The Inns and Outs of the Silk Road

Travel this historic path to find treasures

By: Riana Lagarde

Jangling tambourines rattle in the night wind while braying camels linked together with colorful ropes plod diligently through the dry steppe plains in the legendary passage via the Afghan mountains. Carpet bags filled with luscious silks, aromatic spices and rare teas from China sway and jostle like the dozing merchants upon the balking animals.

Through multi-layers of red, orange and dust-covered fabrics, tiny slits of fatigued eyes rejoice at the eminent shadow on the horizon. Tinned ornate Arabic lanterns shine and glimmer in the dusk to illuminate a large fortress a caravanserai inn that provides refuge for these exhausted pilgrims regardless of religion, race or language.

These inns are a safe haven, where merchants fill their bellies, cure their sick, sell and trade their wares and rest their weary heads for up to three days before continuing their grueling trek towards Byzantine along the Silk Road.

Over 100 of these inns, sometimes called hans, still exist in Turkey along the ancient Silk Road. Aptly called “The Long Road,” it is a system of caravan trails, 7,000 miles long through China, Persia, India and Turkey, used by Alexander the Great to add to his military empire and famously by Marco Polo during his exploits.

Seljuk Turkish Sultans bolstered and fortified their part of the Silk Road in the 11th century to create these inns which safeguarded trade between Asia and Europe, thus quenching their lavish fervor of silk and exotic goods from afar. Today, most of these medieval roadside truck stops are in a shambles, but there are a few good examples of caravanserais well preserved in the Eastern Anatolia region in Cappadocia, Okuz Pasa Han in Kusadasi (a popular destination for cruise ships), Horozlu Han in Konya and a handful of inns within Istanbul that are easy to visit on a day tour.

Just east of Greece, on the Mediterranean, lies Anatolia, the southeastern part of Turkey offering your clients interesting sights from the well of St. John the Baptist to Fairy Chimneys and camel wrestling (much like bullfighting but without the gory death).

The charming Alara Han located just 10 miles from the Mediterranean and famous for its lion-head sculptures used as oil lamps and ornate expensive stone floors, is a popular destination to see and experience the old Silk Road days firsthand. Alara hosts present-day merchants selling their wares, and displays costumes from the Seljuk days.

Down the road and near the sea is the sparse though completely rebuilt Sarafsa Han that becomes a 13th-century nightclub at sundown.

Cappadocia in eastern Anatolia, with its exotic moon-like landscape, has houses that are built in caves with Fairy Chimneys in the Devree Valley; the Goreme Museum, which was once a Byzantine monastery along the Silk Road; and 12 outstanding inns.

In the town of Aksaray is the enormous and elaborate Sultan Han, the grandest of the Seljuk caravanserais in Anatolia, with its astounding 24 marble towers and immense 40-foot-high marble gateway richly decorated with ornate rosettes and arabesques.

One days’ journey away on foot and camel about 15 miles rests the equally impressive Agzikara Han that has remained intact throughout the centuries. South of Avenos, along the Aksaray-Konya road, is the “yellow han” or Sari Hani, immaculately restored, it offers dizzying shows of Melvana whirling dervishes in the wide courtyard.

Follow the Silk Road west to Kusadasi on the Aegean Sea, which has much to offer your clients from the Temple of Artemis in nearby Ephesus (the former capital of Roman Asia and best-preserved ancient city in Turkey) to the worlds oldest synagogue. This port city is where the Silk Road caravans would load their cargo onto boats and continue their journey up the Dardanelle straits and into Istanbul the frontier of Europe.

Istanbul’s famous spice market has some hidden treasures around its perimeter. Plenty of inns can be visited while meeting the artisans and craftsmen that occupy them today. Clients are sure to find luxurious silks, faraway exotic spices and many out-of-the-ordinary goods that would have traveled the long and arduous Silk Road.


Bazaar Turkey

Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism

The Seljuk Han of Anatolia

Silk Road Hotels