Caravanserai: The Hans of Grand Bazaar And Where To Find Them

Caravanserai, the 1st time I’ve heard this word was in 2008 when I came to Turkey for touristic purposes (gosh I sound like I am applying for residence permit!). It was the name of one of few well known restaurant which offers you marvelous belly dancing & other folks’ dances and songs performances while you indulge in your delicious meal. (God, now I sound like I’m selling tours, lol!) 

Back then I didn’t know much about the Silk Road, Turkish culture nor Seljuk history. I didn’t even bother to ask what is caravanserai. I am ashamed to say that I was indeed – ignorant. After living in Istanbul for quite some times, I realized that caravanserai plays an important part in Turkish history. There are many caravanserais all over Turkey, and the biggest one in Turkey is the Sultanhani in Aksaray, which is located on the old Silk Road, heading to Konya.

Okay, what do we know about hans aka caravanserai? They are actually inns for traveling merchants in the olden days. Caravanserai were available everywhere, covering North Africa, Asia, and Southeastern Europe especially along the Silk Road. So basically, in modern day han or caravanserai would be known as roadside motels but with more sophisticated functions, there are rooms to sleep, free services to look after the animals and feed them and also open flea market at the same time. In Turkey itself there were hundreds of caravanserai along the Silk Road and they were all free of charge for the 1st 3 days only. All caravanserais have the same architecture, they all look like a castle, with tall wall surrounding it and there’s always one pavillion mosque for the travelers to perform their prayers in. The government will provide all security guards, imam (for prayers), and general workers to keep the caravanserai running for free. Of course these people got paid by the government, but the government were not making money from the caravanserai itself.

So caravanserai, han, which is which? Well, they are basically the same thing. Caravanserai (Kervansaray in Turkish) is a word originating from Persian language and it was used for huge inn, served as road station outside of towns. However, the smaller inn built inside a town is called by its Turko-Mogolian name, Khan. As time goes by the Turks also started calling it as Han. Since there is no such letter as ‘Kh’ in Turkish language, the Turks find it hard to pronounce it; thus the omission of the 1st letter, ‘K’.

One of many interesting things I have heard about caravanserai or han in the olden days, traveling merchants will drop in, keep their donkey or other animals and belongings there while they have their goodnight rest, but still thievery was something very uncommon. Interesting right? We are now living in a world where we have our doors and gates locked but still people break into your house to rob – Tsk, shame.

Septa Unella Game of Thrones

During Seljuk time, the government assured all people that they can stay in the caravanserai safely, without having to worry if their belongings will be stolen. Sort of like insurance guarantee I must say. It was so safe that the people during those time used to say, ‘nothing will happen to you even if you travel from Izmir to Van with a pot of gold on your head’. ‘Aw, come on! There must be some cases?’ I know some of you will probably be saying this, but as part of the insurance for staying in the caravanserai, if such cases occur, the government will gather all the people from that particular area (to which the caravanserai belongs to) and collect money from everyone to reimburse the person whom his belongings or animals got stolen. But of course, in case of fatality, then there’s nothing can be done for the reimbursement apart from catching the killer. But until now, no such cases had been documented. Cool system I must say.

Okay, end of Caravanserai 101 – Introduction. Let’s move on to Caravanserai: The Hans of Grand Bazaar and Where to Find Them. Okay for those who don’t know what is a Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi), it’s one of the famous closed bazaar in Istanbul. There are approximately around 4000 shops in Grand Bazaar, along with its hidden hans.

Many of them are dedicated to particular staff, small and most are run-downs. However there are few that you still can visit safely. Below is the simplified map of Grand Bazaar along with the hans that I found online.


Istanbul Grand Bazaar Map (credit to original owner)

So, go ahead, try the map and enjoy exploring the hans of Grand Bazaar! Till we meet again next time, and – out!

Santa Claus

Instant Fun Fact: Santa Claus Was Born in Turkey

Well who doesn’t know this famous guy?

‘A joyous, white-bearded man, sometimes with spectacles and wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots and who carries a bag full of gifts for children.’Wikipedia

During Christmas’ eve many children around the world will go to sleep excitedly waiting for this guy to swing by and drop their most anticipated gift. Well, the heart wants what it wants. According to the rumor, Santa will come and drop the present for only well behaved children. But do you know that the modern Santa Claus figure is derived from a historical Greek Bishop figure, who was born in Myra, Turkey which is known as Demre today?

Myra, Turkey

Santa Claus, or the Saint Nicholas of Myra, was born on 15 March 270 and passed away at the age of 73 years old. He was born from a Greek Family during the Roman Empire. He was in fact born from a rich family. According to the Wikipedia, he made it a practice on his feast day, which is on 6th December in the Gregorian calendar, to give present in secret, such as putting coins in the shoes for people who had left them out for him.

Well, who would’ve guessed? Ho~ ho~ ho~

Abu the monkey from Aladdin

Ottoman History 101: The Forbidden Monkey

Have you ever thought that an animal like monkey will be forbidden in your city? Well this is an interesting story during the Ottoman Empire.

During the reign of Yavuz Sultan Selim, in order to expand their power further, the Ottomans started going to Africa. In Africa, it is said that they met with a creature that they haven’t seen before in their life. That creature is monkey.

They found out that monkey is an interesting creature, so they started using them on ship. Well as we all know, monkey is an excellent climber with a very good eye sight, so on board their main chores normally will be climbing up the sail pole and stay there as a watcher who will inform the crews if there is any enemy ship on sight or anything that peaks their interest (could be an Island filled with banana, nobody knows)

After a while, the Turks started to realize that monkey is indeed a useful and lovely animal which could be train for other chores (not to mention the fact that they never seen it before, so it’s a very different thing for them). Turk sailors started to bring monkeys back to Istanbul. The Turks love them alright, all fancy and smart animal. The Turks started having monkey as a pet in house, just as we have cats and dogs nowadays. Monkeys were no longer a weird scene in the city of Istanbul, you can find them in almost every rich men’s houses.

Nothing weird yet? Here it go. During the reign of Sultan Murad III, an official from the Islamic Department of Ottoman Empire or with another word, known as mullah started a complaint. Well you see, this guy doesn’t like monkey, so he claimed that the women are using the monkey in a wrong way. When I say wrong way, yes there was dirty thinking in the process or shall I say it as ‘blue mind’ (in Malaysian slang LOL). His complaints were successful, and the Sultan finally ordered all monkeys in Istanbul to be prosecuted. Pet bazaar LOL where they sell the monkeys were rushed and all monkeys were seized to be prosecuted.

Started with Abdulkerim Effendi, all the monkeys in Istanbul were prosecuted by hanging. To this day this guy is known as the Maymunkeş Abdulkerim Effendi, which means Abdulkerim Effendi the Monkey Slayer. LOL! Since then, monkeys were forbidden in Istanbul…


Monkey in shock

Guys, as funny as this may sound, this is a real historical event during the Ottoman Empire. But of course, you can bring your pet monkey to Istanbul now with you, this event was only during that reign. I am no animal activist, but when I 1st heard of this story I was like WTH are they thinking? Nevertheless, don’t kill your monkey, it’s just wrong.

***Mullah is an educated Muslim trained in religious law and doctrine and usually holding an official post

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