Trade Stops of Anatolia: Caravansaries

Trade Stops of Anatolia: Caravansaries

When we look at the past from the present age, it is pretty hard to imagine those days since we are living in a time of advanced technology, cars, tramways, airplanes, and high-speed trains.

For the modern age human, it is not very easy to imagine the times when transportation was done by means of animals. Caravansaries used to be the indispensable stops and shelters of those times. Caravansaries were the structures to reflect the high culture and power of the Seljuk empire, and its strong organization prominently on the roads reaching from Denizli to Erzurum, Kars and Iğdır, from Kütahya to Malatya, Bitlis, and Ahlat, from Antalya to Sinop and Samsun in Anatolia. The Turks called these places as ‘inns’ and the large ones were called as ‘Sultan Inn.’ The term caravansary comes from Persian. Caravan means one that protects a business. The Seljuk State’s language used to be Persian until Mehmet Bey of Karaman, so caravansary was also a popular term besides inn. Resembling a palace, these cut stone structures of the Anatolian Seljuk architecture has been resisting the wearing effects of time to reach our day as magnificent buildings like the Italian Gothic cathedrals.

Road, caravan, inn

There used to be three keywords of trade then: road, caravan, inn… Out of the efforts of making Anatolia their homeland, the Turks built inns where travelers and caravans could find shelter along the comprehensive land road networks surrounding the capitals and trade centers. They were usually built strategically a day’s travel away from each other. It would not be wrong to define them as trade, social aid, and cultural organizations working for public welfare during the rule of the Seljuk State. Caravansaries used to be built about 35-40 km away from each other, a distance that would take 7-9 hours of walk by a camel to cover. The busyness and significance of the road were important factors to increase this number. They used to be built closer to each other on very busy roads such as Konya-Aksaray-Kayseri road. For instance, it is known that there are 24 caravansaries on the Sivas-Kayseri route, which is 195 km long, a caravanserai in every 7-8 km. The road between Aksaray and Nevşehir is 76 km long and there are 3 caravansaries on it, one in every 25 km.

Shelters of the Silk Road

The route along the Silk Road in the Middle Ages was the road connecting the east and the west. The Spice Road also should not be forgotten. The Silk Road starts in China, and passes through the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts entering Anatolia from the north of the Caspian Sea. This legendary trade route had a widespread network in Anatolia, more than in any other country. Of course, the caravansaries had a great impact on this. The primary purpose of the caravansaries, which was built by the Seljuk sultans and their viziers during the 13th century on the most important caravan routes of Anatolia, was to ensure the safety of humans and animals. The surrounding walls were so thick and massive that these structures were sometimes used by military forces. Another purpose was to provide accommodation and basic needs. Accordingly, behind the walls as thick as fortress walls depending on the largeness of the caravansary, there were structures such as dormitories, public meal centers, supply storage, commercial goods warehouses, barn and haystacks for animals, prayer rooms, libraries, baths, fountains, hospitals, pharmacy, shoe repair shops and even blacksmith.

Insured traders

We have a lot of information about the cultural and administrative field of that period in order to understand how the business life was developed so much in the 13th century’s Anatolia of the Seljuk. Most probably the world’s oldest insurance idea was applied during this period. Primarily, road safety was guaranteed by the state. Large caravans were joined by troops of guardsmen until the distant country borders, and guarded in secluded places and crossings. The losses of traders who were harmed, or robbed on the roads or whose goods sunk in the sea were covered by a kind of insurance system from the state treasury. Given that the establishment of such an insurance system in the West began after the 14th century, it is no wonder that trade has been free of such emancipation. The Seljuk sultans placed large-scale traders in important ports in Anatolia, especially in the south of Antalya and Sinop in the north, to facilitate and improve the business life. Not only did they give privileges to foreign merchants coming to Anatolia, but they also reduced their customs duties.

Inns working as a company

 Caravansaries held an advanced comprehension compared to the age in the aspect of their functioning. For instance, having been survived until today, the charter documents of the Karatay Inn which is located on the Kayseri-Malatya route is filled with details about the amazing job descriptions of the administrative staff of the inn. Their work discipline is enough to amaze us even today. The data about the daily life in the inn and the guests are noteworthy. Each guest who arrived the inn received a bowl of stew, 250 grams of cooked meat, and a loaf of bread for free, every Friday honey halva was made and distributed among the guests. The patients in the inn were treated until they were well, if there was any death, their funeral process was done without a charge. Although we don’t have clear information about entrance and exit process, it is known that the gates were to be closed at sunset not to open until sunrise. Travelers were not allowed to leave when the gates were closed at night. However, if there were any incoming travelers, they were allowed to enter. In the morning after everyone had been awake, the innkeeper used to call the guests to ask whether their goods, their lives, their horses and their honor were alright, and only after all the guests confirmed they would open the doors. If the doors were opened without applying this rule and a damage was discovered, the innkeepers were obliged to meet them.

Admission ritual

The admission of passengers to the inns is also worth mentioning. At this point, we should refer to Evliya Çelebi. Çelebi inclued many details of the Sokullu Mehmet Paşa Caravansary in Lüleburgaz in his famous book. According to Çelebi, the barn of this caravansary fits more than three thousand animals, there is always a guard at the gate. If guests arrives at midnight, they open the door and let them in. They eat. However, even if the whole world is destroyed, they would not let anyone out until all the guests wake up in the morning and the Mehterhane plays again and everyone becomes aware of their property. Then, the innkeepers shout like town criers, “Muslim brothers are your goods, lives, horses, and attire safe?” The guests confirm, “Safe; may God bless the innkeeper.” They open the gates and see the guests off with advice.

Today, some of the caravansaries are in ruins; however, some of them are restored within the framework of tourism. These structures, located in all parts of Anatolia, are worth seeing with their architectural and historical backgrounds. The Alara Inn is located at a distance of 115 km to Antalya, 8 km from the Antalya-Alanya highway, near the Alara Castle, which had a strategic role in the control of the roads reaching the Mediterranean. It was built by Sultan Alaaddin Keykubad in 1229-1230. The inn on the Silk Road provided accommodation services to retreated dervishes as well, in addition to travelers passing by the caravan route under the Seljuk rule. Located on Avanos-Ürgüp highway, 25 km from Nevşehir and 6 km from Avanos, the Sarıhan (Saruhan) Caravansary (1238) is spread over an area of 2 thousand square meters. It has a special architecture with cut stones made of light brown, pink and yellow colors. The largest of the Seljuk caravansaries in Anatolia is the Sultan Han (1229) on the Aksaray-Konya highway, 42 km away from Aksaray. Built by the Seljuk Sultan Alaaddin Keykubad the 1st, the inn is spread over an area of approximately 4,990 square meters with indoor and outdoor sections. The geometric decorations of the crown gate and the mosque are the most striking examples of the Seljuk stonework. The Zazadin Khan (1235-1236), which is located at a distance of 22 kilometers to Konya, 5 km from the Aksaray-Konya highway, near the village of Tömek, is also known as the Saadeddin Köpek Inn. The antique dressed-stones used in its structure are remarkable. The distance between Aksaray and Nevşehir is 76 km and there are three caravansaries on this route; the Alay Inn, the Öresin Inn and the Ağzıkara Inn. The Ağzıkara Inn (1231-1236), which is a sultan inn 17 km away from Aksaray, is one of the most important inns in Anatolia. Alaaddin Keykubad’s rule was the most brilliant period of the Anatolian Seljuks. Many features of the Seljuk stonework immediately stand out on the monumental crown gate, the shrines on both sides of the gate and the facade decorated with geometric motifs.