AskDefine | Define caravanserai

Dictionary Definition

caravanserai n : an inn in some Eastern countries with a large courtyard that provides accommodation for caravans [syn: caravansary, khan, caravan inn]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From (kārvānserāy), from (kārvān) ‘caravan’ + (sarāy) ‘palace’.


  • /kærəˈvænsəraɪ/


  1. An inn having a central courtyard where caravans can rest.



an inn having a central courtyard where caravans can rest

Extensive Definition

A caravanserai ( - kārvānsarā, Turkish: kervansaray) was a roadside inn where travelers 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 South-Eastern Europe.
Most typically it was a building with a square or rectangular walled exterior (Amin Abad and Dihbid), 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 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 ablutions. Sometimes they even had elaborate baths. They also kept fodder for animals and had shops for travellers where they could acquire new supplies. In addition, there could be shops where merchants could dispose of some of their goods.
The word is also rendered as caravansarai and caravansary. It is a Westernization of the Persian word كاروانسرا, which combines caravan (كاروان) with sara (سرا) meaning dwelling, palace, or enclosed courts, added by the Persian suffix -yi. Caravan itself has come to have a similar meaning in English, where it refers to a group or convoy of soldiers, traders, pilgrims, or other travelers engaged in long distance travel.
The caravanserai was also known as a khan (Persian خان) or han (Turkish).


1. Ayatollahi, H. History of Iranian art, pp. 203


Further reading

  • Branning, Katharine. 2002. The Seljuk Han in Anatolia., New York, USA.
  • Encyclopedia Iranica, p.798-802
  • Erdmann, Kurt, Erdmann, Hanna. 1961. Das anatolische Karavansaray des 13. Jahrhunderts, 3 vols. Berlin: Mann, 1976, ISBN 3-7861-2241-5
  • Hillenbrand, Robert. 1994. Islamic Architecture: Form, function and meaning. NY: Columbia University Press. (see Chapter VI for an in depth overview of the caravanserai).
  • Kiani, Mohammad Yusef. 1976. Caravansaries in Khorasan Road. Reprinted from: Traditions Architecturales en Iran, Tehran, No. 2 & 3, 1976.
  • Yavuz, Aysil Tükel. 1997. The Concepts that Shape Anatolian Seljuq Caravanserais. In: Gülru Necipoglu (ed). 1997. Muqarnas XIV: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 80-95. Available online as a PDF document, 1.98 MB
caravanserai in German: Karawanserei
caravanserai in Spanish: Caravansaray
caravanserai in Persian: کاروانسرا
caravanserai in French: Caravansérail
caravanserai in Italian: Caravanserraglio
caravanserai in Hebrew: חאן (מבנה)
caravanserai in Georgian: ქარვასლა
caravanserai in Dutch: Karavanserai
caravanserai in Norwegian: Karavaneserai
caravanserai in Polish: Karawanseraj
caravanserai in Russian: Караван-сарай
caravanserai in Vietnamese: Du lịch Caravan
caravanserai in Turkish: Kervansaray
caravanserai in Ukrainian: Караван-сарай
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