Caravanserais, Turkey 17 – 5/2014

September 2, 2016

We were now starting to feel that we were truly following the Silk Road. As we drove northeastward across Turkey, we could imagine long caravans of camels carrying furs, hides, charcoal, iron, gold, wool, jade, silk and other luxury goods traveling from Europe to China and vis versa. Some of these caravans may have been made up of hundreds of camels, “The Ships of the Desert”. Their route was determined by safe stopping points where they could replenish food, water and exchange goods. Small fortresses called caravanserais sprang up. We had not seen any evidence of the “Silk Road” as we crossed Europe except for one caravanserai near the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.

"Caravans

Caravans may have been made up of hundreds of camels, “The Ships of the Desert”.
(Source: Silk Road Caravans website: www.factsanddetails.com)

Just for an interesting comparison, between 1683 and 1834 a similar route was established by exploratory Spanish expeditions that included Jesuit or Franciscan missionaries. They established a series of military outposts and missions stretching from Loreto, southern Baja California, all the way to Sonoma, north of San Francisco. It was called El Camino Real or The King’s Highway. The missions were often protected by Spanish military and provided safe havens for travelers whatever their business might have been. At a length of some 600 miles, (965 km) along both Californias, small towns sprung up around the missions like San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco, long before other highways were built. The original El Camino Real slowly faded into history though today, Highway 101 closely corresponds to the officially recognized El Camino Real.

The Aksaray-Sultanhan is the largest Caravanserai in Turkey.

The Aksaray-Sultanhan is the largest Caravanserai in Turkey.

The Silk Road followed by Marco Polo was such a route, but when it reached Asia Minor and the Mediterranean in the West, it began to fan out in all directions to deliver its precious goods. Caravanserais, like the missions of California, were no longer the only places for travelers to rest and replenish. We have often explored the old missions of California for their romantic history. Now we were excited as we began coming upon ancient caravanserais in Turkey.

A typical large caravanserai consisted of two sections, an open area for use in the summer and a covered one for winter. Fortified walls and a massive gate kept unwanted intruders out. In the center there was often a small mosque for prayers. Around the courtyard were rooms used for the kitchen, dining, bathrooms, and living and sleeping quarters. Other rooms were used for fodder, stables, warehouses for storing goods, and sometimes, doctors, veterinarians, and farriers, (horseshoe makers), were on hand. Many resembled small fortresses with guards in watch towers to protect the caravans from bandits.

These two local kids were delighted to have their photo taken with The Turtle V parked in front of the Obruk Caravanserai.

These two local guys were delighted to have their photo taken with The Turtle V parked in front of the Obruk Caravanserai.

Silk Road goods carried overland were not loaded onto camels and carried to and from China and Europe. They made their long journey in a piecemeal way, with lots of loading, unloading and trading at the caravan stops along the route. Few people traveled the Silk Road from one end to the other as Marco Polo did, or as we were doing.

Caravanserais were free for the first three days. Owners made their money from charging fees for animals, and selling meals and supplies. They often supplemented their income by gathering manure to sell it for fuel or fertilizer. The price for manure was set according to the animal that produced it and how much straw and grass was mixed in. Cow and donkey manure was regarded as high quality because it burned the hottest and kept mosquitos away.

Graffiti on an archway inside Aksaray-Sultan Caravanserai. What might they say?

Graffiti on an archway inside the Aksaray-Sultan Caravanserai. What might it say?

Some of these caravan stops became rich cities, including Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and Kashgar, places we will visit in the coming months. As the stopovers grew, they included banks, exchange houses, trading firms, markets, brothels and places where one could smoke hashish and opium. After leading a large caravan of unruly, obnoxious camels across the desert or over the high mountain passes through the Wakhan corridor where winter temperatures could drop below -20°F, some measure of relaxation was probably acceptable.

Unfortunately, we only had one camel, our trusted Turtle V, but we always found safe parking nearby for the night, and being outside gave us the great opportunity to meet the local people.

 

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63 Responses to “Caravanserais, Turkey 17 – 5/2014”

  1. We were now starting to feel that we were truly following the Silk Road and imagined long caravans of camels… https://t.co/6bkimqpopI

  2. We were now starting to feel that we were truly following the Silk Road and imagined long caravans of camels… https://t.co/JDZLwOeP1G

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  21. Safe travels to the both of you! You’re both a huge inspiration to me & have been for many years Gary Wescott

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  35. Thanks for your support. People like you keep us on the road of adventure and we hope, someday, we cross paths.

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  49. Oke Ca davon hatt ich dir erzählt 😉

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  62. Love the stories of the caravanserais! What an incredible journey….

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