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.
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!