Michelle Isenhoff

Barskoon 2, a Medieval Silk Road Caravanserai

This is the final post in a 4-part series about the research that went into Taylor Davis and the Quest for the Immortal Blade, book three in my Taylor Davis trilogy.

The Silk Road was a network of overland trade routes connecting Europe and the Middle East to the Orient. It flourished during the Middle Ages and encompassed thousands of miles. Most often, traders traveled only a small segment of the whole, carrying goods to a designated point, conducting trade, then returning home. Few made the entire journey, Marco Polo being a notable exception. But even covering a few hundred–or a few dozen–miles could be grueling. And dangerous. To protect travelers, caravanserais popped up at strategic locations all along the route.

Abandoned caravanserai. Photo credit: EscapefromTehran.com

A caravanserai was a combination small fortress and inn. Comprised of four sturdy walls and an open-air courtyard, it offered overnight lodging for tired sojourners and their animals as well as a convenient location for commerce. Imagine an evening in such a place–the reek of unwashed travelers, the crackle and smoke of cook fires, simple canvas tents pitched helter-skelter, local women selling food, other women selling, ahem, other things, the chatter of languages as bartering took place, the rustle and odor of weary camels, mules, and horses bedding down for the night… What a dynamic setting!

My character Mike describes such scene when Taylor and company visit the actual site of a caravanserai’s ruins in Kyrgyzstan, where they locate a major clue to their investigation. Unfortunately, the Kyrgyz people aren’t keen on preservation, and all that’s left is a squared-off mound. This site, now labeled “Barskoon 2”, is located about 4 km up Barskoon Gorge. Undoubtedly, this fortress would have protected the entire section of the road, from ancient Barsqan (modern Barskoon) on the shore of Issyk Kul at the northern mouth of the gorge all the way to Bedel Pass high in the south.

“Artist’s reconstruction of a caravanserai.” Photo credit: heritageinstitute.com

Like Mike, I had a difficult time finding information about Barskoon 2. It was frequently mentioned in tourist information, but I couldn’t turn up anything substantial. Eventually, I did find a latitude and longitude (42.092540, 77.594616). When I typed that into the Googlemaps search bar, voila! There were the geometrical ruins. Here’s a screenshot of the satellite image. Note the river conveniently located on the left. No doubt the highway morphed out of the ancient trading road.

When I was writing my Civil War-era Ella Wood trilogy, I was fortunate enough to visit both Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA, to scope out the historical locations of several of my scenes. Maybe I can talk the hubby into recreating Taylor’s route around Lake Issyk Kul. (Yeah, right). If so, I’ve racked up a long list of sites I want to check out!

Return to the third post in this series: The Nestorian Trading Community and the Start of the Black Death.

Barskoon 2, a Medieval Silk Road Caravanserai

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