1902 Encyclopedia > Caravanserai


CARAVANSERAI, a public building, for the shelter of caravans and of wayfarers generally. It is commonly constructed in the neighbourhood, but not within the walls, of some town or village, and bears the form of a quad-rangle, with a dead wall outside, only pierced below by a few narrow air-holes, but with small windows higher up. Within, 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 stories. The central court is open to the sky, and generally has in its centre a well with a fountain-basin beside it; but sometimes the well is outside the building, A spacious portal, high and wide enough to admit the passage of a loaded camel, forms the sole entrance, which is furnished with heavy iron-plated folding doors, and is further guarded within by massive iron chains, drawn across at night. Each side of the entry is also provided with stone seats, and the entry paved with flagstones. The court itself is most often paved also, and large enough to admit of three or four hundred crouching camels or tethered mules; the bales of merchandize are piled away under the lower arcade, or stored up in the cellars behind it; the upstairs apartments are for human lodging; but 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 from prayer-time at early dawn till late in the evening for all arrivals. A small gratuity is expected by, and is generally given by the guests to, the porter; but he has no legal claim for payment from travellers, his maintenance being provided for out of the funds of the institution. Neither food nor provender is supplied in a caravanserai, water and shelter only; the rest the caravan has to find for itself. Many caravanserais in Syria, Mesopotamia, and Anatolia are possessed of con-siderable architectural merit; their style of construction is in general that known as Saracenic ; their walls are massive, and of hewn stone ; their proportions apt and grand.
The portals especially are often decorated with intricate
carving ; so also is the prayer-niche within, that indicates
the direction of the Meccan Kibleh. 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 registered
as tax-free, and its revenues as 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 by
the Eastern traveller), unless some new charity intervene
to repair and renew it. In the general decline of wealth,
public spirit, and prosperity actually prevailing throughout
the Mahometan Levant, such better fortune is, however,
rare. " Khans," or places more analogous to our own
town-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, though having really nothing in com-
mon with them, except that they are also for the use of
travellers. These " Khans" are generally to be found
within the town or village precincts, and are of much
smaller dimensions than caravanserais. The "Khan"
called that of Asaad Pasha at Damascus is a model of con-
structive skill and architectual beauty. (w. G. P.)

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