Sultanhani – Silk-Road Caravanserai in Turkey

The structure, built between 1229 and 1236 by Sultan Keykubat, is one of the is one of the many along the ancient Silk-Road. The ancient and much travelled Silk-Road linked the Middle East, Iran, and Iraq with China. The route ran from Europe through Central Asia and on to China carrying silks, spices and all manner of goods between them. Caravanserais were in a way similar to present day truck stops.

Sultanhani - Silk-Road Caravanserai in Turkey

The Caravanserai

The caravanserais were built like forts.They were a safe place for caravans. They were designed for protection and to keep out marauding raiders at night. Once within the caravanserai a weary caravan could look forward to warm food, a bath and a safe shelter for the night for both man and beast. Caravanserais offered the travelling merchant shelter for the night and a place to rest and refresh for the journey ahead. They provided food and lodging reportedly at no charge for 3 nights and free repair to footwear. Built to promote trade, they brought prosperity to the communities hosting them. The caravanserais were widely used and were not limited to trade caravans only – nobility and their entourages used them too. So did the military.

Trade flourished along the great Silk-Road and caravans depended on the caravanserais for a nights rest. Omar Khayyam immortalized the role of the caravanserais in his verse:

Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai

Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,

How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp

Abode his destined Hour, and went his way.

The Sultanhani

The Sultanhani is similar to the caravanserais seen along the Silk-Road and occupies an area of 3900 sq meters. It is a monumental structure. Entrance to the building is through the East wall using a magnificent and imposing portal. In the Sultanhani the portal is massive and made of pink marble adorned with geometric designs. Also engraved over the arch are verses from the Quran.

The entrance is guarded by an iron door. The portal leads into a large open courtyard. Located in the center of the courtyard is a mosque – a raised structure supported on arches. Along one side of the courtyard and facing the portal is a long covered portico. This has an opening leading to covered bays large and tall enough for laden camels and horses. The bays have high, domed roofs with skylights.

The covered areas are dark and used torches and lamps. They were designed to protect against the cold and snow of winter. Use of the open and covered areas of the caravanserai was determined by the weather. If it was warm, the open courtyard was used. The other side of the courtyard housed the kitchens. For cooking, “tandoors” or clay ovens were used. Further along and on the same side were “hamams” or baths. The caravanserais were designed as self-contained structures equipped to provide all the services a caravan may need on the road.

Caravanserais were widely used during the middle ages. They flourished during the Seljuk period in Turkey. Caravanserais were patronized by the Seljuks who recognized them as vital to trade and prosperity. During this period caravanserais were built along the land routes linking Turkey with Iran, Iraq, and Syria. However, as new sea routes were found between Europe and the Far East, the Silk Road lost its importance and gradually faded into history. Today many of the caravanserais exist as ruins. Some have been restored and preserved as monuments of a bygone era. Some have been converted to hotels.

Hidden Treasure in the Desert: Makhtesh Ramon

In the middle of the Negev desert in Israel lies a natural wonder, brimming with life suited to the harsh climate in which it exists. It is a geologist’s dream, stargazer’s paradise and must-see attraction for any nature-loving tourist.

As I stood at the beginning of the trail that would guide my way down the sheer slopes into the gorge, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of Makhtesh Ramon. Various rock formations, shadows of passing clouds and an ancient volcano dotted the landscape. It was a marvel of nature, which only grew more wondrous, as I approached the valley floor. Here the ground came alive with vibrant hues – yellow, red and purple rocks and mineral beds created small hills and valleys of colour. I quickly adjusted my mistaken idea of a desert being a lifeless and barren place!

What Makes Makhtesh Ramon / Ramon Crater Unique

Although it is often referred to as the Ramon Crater, this demonstration of nature’s immense power and beauty is really a makhtesh, the largest of its kind in the world. A makhtesh is a valley bounded by sheer walls and drained by a single riverbed. Makhtesh Ramon, forty kilometres long and up to eight kilometres wide, is situated in the centre of two nature reserves.

The Ramon area is home to many animals that only come out at night and early morning, yet my first sight on arriving at the Makhtesh Ramon was two delightful Nubian ibexes nestled together, lying on a wall built on the edge of the cliffs. Other animals that make Ramon their home include the leopard, striped hyena, sand fox, Dorcas gazelle and the fat desert rat. A variety of flora has also acclimatized to the arid conditions, such as Atlantic pistachio trees, buckthorn, globe daisies and tulips.

The shaping of Makhtesh Ramon was set in motion when the ocean that covered the desert began to move north and water, as well as other climatic forces, slowly started to flatten the curve on top. Much later, the Arava rift valley formed and the rivers began to change their flow. As this occurred, it carved out a deep gorge, unearthing rock dating from as far back as 220 million years.

Accommodations and Things to do at Makhtesh Ramon

The only settlement near Makhtesh Ramon is the small, welcoming community of Mitzpe Ramon; it offers accommodations for every budget and activities for the adventurous, as well as the luxury, traveller.

Disguised inside a partially abandoned hangar lies a charming bed and breakfast, ideal for groups of travellers, especially avid cyclists. The owners of Ibike, Menahem and Aviva, are delightful hosts, personally welcoming each guest and providing a delicious breakfast. They offer guided tours on mountain bikes for any level of fitness. The bicycle tour along the Albert Promenade, decorated with impressive environmental sculptures, offered another magnificent view of the makhtesh. Despite the rocky terrain, which made for a bumpy ride, I enjoyed every moment of the tour.

Also hidden behind the hangar’s façade is a fancy, yet affordable, restaurant with sumptuous creations of European cuisine and a hint of Mediterranean inspiration. The restaurant, Chez Eugene, attaches to a six-suite luxury hotel decorated in French romantic style. The French appearance and atmosphere is authentic, as the owner, Arnaud moved from France in 2005, fell in love with the Ramon area and decided to create a small piece of paradise in the desert. The hotel offers lavish rooms, with a Jacuzzi on the balcony, massages “a la carte” in one’s room and hospitable staff to ensure that the stay is unforgettable. Website:

Despite being located in the middle of the desert, there is a multitude of things to do and see in the Ramon area. For activities, besides the hiking and bicycling, one can enjoy desert archery, jeep touring and rappelling.

Israel’s Commemoration of a Hero

The visitor centre in Mitzpe Ramon is in the midst of renovations, designed to commemorate Israel’s first astronaut, who died during the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. His name was Ilan Ramon. I wonder if people will eventually forget that the name of the region predates this fallen hero.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *