Selim Caravanserai

The long building was constructed of basalt and has only a single entrance at one end for better defence against thieves © Tom Allen

With a fantastic setting below the Selim Pass, this is undoubtedly one of the best-preserved caravanserai in the world.

Also referred to as Orbelian’s Caravanserai after the dynasty who built it, Selim Caravanserai is the best-preserved caravanserai in Armenia and indeed the world; its remote site high on the Selim Pass (2,410m) prevented its being quarried for building materials. The caravanserai is situated just below the summit of the pass, with ample parking and a picnic area on-site, and affords wonderful views south along the valley, as well as access to the Gndasar and Vardenis mountain ranges to the west and east respectively.

Constructed of basalt and with a roof of flat tiles, the caravanserai 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 in Persian, 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 Saeed II. 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.