The khan building type was developed as an extension of important suqs in large urban centers; for example, Damascus, Aleppo, and Beirut. The khan provides an place for the exchange of goods, storage of merchandise and temporary residential units. Each khan was specialized both in terms of the commodity traded and the nature of the visitor, whether foreign merchants or a traveling caravan.
The number of khans erected in the old city of Damascus dramatically increased during the Ottoman period when the city was made accessible to foreign merchants who required a safe place to stay for short periods of time.
The Ottoman khan is usually two stories: the first reserved for trade and storage, and the second for resting. The building adheres to a rectangular plan that is defined by an open courtyard with a pool or fountain at its center and porticos wrapping around the perimeter. The portico (riwaq) that shelters the path around the courtyard on the ground floor provides an open space in front of the entrances of the shops and storage areas in the khan while creating a walkway on the second floor to connect different residential rooms. The storage rooms and shops are vaulted spaces with heavy stonewalls separating each unit from the next. Vaulted spaces pierced with small apertures to provide adequate light from the outside serve as cool, dry areas for stored goods. The system of different scales of arches and vaults between repeated, modular units (doorway, room, arcade) creates a functionally ornamented experience.
Some of the khans in Damascus are more elaborate in terms of ornamentation and material; for example the Khan Sulayman Basha erected in 1732 and Khan As'ad Basha built by the governor of the city in 1753. The khan is slightly rectangular with a nine-square court covered with eight domes and an open center square. The court is built in traditional Damascene ablaq style with alternating striations of black and white stone. All the shops and storage surround the grand semi-open court.
Khans in Damascus today persist as a vital part of the city's commercial and touristic life. Some of the khans still function as storage spaces for commerce, others have been adapted to serve as centers for reviving traditional Damascene crafts such as glass works, Syrian textile and metal smiths. This re-adaptation preserves the building and the crafts while simultaneously introducing both younger citizens of the city and visiting tourists to this vital, historic architectural type.
Some of the khans of Damascus include Khan Gumruk, Khan Ahmad, Khan Sawwaf, Khan Tutun, Khan Zeit, Khan Sadrawiyya and Khan Safarjalani.
Rihawi, Abdul Qader, 1979, Arabic Islamic Architecture in Syria, Damascus. 216-220, 227.
Rihawi, Abdul Qader, 1977, Damascus: Its History, Development and Artistic Heritage. Damascus.133-135.