Selim Caravanserai, Armenia

As we leave the city of Martuni in the Gegharkunik province of Armenia, we cross into the Selim Mountains and head for the Selim Caravanserai. And although the people who offered us a lift did not plan to visit the medieval inn that sheltered traders in the past, they nevertheless drive us all the way to the place before joining their friends fishing on a nearby river. Upon arriving, we take our backpacks out of the Jeep, thank the driver and his passengers, two chubby women in their forties, and waving them goodbye we go to explore the Selim Caravanserai.
Selim Caravanserai, Vayots Dzor province of Armenia

Located at the southern side of the Selim Mountain Pass in the Vayots Dzor province of Armenia, the Selim Caravanserai was built in 1332 by the Prince Chesar Orbelian to accommodate travellers and merchants on their way to the northern regions of Armenia on an old trading road that extended to Iran in the south and to the valley of Kura river in the north. Of all the caravanserais of Medieval Armenia, Selim is the best preserved and well-known one. Stretching from east to west, it consisted of three parts: the main hall, the vestibule and a chapel, which came to us in ruins.
Selim Caravanserai, Vayots Dzor province of Armenia
With the growth of the cities and the caravan trade in 12th-14th centuries, the construction of bridges and caravanserais boosts in Armenia, in order to maintain links between cities as well as to make the journey easier for the traders. The caravanserais were usually built along the trading routes, a one-day journey distance from each other. There are two types of medieval Armenian caravanserais: with single hall and multiple halls. The Selim Caravanserai, the first and the only caravanserai along the route described as “Armenia’s Silk Road” by the Armenia Monuments Awareness Project, belongs to the three-nave single hall type.
The Selim Caravanserai, Vayots Dzor province of Armenia
It is built of basalt blocks, the main hall (13.0 to 26.0 m) is a three nave construction with 14 supporting pillars, 7 on northern and southern sides of the hall. At the western end of the caravanserai two small rooms for people are located. Animals rested in the narrow aisles to the left, and the right, of the main hall. The roof of the building has three parallel vaults with an oculus in each to provide the main hall with fresh air and light.
The main hall of the Selim Caravanserai, Vayots Dzor province of Armenia
The entrance has stalactite decorations around the half-rounded lintel, above which high-reliefs of a winged animal and a bull can be found. These animals were the emblems of the Orbelian family. The southern wall of the vestibule and the façade of the entrance are the few places in the caravanserai where any ornamentation is found. The other stalactite decorations are on each of the oculi in the hall.
The main entrance of the Selim Caravanserai with ornaments and decoration, Vayots Dzor province of Armenia
The exact date of the construction is known from the two inscriptions in Armenian and Persian. The first is found on the eastern wall of the vestibule, the second, in Persian, is above the main entrance. According to these inscriptions, Selim Caravaserai was built “in the name of the Almighty and powerful God” in 1332 during the reign of Abu Sa’id Bahadur Khan (r. 1316–1335), the ninth ruler of the Ilkhanate state in Iran.
The Armenian inscription on the vestibule wall of the Selim Caravanserai with ornaments and decoration, Vayots Dzor province of Armenia
The Armenian inscription reads: “…I, Chesar son of Prince of Princes Liparit and my mother Ana, grandson of Ivaneh, [and …], built this spiritual house with our own funds for the salvation of our souls and those of our parents and brothers reposing in Christ, and of my living brothers and sons Sargis, Hovhannes the priest, Kurd and Vardan. We beseech you, passers-by, remember us in Christ. The beginning of the house [took place] in the high-priesthood of Yesai, and the end, thanks to his prayers, in the year 1332.” The Selim Caravanserai was destroyed in the 15th-16th centuries, and was renovated only in 1956-1959.
Front view of the Selim Caravanserai, Vayots Dzor province of Armenia
-Armenia Monuments Awareness Project
-V. Harutyunyan, “History of Armenian Architecture” – Yerevan, 1992.
-Nane Khachatryan, art historian

5 thoughts on “Selim Caravanserai, Armenia

  1. Pingback: Selim Caravanserai | One Hundred & Eight Roads

  2. Pingback: Armenia’s Silk Road Trip – 2012 | On The Road

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