Selim caravanserai

Orbelian's Caravanserai is 153 km far from Yerevan. That medieval architectural structure is formerly known as Sulema or Selim Caravanserai. It is located south of lake Sevan, along the Vardenyats Mountain Pass the highest in Armenia, 2410 metres above sea level. It was built in 1332 AD, by prince Chesar Orbelian to accommodate weary travelers and their animals as they crossed from, or into, the mountainous Vayots Dzor region. Orbelian's Caravanserai is the best preserved caravanserai in the entire country. It was restored during the years 1956-1959. Ruins of a small chapel may still be seen adjacent to the vestibule, across the road from a spring. The caravanserai was built during Zakaryan dynasty's rule, as many archaeological sites in Armenia.

The only entrance to the caravanserai is at the rectangular vestibule adjacent to the main hall of the structure. It has a gabled stone shingle roof that rests on three arches. On the eastern side, these arches rest upon the edges of the windows. The southern wall of the vestibule and the entry wall façade are the few locations in the caravanserai where there is any ornamentation. The entry has decorations around the half-rounded lintel, with high-reliefs of a winged animal to the left, and a bull to the right, above the lintel. The only other decorations may be found around each of the oculi in the hall, which each have a unique design. There are two inscriptions found on the vestibule, one is written in Persian and the other is written in Armenian.

Caravanserai's location is not random. Ararat plain, the cradle of the Armenian civilization, was connected to eastern provinces of Artsakh and Syunik (modern Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and Syunik region of Armenia) by two routes during the middle ages. One of them was in southern direction, along Arax river, the second route was through Vayots Dzor province, where nowadays caravanserai is located. Dvin, the centre of Ararat plain, thus was connected to Areni, then to lake Sevan and entering Artsakh. On that way there are Dadivank and Gandzasar monastic complexes, built before the caravanserai. Later the rout continued to Shirvanshah state (modern Azerbaijan) and the Caspian Sea. That route was not functioning during the winter period.

The building is constructed of blocks of basalt. It has a single hall divided into three naves, with seven pairs of polyhedral pillars. Animals rested in the narrow aisles to the left and right of the main hall. Between the pillars were stone troughs for the animals, and in the corner of one of the halls was a pool of water. Travelers slept in a separate room built at the end of the narrow aisles on the western side of the caravanserai. The roof above the three-aisled hall had three parallel vaults with an oculus in each. The vaults were supported by arches that stretched from pillar to pillar along the aisles, and traversed from the pillars to the walls. Oculi placed in the middle of each of the vaults served the purpose of letting in sunlight and fresh air, while also letting out smoke.
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