Historically established in Nablus to support export from and import into the city, facilitating the merchants’ dealings and providing places for them to stay during their travels. A caravanserai is a building designed to welcome visiting merchants, so the first floor is used for sleeping and the ground floor includes stables for camels and horses. The Western Caravanserai (known as al-Yusr ‘Arafat caravanserai, he was the owner before the municipality) is one of the most important historical buildings within the limits of the Old City and it is located at the western end of the blacksmiths’ market. During an incursion into the Old City in April 2002, the Israeli Occupation Forces destroyed much of this building. Nablus municipality is currently restoring it with the support of the European Union.
The Western Caravanserai is about 1600 square meters in area, and the ground floor houses fifteen shops with openings towards the market, in addition to another fourteen internal rooms. There are twenty-four rooms on the first floor fronted by cloisters employing semicircular arches. The columns forming the upper cloister are built with layer upon layer of octagonal stones creating a series of eight-sided columns. The guest rooms lie behind the cloister that looks down upon an open square with a central pool. Animals of a visiting caravan, mostly camels but also horses, were stabled on the ground floor around the square.
The western part of the caravanserai was largely destroyed by the 1927 earthquake. Nonetheless, some remains still survive. A written inscription above the entrance dating back to 1795 AD as the year of construction. Unfortunately, because it is impossible to decipher the whole text, it cannot be determined whether that was the date when restoration works were carried out or when it was originally built. It is more likely to have been the date that renovations to an older building were carried out by the Farrukh family.
In the central square, meetings were held between merchants striking and sealing business deals. Raw materials unloaded here were carried to the neighboring craft market, and since goods only had to be carried a short distance from the Agency square to the manufacturing area in the Blacksmiths’ Market the movement of goods and materials did not interfere with the domestic activities of the residential neighborhoods. This also demonstrates an important organizational advantage in the old markets, whose division of crafts, supplies, and trade into concentrated areas led to reduced transportation costs and allowed business to be conducted without creating a nuisance for the residents of the Old City’s alleys and passages.
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