Travels in Turkey: Where to Park your Camel

When I was a teenager, my parents moved us—lock, stock and barrel—from Pennsylvania to Southern California. We made our way across the country packed in our station wagon, checking into a motel each night and seeing the sights by day. When we were hungry, we stopped at a diner or supermarket along the way. All we had to worry about were boisterous bikers, a wrong turn here and there, and getting caught smuggling our parakeet, hamsters and cat into the motel each night.

About a hundred years earlier, eager settlers made the same trip via another kind of wagon—a wagon train. They had it a little tougher than we did. No convenience stores and plenty of danger from marauders or the whims of Mother Nature.

Now let’s go back a little further—to the 10th century AD. There were no cars, busses, trains or planes back then, so travelers—mostly merchants carrying the riches of Persia and China to the markets of Europe, and vice versa, along the Silk Road—made their way across the landscape of central Asia in camel caravans. Safety in numbers, right? But there were plenty of highwaymen lying in wait in the dark of night to rob and kill.

a hallway off the central courtyard

Fortunately, the sultans of Turkey had a bright idea. They knew the best way to encourage commerce (and the taxes, political power and prestige the label of “trading dynasty” brought with it) was to protect the merchants, so they built a series of caravanserai (essentially parking garages for camel caravans) along the trading routes—each one a day’s journey from the last.

These caravanserais were like stone forts or castles, with a large entry portal to accommodate the animals and whatever they were carrying, and an iron gate. There was no roof over the central courtyard, which often held a small mosque. Interior rooms included a great hall, bathhouse (Turkish-bath kind), bathrooms and places to sleep. Ovens were embedded in the ground to keep the place warm, and candles and lamps provided light. A manager oversaw operations.

Elaborately chiseled entrance to the Great Hall

Not only would these government-run caravanserais provide a nighttime safe haven for travelers, their camels, horses, donkeys and cargoes, they also offered services such as doctor, imam (prayer leader), veterinarian, messenger, blacksmith, shoe repair and cook. Travelers could stay for three days, and all services were free during that time. It was a win-win situation for both travelers and government.

When Europeans found new ways to China, the Silk Road declined in importance, and after the 15th and 16th centuries, most caravanserais were never used again. Many are in ruins, but some are well preserved and a treat to visit and explore.

Categories: History, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

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17 thoughts on “Travels in Turkey: Where to Park your Camel

  1. turkischland

    Reblogged this on turkischland and commented:
    welkom turkey my homeland


    • I love your homeland, Turkiye. It’s such amazing place, and I would like the rest of the world to know that. Thank you for stopping by and for the reblog.


  2. I stopped in to thank you for the ‘like’ on my blog and was transported to a wonderful spot, Turkey! A place I’ve always wanted to visit and perhaps will in the not too distant future… thank you again for your descriptions!



    • You’re welcome, Nora, and I’m delighted you stopped by. Every time I write about Turkey, I’m transported back there myself, so it’s a mini trip to a fascinating place. I do hope you get to go there. In the meantime, please check back. I have a LOT more to say about it.


  3. Wait a minute, you’re telling me that ancient people were as clever as modern people? Mind = Blown, hahaha.


  4. Actually, MORE clever in some ways, if you ask me. I love the idea of way stations for travelers. New Zealand has the right idea—tons of enclosed RV parks everywhere you go. Not free, but pretty cheap, with communal showers and kitchens, and an electrical hookup. You might not need to muck out your camel’s stall, but you do have to muck out the RV’s toilet, and there’s an app (errrr, hose) for that.


  5. I love your posts about Turkey – really informative and its clear that you love the country


    • Thank you so much. That means a lot to me coming from someone who lives there. And yes, I do love the country. And the people. I’m practically bursting at the seams with all the ideas I have for posts about Turkey to go with my photos, but must pace myself. In return, I must say that I am still loving your posts about life in Turkey, eagerly looking forward to each new installment.


  6. :o) But please don’t hesitate to put me straight if I get something wrong.


  7. Judit

    Educational, entertaining and just the right length! Thanks for sharing about these caravanserai.


  8. Thank you for saying so, Judit. I love sharing my travels, especially Turkey, which is such a fascinating country.


  9. Linda

    HI Jennifer, I’m loving these posts. As you know we had to cancel our trip there last Oct, but we’ve rescheduled it for the fall this year. Can’t wait!


    • I’m excited for your trip, too, Linda, and delighted you’re enjoying the posts as much as I’m enjoying writing them. I just wish I was going with you. Tell me again how long you’re going to be there, and have you decided what you’d like to see (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, etc.)? And if I didn’t mention it before, exchange money at the Grand Bazaar. The exchange shops there have great conversion rates.


  10. I think you have great sense of beauty in photography.
    Every single photograph on your blog is somewhat eye-catchy and attractive.
    Especially I love “a hallway off the central courtyard” on this post.
    This is just so perfect.


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