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Selim caravanserai - A view from our expert author


Selim Caravanserai, Armenia by Travis K Witt, WikipediaThe long building was constructed of basalt and has only a single entrance at one end for better defence against thieves © Travis K Witt, Wikipedia

Selim caravanserai is the best-preserved caravanserai in Armenia and one of the best preserved in the world; its formerly remote site high on the Selim Pass prevented its being quarried for building materials. There is now a good surface the whole way over the pass (2,410m). The caravanserai is situated just below the summit of the pass and affords wonderful views down along the valley.

Looking at all the arrangements in this caravanserai, it is possible to capture an image of the life of the 14th-century merchants who passed this way, to an extent which can rarely be experienced anywhere in Europe.

Detail on Selim Caravanserai entrance by Rita Willaert, Wikipedia

Constructed of basalt and with a roof of flat tiles, it is a long building with a single entrance at one end: having only one entrance made the building more readily defensible against thieves. To the left of the doorway of the entrance vestibule is a griffin while to the right there is a lion. Above it is an inscription written in Persian using Arabic letters, while inside the vestibule to the right there is one in Armenian, recording that the caravanserai was built in 1332 by Chesar Orbelian during the reign of Khan Abu Said II.

(Photo: Detail of the stone carved griffin to the left of the entrance © Rita Willaert, Wikipedia)

The main hall of the caravanserai is divided into three naves by means of seven pairs of pillars. The two narrower side naves were used for the merchants and their wares while the animals were kept in the central one. Stone troughs were provided for feedstuffs for the animals and there is a basalt trough in one corner to supply them with water. Light and ventilation were provided by small openings in the roof but the interior is dark and a torch is useful. Looking at all these arrangements it is possible to capture an image of the life of the 14th-century merchants who passed this way, to an extent which can rarely be experienced anywhere in Europe. The restoration carried out in 1956–59 did nothing to mar the atmosphere and it is only to be hoped that the greatly increased numbers of visitors will leave it similarly unscathed.

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