On September 17, 2023, during the 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, convened in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a meticulous evaluation was conducted, resulting in the meticulous selection of 54 historical caravanserais situated in 24 provinces throughout Iran. These exceptional sites were officially inscribed onto the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List.
The extensive file of Iran’s caravanserais, which includes 54 historical inns located in 24 provinces, represents a curated selection from hundreds of such historical sites. As outlined in the documentation, these caravanserais serve as one of the most vital architectural manifestations in Iranian history.
They have played a pivotal role in the development of routes and travel-related needs over the years. The selection process for these 54 was thorough, comparing the layouts of up to 200 caravanserais, ensuring each chosen had a distinct design. This underlines the profound creativity and genius of Iranian architects throughout history.
Moreover, these Iranian caravanserais have been intricately woven into the fabric of societal and cultural evolutions. Their influence can be perceived across literature, poetry, paintings, miniatures, music, and of course, architecture. When compared internationally, the distinct design and structure of Iranian caravanserais stand out. It seems that many other types of caravanserais globally may have been inspired by the original Iranian models.
The 54 Iranian caravanserais that have made their mark on UNESCO’s World Heritage List include:
Dirgachin (Qom), Nushirvan (Isfahan), Perand/Fortress of Stone (Robat Karim), Robat Sharaf (Sarakhs), Stone Fig (Ardakan), Jamalabad (Mianeh), Abbas Abad Taybad (Taybad), Fakhr Davood (Neyshabur), Sheikh Ali Khan (Shahin Shahr), Marnjab (Aran and Bidgol), Aminabad (Shahrreza), Gabrabad (Qom), Mehyar (Shahrreza), Gaz (Gaz village), Kuhpayeh (Kuhpayeh), Mzinan (Davarzan), Izdkhwast (Abadeh), Fakhrabad (Bajestan), Sarayan (Sarayan), Qasr Bahram (Garmsar), Ahvan (Khavarehshahr), Miyami (Shahrud), Abbasabad (Shahrud), Miandasht (Shahrud), Zainuddin (Mehriz), Meybod (Meybod), Farsfaj (Toyserkan), Khaje Nazar (Jolfa), Dehdasht (Dehdasht), Bisotun (Bisotun), Ganjali Khan (Kerman), Goije Bol (Ahar), Khoy (Khoy), Sayin (Nir), Ti Ti (Siahkal), Bagh Sheikh (Saveh), Za’faraniyah (Sabzevar), Mehr (Sabzevar), Yinga Imam (Savojbolagh), Bastak (Bastak), Brazjan (Borazjan), Kharanaq (Ardakan), Ajeri Fig (Yazd), Afzal (Shushtar), Nistanak (Naein), Chah Kuran (Ravar), Chamshk (Pol Dokhtar), Rashti (Ardakan), Tajabad (Bahar), Deh Mohammad (Tabas), Khan (Khoy), Chehel Pāyeh (Tabas), Sa’d Al-Saltaneh (Qazvin), and Robat Gholi (Jajarm).
Each of these caravanserais carries with it a piece of Iran’s rich history and architectural brilliance, now globally recognized and preserved for generations to come.
As Iran historically is located between the main ancient civilizations, the historical roads are playing a critical role in Persian civilization. From the beginning of the history to the current time, the role of Iran as a bridge has encouraged the rulers and people to always care about roads and related structures as one of the main financial income resources. For example, Silk Roads is one of this long lasting corridors which played an important role in Persian Empire during the history. One of the famous Persian ancient road which known as Royal Road, during and after Achamenied period, which was connecting the main cities of Persian empire, there were several characteristic network of routes across the Iran that historically are well-known. The Silk Roads have connected civilizations and brought peoples and cultures into contact with each other from across the world for thousands of years, permitting not only an exchange of goods but an interaction of ideas and cultures that have shaped our world today. The historical roads have had several elements related to their functions. Bridges, Caravanserais, checkpoints, castles Bazaars and specifically caravanserais as a main element of historical road in Iran, were not only a simple place for travelers to rest and keeping safe their belongs, also were a meeting point for travelers, merchants, scientists, and many other scholars who wanted to exchange knowledge and ideas, as well as discover new civilizations. The historic routes mostly were a network of trade routes across land and sea that spanned much of the globe from prehistoric times until the present day, along which people of many different cultures, religions and languages met, exchanged ideas and influenced each other. The intactness, uniqueness and also the well adaptation with the environment using the vernacular material and technics, choosing the locations are the most significance of selected Caravanserais. From very simple one to the most luxury ones, Caravanserais are built for servicing to travelers and constructed in the middle of roads and far from any settlements. Although large numbers of the Caravanserais now a day are located in the cities and villages, but according to the studies, they were the start point of these settlements, cities and villages. it means that emerging of some cities and settlements beside the roads are because of Caravanserais.
Historical Routes in Iran: A Bridge Between Ancient Civilizations
Located strategically between major ancient civilizations, Iran’s historical roads have significantly influenced the development and evolution of the Persian culture. From ancient times to the present, Iran’s pivotal position as a connective bridge has impelled both its rulers and populace to prioritize road maintenance and infrastructure, recognizing them as critical sources of revenue.
For instance, the Silk Roads, an enduring passage, played a pivotal role during the height of the Persian Empire. Additionally, during and post the Achaemenid era, the Royal Road stands out as an emblematic Persian ancient route, linking the primary cities of the empire. Across Iran’s vast landscape, there exists a myriad of such historic routes that have been celebrated throughout history.
The Silk Roads, transcending borders, have bridged civilizations for millennia. These roads enabled not merely the trade of goods but also fostered the intermingling of ideas, cultures, and beliefs. As a result, they’ve left an indelible mark on the course of human history. Along these historical routes, functional elements such as bridges, caravanserais, checkpoints, castles, and bazaars played key roles. Specifically, caravanserais, beyond providing travelers with a secure resting place, emerged as convergence points for traders, scholars, and explorers, encouraging the sharing of knowledge, ideas, and discoveries.
Historically, these routes constituted a complex network of overland and maritime trade pathways, stretching across vast territories. Here, individuals from diverse cultural, religious, and linguistic backgrounds engaged in dialogue, enriching one another through shared insights.
A distinguishing feature of the caravanserais is their harmonious integration with the environment. Using indigenous materials and techniques, and strategically situated locations, these structures, ranging from the austere to the opulent, catered to travelers and were often positioned mid-route, away from existing settlements. Modern research indicates that many present-day cities and villages enveloping caravanserais were originally established because of them, suggesting that these historical structures precipitated the emergence of numerous settlements alongside these routes.
Here are some more facts about Iranian Caravanserais:
- Origins: The word “caravanserai” comes from the Persian words “karvan” meaning caravan and “saray” meaning palace or dwelling. Thus, it’s a place where caravans rest.
- Architectural Significance: Most caravanserais follow a quadrangular plan. The entrance is usually a large, ornate gate that leads into a central courtyard. Surrounding this courtyard are rooms and stalls for merchants, travelers, and their animals.
- Safety and Rest: Caravanserais were built at intervals of 20-30 kilometers, which is roughly the distance a caravan could travel in one day. They served as safe havens against bandits and provided necessary shelter against harsh climatic conditions.
- Spread of Culture: Beyond being mere resting places, caravanserais played an essential role in the exchange of culture. Travelers from different parts of the world would meet and share stories, goods, and knowledge, making these places melting pots of culture.
- Incorporation of Religious Spaces: Many caravanserais had mosques built within them for travelers to perform their religious duties. This is a testament to the integration of religious, cultural, and commercial aspects of life during that era.
- Economic Hubs: Apart from serving travelers, many caravanserais became bustling economic centers, hosting markets and facilitating trade.
- Decline: The rise of modern transportation methods and improved infrastructure led to the decline in the use of caravanserais as primary resting and trading hubs.
- Preservation: Many caravanserais have been restored and converted into hotels, museums, or cultural centers to preserve their rich history. They serve as popular tourist attractions.
- Diverse Designs: While there is a standard architectural format, many caravanserais differ in design based on the region, the era in which they were built, and the specific needs of the travelers they aimed to serve.
- Safavid Era Flourish: The Safavid dynasty (1501-1722) in Iran saw a significant boost in the construction of caravanserais, primarily to promote trade and facilitate the movement of goods and people across the empire.