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Posts Tagged ‘Isfahan’

Reading another post from PeaceofIran this morning brought to mind some of my first encounters with Iranian cooking pots. This may sound a little strange but as you have probably gathered I loathe cooking, and entertaining more than 2 people at once gives me nightmares. So when I see industrial-sized cooking pots stacked up in the kitchen it gets me worried.

Why on earth would I need a pot THAT BIG?  You invited HOW MANY?

Before meeting Feri and his family in Iran, and before touring the Bazaareh Mesgaran (literally the copper market) in Esfahan, the only pots and pans I had seen close to this size were at school and in hospital. That made sense to me. They have a lot of people to feed, but coming from a small family where entertaining was never top of the agenda, these pans did, and still do give me the heebie-jeebies.

I was slightly reassured by Feri’s last purchase in Sede before coming home.

A “baby” rice pot. Now that’s more my size.

 

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As you would expect, the Holy Shrine in Abyaneh has rooms and facilities to enable people to pray during their visit should they wish to do so.

Helpfully, there is not only an arrow on the wall pointing to Mecca, but the mats are also placed in position facing towards the Holy City so that the prayer or worship ritual of salah can be carried out. Salah is usually performed 3 times a day by Shia muslims;

Morning – Fajr

Midday-Zuhr/Afternoon-Asr -carried out together

Evening- Maghrib/Night/darkness- Isha-carried out together 

 

Here we have a prayer mat and Jaa_namaz- which is what the prayer stone, beads and copy of the Q’ran is wrapped in.

Islamic Rosary or prayer beads- with either 33 0r 99 beads and known as Tasbih 

Prayer stone- An embossed clay tablet  used by Shi’ite Muslims. Known as a Mohr (Seal) or Turbah (Arabic) Turbet (Farsi)

These are my lovely string of amethyst (my birthstone) prayer beads which I bought in Esfahan.

 

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Iranians have always loved their tea and I love their tea too. Mostly it is brewed from a mild, non-aromatic long-leaved loose tea with T-bags only being used for convenience on picnics and when travelling .

Iranian or Persian tea is brewed for breakfast, at mid-morning, before and after lunch and dinner and at all hours in between! In fact we always have a pot of tea keeping warm over the kettle (in Iran) or over a tea-light warmer when in the UK (see photo above). Persian tea is drunk black and traditionally served in “Estekaans” which are small, see-through glass cups.

Being a mild tea means that you can experiment with different flavours to suit your taste and common Persian additions include rose petals or rosewater and cardamom. I was given a packet of pods to bring back to the UK on my recent visit to Iran and I love the tangy taste not just in tea but in the Iranian sweet Sohan, made in Esfahan.

Sohan is a traditional Iranian toffee flavoured with saffron and cardamom and covered in slivers of almond and pistachio nuts. I would have shown you a photo of the box of Sohan I brought back with me last week but I’ve eaten it 😦  

Different types of sugar cubes are also served with the tea, and my two favourites are Nabat and Pulaki. I prefer plain Pulaki, thin slivers of crystallised sugar, to the variety made with sesame seeds but it is a personal choice and you will usually be offered a variety of sweeteners to choose from. You can add the sugar to your tea, as in Chai Nabat, or sip your tea through the sugar in your mouth. Alternatively, you can drink your tea without but that’s not nearly as much fun! 

  

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Still roaming round the private apartments at Sarteep’s House I was intrigued by many of the exhibits displayed behind the glass cabinets. Unfortunately, the sun was pouring in just at the wrong angle which meant photography was difficult but I did manage some recognisable pictures.

Wedding attire, hair conditioner resembling Octopus legs, tooth extractors, kohl-liners (Surmehdan) and even a chain-link suit of armour mixed with other household memorabilia to make a fascinating exhibition of life in those times. History at school was so boring….social history is something else.

  

My favourite exhibit, although with very sad connotations, was the Zangouleh-paa-Taboot (literally meaning “the bell that accompanies the coffin”.) I had previously walked passed ignoring this exhibit not understanding its significance but when we had been talking to the guide for a while and he understood how genuinely interested I am in Persian/Iranian culture and everyday traditions, he took us back to the room where the exhibit was and made a point of explaining what this item meant. I found it very sad at the time, and remembering it now I still do. For some reason I was and am very touched by this old tradition but I understand that it is a concept still alive and kicking in modern day Iran. (See below*)

Zangouleh-paa-Taboot-then

It was explained to us that in days gone by when a less-affluent man had a child late in life and died whilst the child was still young the child would walk in front of/beside the coffin carrying this item to signify he was an orphan and needed “help”. I found it sad to think that children were expected to demonstrate their need so openly but perhaps as part of the culture it is an accepted practice and there is no stigma attached to this. I hope so.     

*Zangouleh-paa-Taboot-now

The phrase is still used in Iran now to signify the status of a child born of an elderly father so, as I tease Feri, should by some miracle he has a child at this late stage in life (he’s 57 this year) I would say “Oh Feri! You don’t want a “Zangouleh-paa-Taboot!”………..  

Do you?

To be continued……

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Sede, like many Iranian towns, has grown up and expanded around what is known as “old town” and I love the cracked mud and straw walls and buildings that still stand and evoke such a sense of history. Old town to me means dusty narrow streets, high walls and perhaps a tethered donkey or two watching the world go by. Nothing like “new town” with modern shops, 24-hour lighting and numerous cars “peeping” you out of their way.

When Feri’s sister suggested that we visit the Sarteep’s House in old town on our final Saturday I assumed that the site would be somewhat like an archaeological dig and there would not be much to see. In my ignorance not knowing what a Sarteep is I was not entirely convinced that this was how I wanted to spend my precious morning but gladly trusting her judgement I was more than pleasantly surprised when we arrived.

Surprised indeed I was, but it began to make sense when Feri explained that we were here to see “Sarteep’s” House, and not, as I thought, MR Sarteepi’s House. Big Difference as I soon discovered.

 “Sarteep” is a rank higher than Colonel in the Iranian Army, and 200 or so years ago a Sedehi was Sarteep during the reign of Naser-Odin Shah (King Naser) a good friend and ally of Britain. Whilst serving as Sarteep/Chief of Staff this Sedehi became very good friends with Zelle Sultan the Governor General of Esfahan and son of King Naser who often came to stay with the Sarteep in Sede. The Royal family stayed with the Sarteep’s family for long periods to the extent that the once modest house in Sede was upgraded substantially to Royal standards and much of the redesigned splendour remains today as we were privileged to see.

 

The house and substantial gardens are divided into private and official apartments and we started our tour with the private rooms and living quarters. Most of the rooms have glass cabinets filled with exhibits relating to the house and it took us some time to visit all the rooms whilst my husband translated the information cards.  

One of the most fascinating buildings for me was the baths and considering that these were designed and used more than 200 years ago, the facilities are impressive and I’m sure that the bathing and personal habits of the Persians at this point in history were far in advance of us in the West. I could be mistaken but I haven’t seen anything like these communal family facilities anywhere else but I’m happy to be proven wrong.

The resident guide was extremely kind and very helpful and fetching his big bunch of keys, unlocked the baths especially for us. I had to bend down to enter through the low-hung door and was surprised to see how large the bathing area is. Apparently, the families and their attendants were a large group who often bathed together and this explains why the bathing area is much bigger than I expected.

In addition to the hot bath which has a reinforced area under which a fire was lit to heat the water continuously, there is a smaller cold bath adjacent where bathers could cool down if necessary. (An early version of a plunge pool springs to mind.) The guide also told us that bathers were soaped down and rinsed off by their attendants in the central bath area then, unless they had further personal hygiene matters to see to, would sit and relax in the warm surroundings probably drinking tea and reciting poetry.

 

Most of the larger recesses and platforms carved out of the wall around the central rest area were for relaxing and socialising but I found out that one of the compartments was reserved for hair removal. Apparently, both men and women would be covered with a hair removal linament (17thC Veet) which would remove the body hair. I find it fascinating to think that they were so organised to have a designated area to carry out this procedure at home although I understand that this procedure was also carried out in public baths and maybe still is! I’m not about to find out either.

When we had finished our tour of the baths, the guide asked me what I thought of them. I explained that I was really impressed by the facilities and functionality of the baths but not surprised due to my previous knowledge and experience of Persian culture and he laughed. Why did he laugh?

He laughed because a tourist from a North European country, which shall remain nameless, had been surprised, nay, amazed that the Persians had baths 200 years ago. He didn’t realise that these Middle Eastern “savages” even washed!

How sad.

To be continued.

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The Armenian Christian sector of Esfahan is still a thriving community albeit much depleted from the mid-1960’s when the population reached approximately 100,000. Not many people realise that a Christian area exists in the predominantly Muslim city and it is in the section known as Julfa south of the Zayande Rud river that you will find the 13 remaining churches out of the original 30 or so. Cathedrals and Mosques do go together despite what many people believe.

Only yesterday I was talking about my Iranian adventures when someone asked if Westerners are still allowed into Iran and he was surprised when I explained that although I didn’t see many Westerners where I went, I have no problems whatsoever in entering the country and in fact, am welcomed wherever I go. Such is the lack of understanding and power of adverse media coverage that many people have completely the wrong idea of the situation in Iran which I find very sad.

The All Saviour’s (Vank) Cathedral is spectacular and an amazing visual feast of religious murals, gold decor and superb architecture together with a selection of ancient artefacts and historical information in the Cathedral museum.

In the midst of all the family celebrations and visiting relatives it was lovely to find a haven of peace and serenity in the almost deserted church and its grounds and I could have spent hours sitting on a bench looking at the frescos and murals trying to take in the exquisite detail.

The museum is fascinating but sadly no photos are allowed and postcards and guidebooks of the cathedral and exhibits are almost non-existent. I did however manage to take some pictures of the external features and I found a photo DVD (Studio Par) with some beautiful images of the popular scenes.

Enjoy.

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After an interesting visit to the old Jewish Synagogue and Cemetery we made our way to the shrine of Pir Bakran, a Sufi saint and mystic who died in 1303 and after which this small town is named. On arrival the gates were locked, but the phone number of the guardian was posted on the inside gates. We called the number and within 5 minutes the guardian arrived on his motorbike.

The shrine is noted for the stucco work which is particularly ornate and it’s amazing to think how long ago these carvings were done. The mihrab and entrance doors are fine examples of the famous stucco and I hate to think how long it took for the craftsmen to complete them. The shrine is also famous for the surviving Kufic script which, when written in blocks as it is here, looks very much like a maze.

    

As Pir Bakran’s fame spread, so the building in which he preached was extended to accommodate the increasing number of followers who came to listen to him and several rooms were added. From the outside the shrine looks like it is a 4-story building but in fact it is only 2 storys high which is reminiscent of the Ali Qapu Palace in Esfahan which appears to be 7 storys high but is only 4. This is no coincidence as the architect and project manager of the Ali Qapu Palace was inspired by Pir Bakran’s shrine design and carvings 200 years later and some of the designs are reproduced in the royal Palace.

One of the rooms has a circular area carved out of the floor where apparently Pir Bakran used to sit and meditate for up to 40 days at a time eating and drinking nothing and surviving only by touching sacred stones which provided him with the sustenance he needed to see him through these lonely periods.

In an adjacent room Pir Bakran’s tomb, together with that of the shrine’s architect Mohammad Naghash rest side by side covered in green cloth.

The guardian was extremely helpful and very knowledgeable and again, this site is well worth a visit if history, Persian culture, architecture and design are what interest you. Unless you speak Farsi however, it is advisable to travel with a Farsi speaker who is able to ring the guardian and ensure that you get the most out of your visit. You won’t be disappointed.

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