… the Silk Road …

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Sultanhani Caravanserai. Pics Sarah Nicholson

SILK ROAD STOPOVER …

HAVE you ever thought about the evolution of the modern-day hotel?

Probably not, and I don’t blame you, as tourist digs tend to look the same after you spend a few days on the road and are hardly worthy of grand anthropological study.

But I visited a compound today, Sultanhani Caravanserai on the road south of Konya, which made me think about how far humble tourist accommodations have come since the early days when travellers were looking for little more than a solid wall to hide behind at night.

Our morning-tea stop was at the site of the ancient caravanserai, which formed part of a chain of fortresses along the Silk Road, and placed to protect travellers and their valuable freight during the extended journey from Asia to Europe.

These sturdy compounds were built about 20km apart, as that was the distance the average caravan of Silk Road trampers could cover in a day, and came about because those ancient merchants were too vulnerable to bandit attacks if they simply camped in a field at night.

The traders using the Silk Road were carrying precious cargos, anything from silk worms bound for Turkish carpet factories to precious stones on route to European royals, and bands of thugs were ready to pounce on anyone not safely inside a caravanserai at night.

Travellers would plan each day’s trip to reach the secure wall of the next rustic inn late in the afternoon, park their animals and freight inside the stone walls before eating a hot meal, and then drift off to sleep knowing those roaming bandits would need to employ some serious acrobatic skills to get inside the stronghold.

The merchants and their servants would then rise early the next morning to prepare for another day on the trail and be back on the road before the sun had climbed far from the horizon with the aim of reaching the next fortress before darkness crept across the landscape that night.

Sultanhani Caravanserai was built in 1229, on the Konya-Aksaray Highway, and was extended in 1278 after a fire swept through with the renovation making it the largest Silk Road accommodations in Turkey.

It hasn’t changed much since those 13th-century travellers slept in the dark rooms and cooked their meals under the arches on the veranda, and the carved stone still decorates the front walls around the heavy “portal” door that was only opened during daylight hours.

The complex had closed rooms as well as open-air spaces, with the undercover spots used during winter and the exposed areas favoured when the warmer weather arrived, and watchtowers on each corner presented guards with a “monumental view” across the plains.

A mosque was also put in the middle of the centre courtyard with enclosures dedicated to cooking, eating, sleeping and bathing set around the sanctuary.

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