From No-Star Caravanserais to Five-Star Hotels

From No-Star Caravanserais  to Five-Star Hotels
From No-Star Caravanserais  to Five-Star Hotels

Caravanserai is a priceless heritage of Iran’s architecture established in ancient times for several economic, military, geographical, and religious reasons. It has been developed and transformed over a period of time.

The term Caravanserai is derived from the word ‘Caravan’ or ‘Carban’ meaning group of passengers (convoy/caravan) traveling together and ‘Serai’ meaning house and place. Therefore the purpose of their establishment could be explained as resting places for travelers, Atash Arshadi wrote in an article published in Irana Magazine (

 First Travels

Evidence proves that from thousands of years before Christ people traveled for exchange of goods and trade. They passed hundreds of kilometers on foot, days and nights, to take an item from one region to another. By studying connecting routes for trade or military purposes and results of research and archeological excavations, it indicates that the need for a rest station in between for security and convenience of passengers was strongly felt. According to historical sources the first caravanserais in Iran were built in Achaemenid period.

Herodotus, the Greek historian, in his book speaks of constructions built by Achaemenians in ancient cities of Susa (modern: Shush) and Sardis. He mentions 111 structures similar to caravanserai (Chaparkhaneh) along the 2500 km distance between Achaemenid capital and Sardis.

During the rule of The Parthian Empire, also known as the Arsacid Empire, there have been ‘connecting’ stations like caravanserai in Iran plateau.

In Sassanid period, routes and passages found great importance. The economy of the country stepped into a new era which led to the establishment of caravanserais along the main traveling and trading routes. Darvazeh-Gach (Gate of Chalk) Caravanserai, Kenar-Siyah in Fars province, Deyr Gachin and Anushirvani Ribat could be named as examples of Caravanserais along the Silk Road.

From residing places in Islamic era, major Ribats and caravanserais are left behind. Parts of “Ribat-e Maahi” (Fish Ribat), Ghaznavid dynasty, constructed in four balcony style are seen 66 km from Mashhad. At 130 km distance from Mashhad the remnants of another important Ribat can be seen: Ribat of Sharaf (meaning honor in Persian).


Construction of caravanserais flourished during Samanid Empire, Buyid, Ziyarid, and Ghaznavid dynasties. With Mongols in Iran, construction was banned for a while but after establishment of Ilkhanate dynasty, raising religious or non-religious structures became prevalent. Following an order by Ghazan khan, Ilkhans’ first Muslim ruler in Iran, along each route a ‘Yamkhaneh’ in every three parasang, Iranian historical unit of itinerant distance equal to about 50 kilometers, was built. Construction of caravanserais witnessed several downfalls during the Mongols period from which a number of sites have remained.

 Golden Age

The golden age of caravanserais dates back to Safavid period. A bloom in domestic and foreign economy and special significance of routes leading to religious cities resulted in an evolution in architecture and architectural decoration including caravanserais. Safavid can be undoubtedly considered as one of the most glorious times in Iran tourism.

Trade routes by land and sea developed in Safavid period made way for Iranian merchandise to be exported to European countries in the West and China and India in the East; an opportunity for a lot of caravanserais to be built.

In Shah Abbas I time, a network of roads also was developed to facilitate commuting and expansion of the economy. Shah Abbas paid special attention to the renovation of old routes and building new ones for the convenience of passengers. He ordered 999 caravanserais to be constructed.

Shah Abbasi caravanserais are well known as welfare of the residents dominated other aspects.  For instance they had separate gates for those who entered and those who exited.

Automobiles and other engine vehicles during the Qajars, shortened the distances and caravanserais and Ribats lost their popularity and function as a consequence. However, some of them were renovated and furnished, equipped with modern facilities and separate rooms to host passengers. One of the best examples is the modern caravanserai of Ali Abad built in 1892 by Aqa Ibrahim Amin-o-Soltan. Bakery, tea house, modern baths, and a guest house were in different sections replete with a beautiful garden.

 Modern Time

The first years of the ‘modern era’ were years of no real importance to residential and guest houses. Domestic travelers showed no interest in residing in guest houses and rather preferred to stay at their friends and relatives places.

In 1927 an Armenian immigrant Khachik Madikians built Naderi café and hotel. It was named so because it was built along the then Naderi Avenue. The founder started his career in Tehran first baking confectionaries and used Naderi restaurant to introduce Iranians to European foods for the first time, as well as Turkish and French coffee and western toasts and breads. Later on, he built another hotel with the same name close to Naderi café. After Grand Hotel, the Naderi Hotel was the second to be built in Tehran.

Construction of Naderi café and hotel began in 1928 concurrent with the construction of the buildings of the Iranian railroad and a number of banks. It was built according to the Western, especially German, style as a place for entertainment. In addition to the café and hotel, the complex included a confectionary shop.

Guest-Houses Organization started functioning in 1936 adding hotels to the previously working residences and guest houses country wide.

Some other big names among guest houses, residences, and hotels of Qajar period include: Ferdowsi, built in 1935 in Tehran, Darband guest house, and Gachsar (140 km from Tehran) on Chalous road. Ramsar guest house with 38 rooms was established in 1937 and is still open to visitors.

“Grand Hotel” was the first modern Iranian hotel that was built on a premium plot of land which belonged to the grandchildren of Fat’hali Shah. It was the most luxurious and famous hotel in old Tehran, Lalezar Street. Any VIP who came to Iran back then would reside in Grand Hotel.

The Guest-Houses Organization ran a hotel management course in 1958. Later, in 1963, it was integrated into ‘Tourist Organization’. The ‘Tourism Facilities Joint-stock Company’ then took the responsibility of equipping and managing all guest houses under the supervision of Tourist Organization.

Today, Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) is in charge of the guest houses, hotels, camps, and restaurants all around the country.

In recent years, some organizations, banks, and individuals have stepped forward to construct and establish hotels. Mashhad and Kish Island are two of the attractive locales for investors in hotel industry. The famous Hotel Dariush is, without a doubt, one of the pride and joys of Iran.

Restoration and changing the functions of old caravanserais saw its peak in Isfahan Abbasi Hotel. Guged Citadel in Golpayegan county, Isfahan province, is another example of transforming an ancient citadel to a star hotel.