From the 13th century to the advent of the railway in the early 20th century, Safranbolu was an important caravan station on the main East–West trade route. The Old Mosque, Old Bath and Süleyman Pasha Medrese were built in 1322. During its apogee in the 17th century, Safranbolu's architecture influenced urban development throughout much of the Ottoman Empire.
The name of the town derives from 'saffron' and the Greek word 'polis' (city), since Safranbolu was a trading place and a center for growing saffron. Today saffron is still grown at the village of Davutobası which is 22 km east of Safranbolu and probably one of the best quality saffrons in the world.