Constructing a Caravanserai or ‘Serai’
Caravanserais were a common feature of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asian landscape from Medieval through to near modern times. They were more often than not quite simple affairs designed to provide security and refreshment along the many trade routes. They were usually spaced a days travel apart or at major crossroads. If the region was disputed these compounds could take on a more martial role with stronger and higher walls as well as fortified towers and parapets.
This design is for one of the more common examples. This one has been constructed for North West India but with some simple adjustments, mainly to the gateway it could easily be made to represent one of the multitude of other caravanserais in other areas. This basic structure has a basic hollow box square compound with four walls surrounding a courtyard containing the well.
The dimensions have been specified to enable decent space for figures to be placed without significant danger of them falling from the walls.
- Cutting board or surface
- Metal straight edge ruler with handle
- Sharp knife/scalpel (preferably with new blade)
- Ruler + pencil
- Set- square
- PVA wood glue
- Masking tape
- Plaster/filler with the means of applying it such as a spatula, paint knife or large brish
- Sand to mix into plaster
- 30mm circular tube or compass (or similar) to describe the arches
- Sewing pins (small heads)
- 2 x 300mm x 100mm
- 2 x 290mm x 100mm
- 2 x 290mm x 70mm
- 2 x 190mm x 70mm
4 archways should be cut into each of the interior walls where they face into the inner courtyard – except for the wall containing the main gate. These archways will need to be 50mm at their highest and 25mm wide.
- 2 x 290mm x 50mm
- 2 x 190mm x 50mm
- 4 x 60mm x 10mm
Baseboard – thin ply
- 320mm x 320mm
Coloured felt or fine striped material for interior curtains
Mount-board card for constructing main gates 2 x 90mm x 70mm as well as interior doors (2 x 40mm x 25mm) – refer to the sample templates. Alternatively 4Ground do a very useful set of 12 doors.
Mount board or thin balsa for the tiling around the top of the courtyard well (4 * 6mm x 60mm). Lightly score tile impressions into the card using a ball-point pen and ruler.
- Glue exterior walls using the set-square to ensure edges are at 90 degrees to each other.
- Tip – use masking tape to secure the joins whilst the glue is drying. Joins can be reinforced by bracing them with the small-headed sewing pins through the two pieces of foam board.
- Glue in long interior walls and roofs.
- Glue short interior walls and roofs.
- Attach gateways and interior doorways.
- Dress walls with plaster/sand mix. Apply with reasonable coverage using a spatula or paint knife. Don’t be afraid to create texture by dragging the knife or stippling with a thick brush.
- Tip – to achieve a more ‘organic’ and slightly worn appearance use your knife to remove the straight corners and apply slight divots into the corners prior to applying any of the plaster. This removes the rather engineered sharp corners and suggests a more mud/adobe feel once the plaster has been applied.
- Gently sand down the walls to remove any excess flaky plaster
- Tip – once sanded down apply a watered down PVA covering to the entire model to secure the plaster before any paint is applied. This should protect the model from any rough handling and stop the plaster falling off.
- Assemble courtyard well and attach top tiles.
- Paint. If PVA has been applied to the entire model earlier then spray paints can be used without damage to the foam core, otherwise apply a simple undercoat. Use of progressive lighter shades either by angled sprays, or dry-brush will finish the main painting required for the walls and walkways. Paint the gateways and doors a dark brown weathered wood effect.
- The baseboard should be dressed and painted as appropriate to the region which it is intended for.
- Cut and attach the coloured felt to the interior faces of the arches surrounding the inner courtyard.
Use of this model in Wargames
This model was originally constructed to support my interest in the Indian Mutiny (1857-1858). Two of the earlier battles involved serais, the Battle of Budli-ke-Serai on 8th June 1857 (the give away is in the name), and the Battle of Najafgarh on 25th August 1857. In both incidents the serais were central to the Mutineers battle plans representing the focus for their defences.
Attachments to come include;
- Templates for walls, roofs, and well
- Templates for gates and doors
Photos of finished model