Saray (building)

In English, a saray (Arabic: السراي‎; Turkish: sarayı, seray), with the variant saraya or seraya (السرايا), is a castle, palace or government building which was considered to have particular administrative importance in various parts of the former Ottoman Empire, such as the Arab provinces, Cyprus, etc. Seray may also be spelt serail in English, via French influence, in which case the L is (in principle) silent.

Part of the Grand Serail in Beirut
The Red Seraya in Libya

The term saray is Turkish, and comes from the Persian word سرای (sarāy) meaning "palace". However, in English it corresponds to the Arabic term,[clarification needed] with its particular historic meaning, and it does not correspond to "saray" in Persian; in such cases the corresponding English term is simply "palace". The same logic would generally be applied to Punjabi, for example Akbari Sarai in Lahore, Punjab, would be more obviously described as a palace than as a saray.[citation needed]

A seraya should not be confused with a seraglio, though the origin of the words is probably the same.


Ottoman officers in front of the Al-Karak Saray in 1910, following the Karak Revolt.

The most famous seray is the Grand Serail (Arabic: السراي الكبير‎, Al-Sarāy al-Kabir) in Lebanon, which is the headquarters of the Prime Minister. It is situated atop a hill in downtown Beirut a few blocks away from the Lebanese Parliament. The hill was the site of an Ottoman army base from the 1840s, which was built up, fortified, and expanded in the 1850s. At first it was known as al quishla, from the Turkish word kışla, meaning barracks.

Another example is the Red Seraya in Libya. It is in central Tripoli and houses a museum.

The Seray of Aleppo is not from the time of Ottoman rule, it is a French construction.

The new presidential palace of Turkey, completed in 2014, is popularly called Ak Saray ("White Palace").

Military unitsEdit

Saraya is also used as a military unit title in the Arab world. In this case the Arabic is سرية, a different word from "saraya" as in a building. The etymology is also different from the building: The etymology of سرية is from Arabic and communicates the idea of a "private group". However the plural is سرايا (saraya) indistinguishable from the term "saraya" which is a variant (in the singular) of saray (the building).

The normal translation for سرية is "company" (see: Company (military unit)) but in the case of the "Lebanese Resistance Saraya", the term is often arbitrarily translated as "brigades".

Another example is the Syrian "Defense Saraya".

In literatureEdit

In an epic poem titled "Slaughter us all and make our blood a river. Cyprus poetry and history" the events are taking place at the Sarayi in Nicosia, Cyprus in July 1821.