- The International Colloquium of Yazd

- The term caravanserai and its synonyms

- Countries concerned by the historical phenomenon of caravanserais

- The Inventory network

- Actors and partners of the Inventory

- Short bibliography



The International Colloquium of Yazd

The International Colloquium entitled an " Analytic and Systematic Regional Inventory on Caravanserais in central Asia" was held in the town of Yazd, Iran from 8 to 12 November 1998.

It was organised by the Iranian National Commission for UNESCO, in cooperation with the University of Yazd, the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation, the Iran Touring and Tourism Organisation, the transport and terminals Organisation and UNESCO.   Over and above an assessment of current research, the Colloquium aimed to launch the establishment of an inventory of caravanserais in the region.  Twenty scholars from the ten following countries participated in the Colloquium: China, France, India, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, Turkey and Turkmenistan. In addition, a representative of UNESCO and members of the Iranian National Commission took part.  During the opening ceremony introductory and welcoming speeches were made by Dr. Vahdat, Chancellor of the University of Yazd, Dr. Shahi, Secretary General of the Iranian National Commission, Mr. Sefid, General Governor of Yazd, Dr. Moezeddin, Head of the Iranian Touring and Tourism Organisation and Ms. Larminaux, Division for Intercultural Projects, UNESCO.

At the beginning of the first Session, the Agenda and Schedule were adopted and the following Officials were elected: Chairmen: Dr. Kiani (Iran), Prof. Ortayli (Turkey), Dr. Dar (Pakistan) and Prof. Vassiliev (Russia); Vice-Chair people: Dr. Shardenova (Kazakhstan), Dr. Ayvazian (Iran), Dr. Gong (Chine), and Prof. Yavuz (Turkey). Mr. Chegini (Iran) was appointed as Rapporteur.

The colloquium was divided into two consecutive parts: Part 1, Scientific topics; Part 2, Operational Project. During Part 1, in addition to the general presentation by Prof. Pierre Lebigre (France), nineteen other scholarly papers were presented covering general themes such as: current research, preservation and conservation, systems and route transportation and cultural tourism. Part 2 focused on the operational aspects of establishing an Inventory of Caravanserais in Central Asia. Following a general proposal outlined by Prof. Lebigre, an open discussion took place in which all participants played an active role. The comments that were voiced by the floor covered a number of essential scientific elements as well as proposals related to the operational features of the overall caravanserai project. The following requirements were determined:

1. Scientific aspects

  • The need to undertake a more systematic and scientific survey in order to complete existing information, particularly in those regions were this is lacking, in order to prepare accurate maps of their location;

  • The absolute necessity to establish a global Inventory;

  • The need to undertake further architectural studies in order to determine their function, their history and development through various periods of time and in different regions;

  • The necessity to pay attention to the vulnerable group of caravanserais composed of those in a particularly bad state of preservation;

  • The importance of preserving and restoring selected caravanserais using correct scientific methods and under the supervision of trained and experienced scholars;

  • The importance of selecting some caravanserais for restoration with a view to their rehabilitation in today's world and for functions related to cultural tourism was stressed by some Iranian participants.

2. Operational aspects:

Prof.  Lebigre was recommended as general coordinator for the project in its initial stage;

A local institution of person should be designated by the National Commission of the countries concerned, on request from UNESCO, to collaborate with the Coordinator;

In order to obtain the data required for the Inventory, and so that the cartography information is provided on a common scale, the following practical steps were determined :

  • A questionnaire, to be used as a basis for the Inventory data bank, should be drawn up in a manner which will enable each country to provide the information in standard form, with identical specifications easily transposable onto a "master" map;

  • A suitable software should be selected for the databank;

  • Following the completion of the overall cartography, and based on the scientific information therein, a selection of caravanserais should be made by each country for restoration and , in some cases, possible rehabilitation;

Over and above national requests which will be made to UNESCO's funding departments, co-financing will be sought from relevant international organizations (such as the WTO, ICOMOS), or Funds in trust, as well as other public and private financial partners.  After some discussion the title an "Inventory of Caravanserais in Central Asia" was retained by a majority of the Participants, despite the fact that Iranian scholars considered that one of the two titles, "Project on Asian Caravanserais", or "Project on caravanserais" to be more appropriate.

Underpinning these recommendations was the understanding that UNESCO would endeavour to take the necessary steps to encourage their implementation by the countries concerned, and to encourage the active participation of these countries in the establishment of the Inventory.   Finally it was unanimously agreed that this colloquium had considerably contributed to furthering intercultural dialogue and was an excellent example of the kind of activity to be undertaken in the framework of UNESCO's project "East-West Intercultural Dialogue in Central Asia".


The term caravanserai and its synonyms

Without any doubt it is its evocation power which gave to the term caravanserai its occidental success to the detriment of its synonym khan or han.

However caravanserais or khan are Persian terms.

The term caravanserai "is borrowed from the Persian karwan-saray. The word is made up of karwan (caravan) and saray ( palace, large house, coutyard)"

The term khan is a "borrowing from the Persian hân (caravanserai, inn) word became part of Turkish and Arabic languages" (Robert dictionary).

Other terms have been used also, according to eras and countries or are still used in order to designate that type of building :

Funduk : Term used particularly in North Africa in order to designate a little hotel.

Wakala : During the Ottoman empire, it became common and supplanted funduk and khan.

Kaysariya : Borrowing from Greece, the term designate a set of public buildings sheltering shops, workshops, and often accommodations altogether around a courtyard.

Rabat : Little fortified building and term employed in Central Asia in order to designate a caravanserai.

To date, both caravanserai and khan or han are main terms.


Countries concerned by the historical phenomenon of caravanserais

Countries concerned by the historical phenomenon of caravanserais are covering a huge territory.

Mainly, it is about:

  • a part of Europe and Russia,

  • North Africa,

  • Middle East,

  • Central Asia,

  • Indian continent,

  • China.

Except China, all these territories historically coincided with Islam extension era.


The Inventory network

The Analytic and Systematic Inventory of Caravanserais started in 2001, in four countries : Russia, Syria, Turkmenistan and Iran. These countries have constituted the first core of the Inventory network.

In each of these countries, National Commissions for UNESCO designated scholars or working groups or focal points (mainly archaeologists or architects) in charge of launching the Inventory from a survey "in situ".

For that purpose, a test has been done, in 2002, on 3 caravanserais (or more) into those countries, with the help of an International Type Questionary. Each caravanserai has been the subject of a photographic survey and drawing up of architectural documents.

Some survey abstracts in Iran (Ahouvan caravanserai – Anoushirvani caravanserai) and Turkmenistan ( Dayat Katin caravanserai).

In September 2002, at the end of the International Conference of Samarkand on "Civilizations in Central Asia : Traditions and Innovations" supported by UNESCO, the municipality of Samarkand, The International Institute for Central Asia Studies (IICAS) and the French Institute for Central Asia Studies (IFEAC), four countries joined the initial core : Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

The Inventory network includes now  8 countries.

Of course, the network is intended to stretch progressively over all the countries concerned by this historical phenomenon.


Actors and partners of the Inventory

The Inventory actors are at the present time mainly :

- UNESCO ( Cultural Policies and intercultural Dialogue Division),

- Scholars or working groups (Focal Points) designated by National Commissions for UNESCO in each of network countries,

- P. LEBIGRE, architect and professor in the French Ecole d’Architecture Paris Val de Seine, General coordinator of the Inventory.

The institutional partners associated to the Inventory are :

- The Ecole d’Architecture Paris Val de Seine (EAPVS) and its EVCAU Research Team (Research Team Virtual Space of Conception in Architecture and Town Design). EVCAU Team is specialized in modelling and public diffusion of architectural and urban knowledge. The team mobilizes a large field of computer technologies, in particular :

·       Data and metadata modelling (UML, XML), 

·       Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applied to heritage and environmental data.

·       The EVCAU Team which is working with several institutional partners (European Commission with the STRABON project, Research and Technology Delegation of the French Department for Culture and Communication with the development of an information system under XML) :

The data gathered are at the present time entering a GIS entirely dedicated to caravanserais and ancient caravan roads and developed by Prof. P. LEBIGRE and Dr E. THOMOPOULOS (EVCAU researcher).

This GIS open the way to national, regional maps as well as a Master Map of caravanserais and caravan Roads on all the concerned territories. 


- The National Institute of Informatics of Japan (NII) which launched with UNESCO the first International Symposium on "Digital Silk Roads" (Tokyo, December 2001). NII was established in April 2000 as an inter-university research institute in order to pursue wide-range researches in computer sciences and develop distribution infrastructures in matter of scientific information.

NII signed in March 2003 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with UNESCO ( Information and Informatics Division) in order to establish an interdisciplinary joint "Digital Silk Roads Initiative Framework" (DSRIF) which aims at improving partnerships towards building Digital Silk Roads based on digital restoration and digital exchanges of cultural heritage of the Silk Roads Region.

A UNESCO/NII website including a scientific platform should be ready soon. This platform will comprise, in particular, a virtual work space in order to gather and exchange caravanserais and caravan roads data.


Short Bibliography

– SIROUX , M,  Caravanserails d’Iran, Le Caire, IFAO, Tome LXXXL, 1949

Anciennes voies et monuments routiers de la région d’Ispahan, Le Caire, IFAO, Tome LXXXII, 1968

– KLEISS, Y, KIANI, M,Y, Iranian caravanserais, Tehran. Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization. 1995

– ERDMANN, K, Mann, G, Berlin. Das anatolische Karavanseray des 13 jahrunderts 1-2-3, 1961.

– YAVUZ, A.T, Mircinge han and Concentric Planned Anatolian Seljuk Period Caravanserais Millertlerarasi Türk Sanatlari Kongresi – Cilt III

– SAUVAGET, F, Caravansérails syriens du Moyen-Age, Ars Islamica M CM XXXVIII, 1938.

– LEBIGRE, P,  Les caravanserails routiers du Moyen-Orient (IXème-XIXème siècles), Construction d’un regard – Découverte d’un langage, Les Annales Archéologiques Arabes Syriennes, Tome XLII, 1996.


Summary - Contacts