1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Caravanserai

CARAVANSERAI, a public building, for the shelter of a caravan (q.v.) and of wayfarers generally in Asiatic Turkey. It is commonly constructed in the neighbourhood, but not within the walls, of a town or village. It is quadrangular in form, with a dead wall outside; this wall has small windows high up, but in the lower parts merely a few narrow air-holes. Inside a cloister-like arcade, surrounded by cellular store-rooms, forms the ground floor, and a somewhat lighter arcade, giving access to little dwelling-rooms, runs round it above. Broad open flights of stone steps connect the storeys. The central court is open to the sky, and generally has in its centre a well with a fountain-basin beside it. A spacious gateway, high and wide enough to admit the passage of a loaded camel, forms the sole entrance, which is furnished with heavy doors, and is further guarded within by massive iron chains, drawn across at night. The entry is paved with flagstones, and there are stone seats on each side. The court itself is generally paved, and large enough to admit of three or four hundred crouching camels or tethered mules; the bales of merchandise are piled away under the lower arcade, or stored up in the cellars behind it. The upstairs apartments are for human lodging; cooking is usually carried on in one or more corners of the quadrangle below. Should the caravanserai be a small one, the merchants and their goods alone find place within, the beasts of burden being left outside. A porter, appointed by the municipal authority of the place, is always present, lodged just within the gate, and sometimes one or more assistants. These form a guard of the building and of the goods and persons in it, and have the right to maintain order and, within certain limits, decorum; but they have no further control over the temporary occupants of the place, which is always kept open for all arrivals from prayer-time at early dawn till late in the evening. A small gratuity is expected by the porter, but he has no legal claim for payment, his maintenance being provided for out of the funds of the institution. Neither food nor provender is supplied.

Many caravanserais in Syria, Mesopotamia and Anatolia have considerable architectural merit; their style of construction is in general that known as Saracenic; their massive walls are of hewn stone; their proportions apt and grand. The portals especially are often decorated with intricate carving; so also is the prayer-niche within. These buildings, with their belongings, are works of charity, and are supported, repaired and so forth out of funds derived from pious legacies, most often of land or rentals. Sometimes a municipality takes on itself to construct and maintain a caravanserai; but in any case the institution is tax-free, and its revenues are inalienable. When, as sometimes happens, those revenues have been dissipated by peculation, neglect or change of times, the caravanserai passes through downward stages of dilapidation to total ruin (of which only too many examples may be seen) unless some new charity intervene to repair and renew it.

Khans, i.e. places analogous to inns and hotels, where not lodging only, but often food and other necessaries or comforts may be had for payment, are sometimes by inaccurate writers confounded with caravanserais. They are generally to be found within the town or village precincts, and are of much smaller dimensions than caravanserais. The khan of Asad Pasha at Damascus is a model of constructive skill and architectural beauty.