Zein-o-din Caravanserai

Zein-o-din is like a oriental fairytale castle in the desert

Zein-o-din at night, Iran.
Zein-o-din at night, Iran.

The sun has disappeared behind the snowy mountains to the west and to the east the mountains are turning blue as twilight is turning into dark here on the edge of the large Iranian desert plains.

I am standing on the roof of Zein-o-din, a round building that is situated alone and isolated far out on the plains near a small town named Kermanhah in the middle of Iran. The building is built like a fortress and has served as an inn for 400 years. It is magical to stand completely alone while darkness is seeping in from the plains and soon total darkness will reach me. Only the lights from the traffic on the Silk Road which meanders like a snake through the desert, makes it possible for me to still get a glimpse of the landscape surrounding me. Above me the stars are shining stronger all the time. The wind blows strong and cold out here in February and my thoughts go to all the stories about the Silk Road, about Marko Polo, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Today there are trailers that are masters of the Silk Road and this night it is the traffic from east to west that sets my imagination in motion. Here on the roof of Zein-o-din Caravanserai fantasy turns into reality.

I let my mind wander. How is life here in July or August with 45 degrees + and with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on my ear, loud! But it’s just the sound from the wind I can hear on the roof of Zein-o-din.

The now 400 years old Zein-o-din Caravanserai was built by Shah Abbas, situated 2 days camel trek south of the city of Yazd. It is built on 2 floors and the material is mud shaped like bricks and plastered with straw and clay. From the circular opening in the middle of the construction, I can smell the scent of food and freshly Nan bread, the kitchen is quickly located. It is dinner soon, but the endless silk serpents across the plains, still takes all my attention. How was it to cross these lonely and endless plains with camel and on foot hundreds of years ago? On the way to and from China, through countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and through all these deserts and over mountain ranges, 30-40 km a day in the hot sun over plains without shade and water? In winter the cold must have been a challenge. I can say for sure because I stand here and freeze though I’m dressed in my modern, padded winter coat. How crazy or brave were these adventurers who were getting out on an adventure where they had no idea what would faced them; wars, robbers, drought, snow and other hazards

The mud walls at Zein-o-din Caravanserai, Iran.


Early morning at Zein-o-din Caravanserai, Iran.


The central coart yard of Zein-o-din, Iran.

A caravanserai is like a humble hotel or hostel, but also a fortress for protection of the caravans that moved around in the Old Persian Empire. 400 years ago Shah Abbas gave orders to build 999 such fortresses / Caravanserai around the kingdom. Most were rectangular, but two of them were constructed as round fortresses. One is today only a ruin, but the second is Zein-o-din where we are now and will spend the night before continuing our trip to Yazd. Zein-o-din is a nice golden brown structure with five crescent-shaped guard towers which makes it possible to protect the wall all the way around. The entrance is a powerful port made of wood, not particularly tall and wide, but large enough so that the caravans could get their valuable goods inside. Some places there was also enough room for the camels to get inside as well.

The entrance gate to Zein-o-din caravanserai, Iran.
The entrance gate to Zein-o-din caravanserai, Iran.

Walking through the gate to Zein-o-din is like entering a fairy tale world. I can easy imagine that in such an environment adventures from 1000 and one night could have taken place. Just inside the wall, long, narrow rooms lies to both right and left, following the curved shape of the outer wall. This works as long dormitories where raised platforms are built with either simple wooden walls on 3 sides or heavy fabrics that give you some privacy. The floor of the platform is covered with thick Persian rugs and on top of them thin mattresses and bedspreads. The inside of the outer wall is forming the fourth wall and is also covered with Persian carpets. This is the bedrooms and they are laying in a row, one after the other. Hardly anything for sensitive people who cannot tolerate other people’s sounds, but we slept like always – absolutely excellent.

The sleeping area is surrounding a circular space with a raised circular platform in the middle. Here the caravan`s valuables was stored at night. The roof is open to the sky and in the dark you can sit and look up at the starry sky.

A large family of the tribe Baluchi runs zein-o-din and we got a sense of daily life when their children were playing with some of the tourists’ children in the large open space in the middle of the building. Baluchi tribe came into Iran around 1100 while the Mongols ruled. The area they settled in was named Baluchistan. They have their own language, which belongs to the Indo-European language group. The tribe still dress largely in their traditional costumes. The women wear clothes decorated with embroidery entirely different than elsewhere in Iran. On the head they have a shawl called Sarig.

The dinner was served in a lovely large room that made me think of a cave. The food was unpretentious, simple and very tasty. As everywhere in Iran, drink to food is limited to tea, coffee, mineral water, and alcohol-free beer, usually with lemon flavor.

For my part, I would happily have stayed here longer than an afternoon, night and morning. If we had been here several nights, we could have walked for some hours on a trip beyond the plains, perhaps all the way to the nearest mountain range? Simply into the void! But that has to be on another trip! On Zein-o-din you can also get a lecture about the starry sky from a local astrologer for a few dollars. We chose not to do this because of strong and icy cold wind, but maybe next time?

After 3 years of renovation, Zein-o-din caravanserai emerges with all its glory as a romantic and fairytale accommodation in the desert. But Zein-o-din Caravanserai is not a typical hotel and should not be compared as such in terms of standard. Staying here is an experience in itself and something you will never forget. Bathrooms and toilets are shared, but totally modern and spotlessly clean. The food is lovely and the atmosphere is just indescribable. It is a popular place and you should expect to book in good time. In 2006 Unesco awarded them for best renovated building. The restoration is done with circumspection and according to etiquette with decor from the Safavid period.


Sar Yazd Fortress:

Sar Yazd Fortress, Iran.

Not far from Zein-o-din is Sar Yazd Fortress, slightly outside the village with the same name. Zar Yazd is a large fortification built out of mud with a moat around. It is the only 3-store structure that still exists in Yadz province. The fort is built so that each floor has a narrow, hidden entrance that made it almost impossible for intruders to enter. The innermost fortification is dating 1800 years back in time. The outer fortification was built in Safavid period. The whole place is surrounded by a 5 meter deep pit / moat with a wooden bridge over. Inside the fortress, dark tunnels are made so narrow that only one man can pass at a time.

When we arrived, there was no one there. Our guide was quite frustrated and tried to call some one to come and open the gate. But sadly we never managed to see the inside of the fortress. The place is impressive seen from the outside, but unfortunately we did not see the inside!

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