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Project Profile


2005 Honouable Mention

Zain-ad-din Karavansara

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Project Title: Zain-ad-din Karavansara

Location: Mehriz, Yazd, Iran

Size: 2,500 square metres

Cost: US$ 20,000

Responsible Party: Seyed Abolfazl Nazary

Heritage Architect: Mr. Kambiz Emami

Contractor: Shahr Saz & Abnieh Architectural Consulting Inc.

Date of Completion: April 2004

Project Synopsis

Located between the cities of Yazd and Mehriz in central Iran, approximately 18 kilometres from the Kerman-Shahan caravansary (rest station), Zain-ad-din Karavansara was constructed on the order of Ganjali-Khan, the ruler of Kerman, in response to the dictates of the Persian king, Shah Abbas the Great (1571-1629). The Shah mandated that a new rest stop be constructed at the site, to provide a way station for traders travelling along the Silk Road.

This 500 year-old caravansary follows the classic pattern of an inn wrap around a central courtyard, as was typical along the historic trade route. The architectural layout of the building is circular in pattern, however, a form that was unusual at the time. The caravansary features a twelve-sided courtyard 19 metres in diameter, surrounded by an elevated deck and rooms for travellers. A loading platform for caravans is located within this central courtyard. Surrounding the courtyard are separate rooms for travellers, in addition to the octagonal Shah-Neshin room, as well as storerooms and a stable. Composed mainly of brick, the caravansary is surrounded by a protective perimeter wall eight metres high, with five towers.

While Zain-ad-din Karavansara has demonstrated structural durability over its long history, even under severe climactic conditions, by the turn of the new century it had become apparent to many concerned with cultural heritage that work was needed on the caravansary in order to preserve it for the future. The structure had received little in the way of maintenance over its existence and prior to its restoration had never been subject to a major conservation intervention.

The restoration of Zain-ad-din Karavansara was one of several local projects focused on sites associated with the historic Silk Road. Both citizens and government officials in Yazd Province envisioned the undertaking as part of a broader effort to preserve the caravansaries in the province and to draw attention to the ancient tradition of trade and hospitality. Before the onset of the project, the National Cultural Heritage Office of Iran had registered the site as a protected monument but there were few funds available for the restoration and the initiators of the project therefore turned to the private sector for financing.

Conservation Approach

The main objectives of the project were to ensure the protection and preservation of the caravansary, present the tangible and intangible heritage elements of the ancient structure and find solutions for proper adaptation and reuse of the caravansary, while maintaining the site’s original character. The backers of the project enlisted the assistance of several academic centres with known expertise in restoration and conservation practices, including the Yazd School of Architecture and Urban Planning, which involved both students and faculty members in the work.

In carrying out the project, the conservation team sought to perpetuate the life and presence of cultural heritage elements embodied in the caravansary and to convey the concepts of travel, adventure and cultural interaction among peoples; core features of life along the Silk Road. From studies and evaluations, the project’s leaders concluded that the best new use for the caravansary would be to provide an accommodation facility for travellers and tourists — much as the caravansary had done for centuries. Zaid-ad-din Karavansara’s location between the cities of Yazd and Mehriz provided travellers with an opportunity to journey along the historic route, stopping at caravansaries along the way, just as their predecessors had over many generations.

Significant restoration work was required on the structure and its appurtenant features. Under the supervision of a conservation architect, workers cleaned bricks covered with layers of smoke, oil and dust. They then cleaned failing mortar from the joints and repointed the wall surfaces using traditional techniques and employing an age-old recipe for lime mortar. Floors were also repaired and carpeting was installed in some interior spaces. The architect and construction crew also repaired the roof of the building, replacing the deteriorated surface with new materials and converting the space into a viewing platform for visitors. This step also enlisted traditional techniques and materials and relied on advice from older artisans for its completion. The choice of appropriate and authentic materials in the conservation work was essential in preserving the character of the original building and courtyard and in ensuring that the ancient caravansary still blended with its natural setting. The conservation project relied on local artisans both for their unique knowledge and to ensure the participation of the local population in the restoration process.

The adaption of the structure into a guesthouse involved incorporating elements required for the functions of a contemporary travel destination without detracting from the spatial character of the original caravansary. The designers closely examined each space and refitted these to provide accommodation suitable for modern-day travellers. Anticipating only short-term stays, the project team decided to offer guests a retreat from the hustle and bustle of modern urban life and an opportunity to experience the tranquillity of the remote site. This meant that features such as televisions were not included in the design, although basic amenities, including modern bathrooms and heating, were introduced for the comfort of visitors. Former storerooms were converted into attractive private guest rooms and the raised decks became gathering areas. As a final step towards providing a comfortable and hospitable environment, the project’s designers converted the luxurious Shah-Neshin room into a dining hall.

Conservation and the Community

The conservation team took pains to explain the project to local residents, gaining their full support. The project established a strong sense of local cooperation beginning from when the initial studies of the property were conducted, throughout the execution of the conservation work, and later in the caravansary’s continued use. Local residents were employed in the conservation work and today form the bulk of the inn’s workforce, and thus have a vested interest in the success of the venture.

The decoration of the caravansary relies on traditional and local crafts and celebrates the creative industries in the area. Locally-made curtains, of the traditional double-layer types, and wooden furniture were used to furnish the guest rooms. Guests have an opportunity to purchase various local craft products in the inn’s gift shop.

Quote from the Project Team

“The main goal was to perpetuate the life and presence of cultural heritage elements like the caravansary to rebuild the valuable concepts of travelling, adventure and cultural interaction between people.”