Showing posts with label Caravanserais. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Caravanserais. Show all posts

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Iran | Esfahan | Abbasi Hotel

Wandered down to Esfahan, south of Tehran. I was especially looking forward to visiting Esfahan since I had booked a room at the legendary Abassi Hotel, which if not the city’s best hotel is certainly the most historic and picturesque.
Location of Esfahan (click on photos for enlargements).
The Abbasi Hotel was originally a caravanserai built during the time the the Safavid Sultan Husayn (1668—1726). It was restored and remodeled in the 1950s into an upscale hotel. Film buffs may recognize the hotel as the set for the 1974 movie Ten Little Indians starring Oliver Reed and German bombshell Elke Sommer. I had read some on-line reviews that groused about the small size of some of the rooms at the hotel. This was certainly not the case with my first floor room, which opened directly onto the courtyard. A troop of dancers, had one been available, could have bivouacked in the room with space left over for a camel or two. 
This etching was made in 1840. 
The basic layout of the building itself has changed very little since 1840. The two-story arched alcove near the right edge of the etching now hosts a charming little snack shop. The dome and minaret of the mosque seen looming over the top of the building are unchanged. Oh how I would have loved to have been in that courtyard when it still hosted camels! Note that the camels shown are Two-Humped Bactrians, the most noble of the world’s four-legged creatures, and not one-humped dromedaries. I would have had second thoughts about staying at the caravanserai if they had allowed in dromedaries, unless, of course, dromedaries were restricted to their own watering troughs.
Lobby of hotel. I took this photo at five o’clock in the morning. During the day and evening the lobby was a madhouse of milling tourists from England, Germany, Italy, Spain, China, and elsewhere. As far as I could tell I was the only American. 
Courtyard of hotel
Courtyard of hotel
Courtyard of hotel
Courtyard of hotel
Courtyard of hotel
Courtyard of hotel
Courtyard of hotel
I spent my late afternoons in the courtyard enjoying glasses of refreshing hibiscus tisane with rock sugar. Clinically proven to lower your blood pressure!
Hotel lobby coffee shop where I got my morning caffeine fix. In the afternoons it was jammed with Chinese tour groups.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cyprus | Nicosia | Büyük Han

From Larnaca I wandered up to Nicosia, the largest city on the island of Cyprus. Downtown Nicosia is only twenty-eight miles from downtown Larnaca, but given all the bus stops the trip takes over an hour. Since 1974 Nicosia has been divided into two parts; the northern part in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the southern part in the Republic of Cyprus. At the risk of over-oversimplifying a very complicated and contentious issue, let it be said that the Republic of Cyprus is Greek and Christian and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is Turkish and Muslim. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was created after the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974. Since then Nicosia has been a divided city. The border separating the two parts of Nicosia is to this day administered by the United Nations. Although there were numerous sights I wanted to see in both southern and northern Nicosia my first objective was the Büyük Han, or caravanserai, in northern Nicosia. I was curious how it would compare to caravanserais in Istanbul, Bukhara, and Sogdiana

From 1974 to 2003 the northern and southern parts of Nicosia remained completed separated, with no access between one side and the other. On April 23, 2003 the so-called Ledra Palace border crossing was established, and later, on April 3, 2008 the Ledra Street pedestrian crossing was opened. This crossing is used mainly by day-trippers from one side of the city to the other. Thus I presented myself at the Ledra Street crossing point when it opened at eight in the morning. There was no line and apparently I was the first person to cross that day. At the first checkpoint an official examines your passport and then waves you on to a second checkpoint 150 feet farther up the street. Here you show your passport again and fill out a short form (the so-called White Paper), which is then stamped. This serves as a one-day visa to Northern Cyprus. Your passport is not stamped.

There had been no coffee shops open on Ledra Street and I had been unable to get a caffeine fix before crossing over. On the north side there were numerous coffee and tea houses on the quiet street leading to the center of town but none of them were open. Cypriots, I have noticed, are not early risers. Signs in both Turkish and English point the way to the Büyük Han. I soon arrive at the western entrance. Happily the door is open and inside several cafes are serving up Turkish coffee (in the southern part of Nicosia and the rest of the Republic of Cyprus this same drink is universally known as “Cyprus coffee”).

The han is 443 years old. It was built by Turkish Governor-General Muzaffer Pasha in 1572, two years after the Ottomans seized Cyprus from the Venetians in 1570. It was originally called Alanyalilar’s Han, but by the seventeenth century it had become known as the Büyük (Big) Khan, since it was the largest han in Nicosia. The two story structure has sixty-eight rooms which open onto an interior courtyard. It would have been used as an inn and business center for prosperous traders from Asia Minor, the Levant, northern Africa, and Europe. The rooms, which now house shops selling assorted tourist-oriented tat, were fairly roomy and each had it own hearth. One can only imagine that these were pretty comfortable and even luxurious lodgings back in the sixteenth century. This was probably the equivalent of a modern day five-star business hotel, catering to successful and affluent merchants from all around the Mediterranean Basin and beyond.  I would like to think that I would have been able to stay here had I arrived in Nicosia in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, but more likely I would have ended up at one of the nearby Sufi-run tekkes, which by tradition provided free food and lodging, at least for a night or two, to indigent travelers wandering down the endless corridors of time and space. 
The west side of the han, with one of the entrances (click on photos for enlargements).
The east side of the han, with the other entrance to the han at the far left. To the right of the eastern entrance is a barrel vaulted gallery.
The barrel vaulted gallery
To the left of the eastern entrance is a groin vaulted gallery. Why different styles of galleries were used on either side of the entrance is a detail lost to history. 
A tiny mosque in the middle of the courtyard
The tiny mosque
View of the courtyard and facing rooms
View of the courtyard and facing rooms
View of the courtyard and facing rooms
View of the courtyard and facing rooms
View of the courtyard and facing rooms
View of the courtyard and facing rooms
View of the second floor gallery
Cafe where I had coffee. I am beginning to regret the Intemperate Remarks I have made about coffee in the past.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Uzbekistan | Bukhara | Nogai Caravanserai | Gaukushan Madrassa | Khodja Mosque

Just south of the Tok-i-Saffaron, along the Shah Rud Canal, is the Nogai Caravanserai, built in the 1720s during the reign of the Shaybinids. This modest-sized caravanserai has a pleasant stone paved, tree-strewn courtyard surrounded by forty-five-odd room which once served as temporary quarters for traveling merchants  and caravan men. The rooms now serves as shops selling miniatures, puppets, and the usual array of silk and wool goods, including suzanis and wall-hangings. 
Shah Rud Canal in the foreqround; Nogai Caravanserai on the other side.
Front of Nogai Caravanserai
Nogai Caravanserai Courtyard (Enlargement for ames)
A few hundred yards down the Shah Rud Canal is the Khodja Mosque and Gaukushan Madrassa Complex. “Gaukushan” reportedly means “one who kills bulls”; in the early sixteenth century there was a slaughter-house on the site. In the years 1562–1566 a madrassa was built here; it soon became known as the Gaukushan Madrassa. In 1598 Juibar Sheikh Khodja Kalon built a Juma, or Friday mosque on the other side of the Shah Rud Canal from the madrassa.
Shah Rud Canal center; Khodja Mosque right, Gaukushan Madrassa left
Pond in front of the Complex (Enlargement for a mes)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Uzbekistan | Caravanserais | Vabkent Minaret | Tavois | Rabat-i-Malik

Before indulging in further Ambulations of Bukhara City itself I decided to wander north through the Bukhara conurbation and look for other monuments which pre-dated the Mongol invasion and managed to survive down to the present day. My first stop was Vabkent, seventeen miles north-northeast of Bukhara. When first Chingis Khan and his army approached the Bukhara Oasis they may well have  homed in on Vabkent’s minaret, which was visible for miles around and served as a beacon for caravans and travelers approaching from the north. Commissioned by Abd al-Aziz II, a member of a powerful Bukhara family during the time of the Qara Khitai Khanate (c. 1125–1218), the 127-foot high minaret, completed in 1198–1199, was the second highest in Mawarannahr, after the Kalon Minaret in Bukhara itself. The Qara Khitai, as you probably know, were a remnant of the old Khitan Dynasty in China—they also Controlled Most of Mongolia At The Time)—who had migrated west and established an empire in Inner Asia. They were Buddhists, with perhaps a smattering of Nestorian Christians among them, but they left the local people to whom they were suzerains practice their own religions, hence  this imposing minaret and accompanying mosque in Vabkent. The Mongols left it unharmed, although the mosque it was once attached to has long since disappeared.

 Vabkent Minaret 
Vabkent Minaret 
 Vabkent Minaret 
 Vabkent Minaret 
Vabkent Minaret 
Sixteen miles east of Vabkent is Tavois. In the thirteenth century it was large town or even city, but now it is a mere village overshadowed by the nearby modern town of Kizil Tepe. Up until the eighth century the town was known as Arqud. Arab invaders renamed it Tawais (“Endowed with Peacocks”) in 710 because it was here they saw their first peacocks—not a native bird of Arabia—in the gardens of the town’s prominent citizens. The town had a large Friday mosque, but by the time Chingis arrived the local fortress had fallen to ruins, already destroyed in earlier fighting between the various contestants for the Bukhara conurbation. The town was formerly famous of its Zoroastrian temple, although presumably it too had disappeared by the thirteenth century, by which time Islam had long since dominated the area.

Every autumn Tawais hosted a great trade fair which lasted seven to ten days. Merchants from all of Mawarannahr and the Fergana Valley attended this fair, which operated under one unusual condition: no item bought could be returned, even if it was later proven that the seller had engaged in illegal trickery and deception. Although probably in a hurry to get to Bukhara, presumably the Mongols took time to engage in at least a cursory looting of the town and to dragoon levies for the anticipated lengthy siege of Bukhara. Now, as in the thirteenth century, it marks the place where the cultivated land of the Bukhara Oasis abruptly ends and the desert steppe begins. 

Tavois, the current name of the village, is a corruption of the original Arab word Tawais.
Tawais was located just inside the great wall known as “Kanpirak”. This wall, measuring some 150 miles in length, had once surrounded the entire Bukhara Oasis. Kanpirak is supposedly an archaic term for “Old Woman”, which would at first glance seem an inappropriate term for a wall. One local historian points out, however, that “old virgin” might be a more accurate translation, in which case the term might connote that the wall was thought to be impenetrable. In any case, the wall was probably built in the fifth or sixth century a.d. Between the years 782 and 830 it was repaired and upgraded as a bulwark against the continuing incursions of nomadic peoples from the north. Maintaining the lengthy wall was an immensely expensive undertaking, however, and required enormous outlays of man-power. At the beginning of the Samanid era in the ninth century Amir Ismael famously declared, “While I live, I am the wall of the district of Bukhara,” implying that he would guarantee the safely of the area by force of arms and that expensive walls were no longer needed. The Kanpirak was henceforth abandoned, and by the time the Mongols arrived it may have been in ruins. In any case, neither Juvaini nor any other Persian historians of the thirteenth century even mention the wall and it proved no obstacle whatsoever to the Mongol invaders. Some commentators insist that ruins of the wall can still be seen at places, but local historians could not point me to any remnants and I was unable to find any traces of it. I apologize for this failure and will attempt a more diligent search during my next trip to Uzbekistan. 

Tavois also marks the beginning of the so-called Royal Road to Samarkand, further on east. An ancient trunk of the Silk Road connecting the two pearls of Mawarannahr, Bukhara and Samarkand, the route still serves as the main highway between the two cites. Eighteen miles east-northeast of Tavois are the ruins of Rabat-i-Malik, a immense caravanserai built by the Qarakhanid Khan Shams-al-Mulk Nasr (r. 1068–1080) for the use of merchants and travelers on the Royal Road. Nearby was a huge well of sweet water which would have slaked the thirst of the men and their horses (the huge brick dome which now covered the well was not added until the 14th century). 

The well, with 14th century brick dome
Entrance to the well 
Entrance to the well 
The huge portal of the Malik Caravanserai
Another view of the portal 
Detail of brick work on the portal (see Enlargment
Interior of the caravanseria, showing layout of the rooms. The entire complex measuring about 300 feet by 300 feet. 
These now-truncated columns may have belonged to a mosque in the middle of the caravanseria. 
View of the portal from inside the caravanserai.
Ruins within the caravanserai
Ruins of what may have been ovens

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Turkey | Istanbul | Vezir Han #2

After wandering through the centuries in the Courtyard of the Vezir Han I mosied down the street to the light shop of Erol, a guy I met during my last trip to Istanbul. While inspecting his fabulous section of chandeliers I mentioned that I had just been visited the Vezir Han.
Chandeliers in Erol’s light shop
He asked if I had visited the carpet shop in the Vezir Han. I said I had not seen any carpet shop. It turns out it is around the back side of Vezir Han, on a alley leading off Divan Yolu. 
The back side of the Vezir Han
Entrance to the Carpet Emporium
The name of the place is the Antique Carpet and Kilim Store. It now turns out the the Vezir Han has two underground floors in addition to the two above ground floors. The carpet store occupies a corner of the first aboveground floor and the first underground floor. We descend to the underground floor. In previous centuries these underground rooms were storage vaults. Now they have been upgraded into very comfortable carpet viewing salons. 
Old underground storage room in the Vezir Han. The stone pillar in the middle dates from the 1630s.
Another underground cavern in the Vezir Han
Erol lounging by some carpets
Although I was not really in the market for anything I spend an enjoyable hour looking at some nice 4x6 foot silk carpets in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. They would certainly upgrade my humble hovel in Zaisan Tolgoi, but admittedly they were a bit out of my price range. I can see $2000 for a kilo of Puerh Tea, but $20,000 for a small carpet seems a bit pricey. Anyhow, I did see a heart-stoppingly gorgeous 4x6 foot silk rug from Qum in Iran. I would have sold my first-born for this one, but unfortunately I do not have a first born so I will have to do without the carpet. The dealer would not allow me to take a photo of it, probably out of fear I would show it to other dealers and try to get a similar one for a better price.