Caravanserais (or khans) are buildings specially built to shelter men, goods and animals along ancient caravan routes, in particular along the former Silk Roads.

Linked to the rise of Islam and the growth of the land trade between the Orient and the West (then to its decline because of the opening of the ocean routes by the Portuguese), the construction of most of the caravanserais spanned a period of ten centuries (IX-XIX century), and covered a geographical area the centre of which is Central Asia. Many thousands were built, and together they form a major phenomenon in the history of that part of the world, from an economic, a social and a cultural point of view.

They are also remarkable for their architecture, which is based on geometric and topologic rules. These rules use a limited number of elements defined by tradition. But they articulate, combine and multiply these elements so that within an overall unity, each one of these buildings possesses characteristics, which are specific to it. As such, they well illustrate the concept of a "common heritage and plural identity", which emerged during UNESCO’s studies of the Silk Roads, and which is particularly evident in Central Asia. Unfortunately, except for some of the really well known ones, usually considered as historical monuments, especially when situated inside towns such as khan Assad Pacha, Damascus – many have been completely demolished and those which remain are, for the most part, slowly disappearing.

Nevertheless, a certain number are really worth restoring and some could be rehabilitated in today's world and used for different functions, such as those related to cultural tourism.

However, if some countries have adopted their own policy concerning caravanserais, most of the countries concerned have not yet undertaken a systematic evaluation of this part of the cultural heritage. As a result, existing information on this subject is, most often, incomplete and heterogeneous.

It is now a matter of urgency to start drawing up an Inventory, based on well-prepared scientific criteria. For this reason, in the framework of its programme "East-West Intercultural Dialogue in Central Asia", a project which enables the continuation of certain activities launched during the Silk Roads Project, the UNESCO Division for Intercultural Projects has launched a program which will lead to the establishment of an Inventory.

entral Asia.

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