this monument. The two northern and southern gates allow entry and exit to the caravanserai and four tall and semicircular towers make its appearance more magnificent.
The gates lead the guests to a large octagonal courtyard that is surrounded by24 rooms. An outstanding deep decorative pond in the middle of this courtyard completes its traditional appearance.
Qasr-e Bahram caravanserai is situated right in the middle of the vast protected area of Dasht-e Kavir with almost no inhabitants. This perfect peaceful location has recently become a perfect spot for Astronomers, astro-photographers as it is far from any light pollution.
Caravanserai of Qasr-e Bahram, Garmsar, Iran
During Safavid Era, when the construction of Caravanserais was common in Iran, the Zayn al-Din caravanserai was built near the city of Mehriz. Located 60 km from Yazd to Kerman, 500 meters from the road, the only circular caravanserai of Iran welcomes desert guests with the award for the best restoration of historical buildings. This caravanserai, which is a masterpiece of Safavid architecture, was built by the order of Zein-o-din, the ruler of Kerman in 17th century to provide facilities to travelers on the Silk Road which was, until 1500, the main trade route between Europe and Asia.
After its restoration, Zein-o-Din Caravanserai has operated as an inn.
The now 400 year old Zein-o-din structure is constructed from clay bricks covered with Kaah-Gel; a combination of mud and Hey. The caravanserai is a two-storied structure with a 16-sided middle courtyard and a water pool. Unlike the usual method of building in Islamic Architecture, Zein-o-Din was designed circular. This Caravanserai is one of the most beautiful buildings of Safavid era and from architectural material point of view is not comparable to any other structure of the same kind. Reason for choosing a round and circular shape for the Zein-o-Din caravanserai was the ability to withstand sand storms in the central desert and to moderate the temperature inside. However, some experts have cited a third reason for the structure's round shape and believe that this type of construction was chosen to further protect the place against looting and bandit attack.
The Zein-o-Din Caravanseri is now used as a hotel with the slightest changes to the building. Passing through the wooden gate, to the left and right, there are original dormitory corridors with wooden platforms covered with thick cloths for privacy. At the bottom of the porches there are also private rooms for sleeping visitors, which used to be storage space for valuable luggage of travelers in the past.. Iranian rugs are spread on the floor of each room and there is no sign of bed … mattresses and blankets will take you back in time!
In Persian language (Farsi) the Arabic term rebāṭ, means a fortified resting place on a land route. This term was common until 16th century and then was replaced by Caravanserai or Robat.