Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Robat Sharaf Caravanserai

The Robat Sharaf Caravanserai (کاروانسرای رباط شرف) is a historical resting place for travelers located in Khorasan Razavi Province between Merv and Nishapur. It is believed to have been built by Sharafeddin Ibn Taher, who was both governor of Khorasan for forty years and minister during the reign of Sultan Sanjar (1118-57). It was heavily damaged by Oghuz Turk nomads in the middle of the twelfth century but restored shortly thereafter. The building looks like a fortified rectangle from the outside. As one of the main caravanserais on the Silk Road, Robat Sharaf Caravanserai dates back to the reign of Sultan Sanjar. Unlike the usual caravanserais, used by ordinary people, Robat Sharaf was both a commercial outpost and a palace used by royals as well.

Robat Sharaf is composed of two courts set in a rectangular enclosure; a rectangular courtyard measuring 32.4 by 16.5 meters is followed by a larger, approximately square courtyard that measures 31.8 by 31.3 meters. The rectangular courtyard served as a caravanserai with serving units and keeping animals, while the inner courtyard (which also included a round pool) was of a more private nature, used by the sultan and accommodating the king, his wives and other officials. In it all the amenities considered necessary at the time could be found, addressing the needs both of the general public and of the royal retinue. Each courtyard contained four cross shaped terraces. The spaces surrounding both courtyards included a mosque, accommodation, spaces for meetings and gatherings, stables, a kitchen, and a water reservoir. The remnants of six towers are visible from the outside.

There is only one entrance into the complex on its southeast side. Entering from the southeast, the entry leads into the long terrace of the public courtyard. Rooms flank it on each side, with a mosque directly adjacent to it to the southwest. Within the four-terrace courtyard, the terrace leading into the private courtyard of the robat is emphasized, as it is set on a blank wall of brick that extends almost all the way to the exterior wall. This creates a long corridor to each side, making a clear distinction between the public and private zones. At this entrance is a room assumed to be utilized by guards. The two lateral terraces lead into domed rooms and are each flanked by a pointed arch opening.

Perhaps the only instance in the floorplan where one side does not mirror the other is the mosque found adjacent to the southwest terrace in the square courtyard, located in a similar location compared to the mosque off the public courtyard. This mosque is composed of two spaces, each with its own mihrab, that are linked by openings at each of the sides. As in the smaller rectangular courtyard, the lateral four terraces of the square courtyard also lead to domed rooms. The last two lateral rooms at the northwest also have domes, while the principal terrace terminates in a domed square room that protrudes on the exterior, appearing as a rectangular bastion. To each side of the northwest central terrace, and in line with each of the corner courtyard openings, is a small square courtyard. An opening on each of its sides leads to small rooms surrounding it.

Robat Sharaf Caravanserai, referred to as Abgineh Caravanserai in historical texts, is an eye-catching building in the middle of desert, built with brick and plaster and containing fine pieces of architecture with inscriptions. Rather than tile work, the entire complex is ornamented with various geometric patterns of brickwork and stucco patterns (with sporadic wide bands of Kufic inscription) that are both vegetal and geometric. In 2023 UNESCO added 54 Iranian roadside inns, including the Robat Sharaf Caravanserai, to its World Cultural Heritage list under the name Persian Caravanserais.


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