Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Isfahan’

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……

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Esfahan Bird Garden (Paq-e Parandegan) is not far from the Koh Ateshgah Sasanid fire temple which I climbed on a previous visit and first impressions were that it didn’t look much but initial impressions belied what we found inside the extensive grounds.

 

Founded in 1996 the garden covers more than 50,000 square metres, most of which is enclosed by a net suspended high off the ground giving the 125 or so species of birds plenty of room to fly around freely whilst making sure that they don’t escape their environs.

We saw parrots, budgies, cockatoos, ostriches, owls, pheasants, peacocks as well as the aquatic birds in the large pool; pelicans, flamingos and storks and cranes all balancing on one leg and black and white swans paddling smoothly along in the clear water.

 

My favourites were the toucans which reminded me of those Guinness adverts of long ago and in Farsi they are known as Fala-Fala. Two toucans perching on the branch; Fala-Fala, Fala-Fala.

Esfahan Bird Garden made a perfect outing on a beautiful sunny and warm early spring afternoon. The trees were just breaking into leaf giving the hedgerows and woodlands a lovely hazy-green appearance. The Zayandeh-Rud however was extremely low as there was a drought in this area threatening the production of those gorgeous melons and other orchard fruits that we picked in abundance at the end of last summer. I can now report in May 2012 that the drought conditions have eased and the melons are just as sweet and juicy as ever!

  

Read Full Post »

I am by nature an early riser but it has to be something pretty special to coax me out of my bed at 4.00am and I was hoping that today wouldn’t disappoint as I rolled out of bed and into the shower this morning. We were off to Abyaneh, a famous Iranian “historic village” and UNESCO world heritage site, then skirting the central desert via Natanz to Kashan. I was not to be disappointed.

 

Abyaneh is a remote settlement nestled high in the Karkas mountains and it’s red. The houses are built from the red-ochre coloured mud which gives them their distinct appearance and they butt into the steep slopes so that there are no back gardens and the emphasis is very much on the house fronts. We didn’t get to see inside a house but apparently there are no stairs because they use the natural slope of the mountain to climb between stories. 

Most of the original carved wooden doors remain intact and when you look closely you will see that most doors have two knockers-one for men the other for women. This enables the person indoors to tell by the knock whether the visitor is a man or a woman (rarely is the “wrong” knocker used).

     

Unusually for an Islāmic community, women enjoy equal rights with men and traditionally this has meant that many have not married until they are at least thirty and no more than three children are born to a family. Perhaps this emancipation is why the ladies of Abyaneh are famous for their bright coloured clothes an unusual feature for Islāmic women and something which the colourful women of Abyaneh have resisted despite several attempts by the government to change this.

     

Sadly most of the houses are deserted now and the younger villagers have moved away, many abroad. Tourists flock in droves to see the village and its remaining residents, especially the colourful women and whilst when we arrived at 7.30am there were few other visitors by the time we left at 10.30am hundreds more had arrived and there was nowhere to park. It was clearly good planning to get up at 4.00am and I was pleased that we had done so.

Some of the women are more willing to be photographed than others and I always asked before taking a photo respecting those who did not want to be. I fully understand their reluctance. At best it’s a nuisance, but it can be invasive and inappropriate so asking first is a must even if you don’t like the answer. One particularly bright and bubbly lady happily posed for photographs and even insisted that we join her on some of our pictures. Her enthusiasm became clear when she asked if we could send the pictures by email to her daughter who lives in Europe! I had to laugh but gladly we wrote down the email address and tonight I will be sending her pictures to someone, somewhere in Italy! She was also a little cheeky when she thought that my husband was in fact my travel guide, and when I showed an interest in purchasing a souvenir, she told him to “inflate the price” so he could make a bit of profit too! So beware the sellers and be prepared to barter…….you’ll save yourself a fortune.

Other attractions in the village include the Congregational Mosque with a fabulous inlaid door. Sadly the mosque was closed so I was unable to see the painted ceiling which I had read about. The mausoleum ( “Holly Shrine” per the road sign) is also worth a visit if only for the views across the mountains from the verandah and its blue mosaic cone roof also shines out among the mass of red.

Another fascinating feature of the surrounding countryside were the sheep holes which are carved into the hillside so that the sheep can shelter from the extreme heat in the summer months and I presume huddle together for warmth in the winter.

Abyaneh is an interesting place to while away a few hours and I was surprised to learn that we had been there for three hours. I was sad to leave without seeing more of the buildings further up the hill but it was getting very busy and we had places to go and things to see in Karshan.

Read Full Post »

Times, they are a-changin’ in Iran and I have noticed from this visit that gradually the traditional shops which I love so much are giving way to more modern retailers.

On a more positive note and if you look closely however you will also notice that more than the local high street is changing. People’s attitudes and outward behaviour are changing and it is very noticeable to us after only a year away.

It is more noticeable to me as probably the only westerner in the town and being fair-skinned I have always been the subject of many stares. There is no malice or rudeness just curiosity. But this time, there is something more. We experience an openness not seen before, a more relaxed feeling on the street with the women wearing their brightly coloured hijab further away from the hairline atop false hair pieces and daring to wear much tighter fitting manteaus. Men and women are now openly holding hands as they walk along the street and a number of inquisitive Iranians have stopped to talk to me as I walk along and in the restaurant/ tea house.

They want to know where I am from, what do I do and all welcome me to Iran/Esfahan. They love foreign visitors to their country and if I accepted their kind offers of tea I would be doing nothing else but visiting until we leave. I spoke to a young couple who stopped us in the Bazaar and found out that the husband works for the Iranian Inland Revenue. I explained that my first job was with HMRC and we laughed that as expected, Tax Inspectors are universally disliked.

A woman with her two sons stopped me further down the street to welcome me to Iran. “It is very nice to see you here” she says as her eldest son keeps repeating “Hello, how are you?” He is learning English at school and determined to make the most of his opportunity to practise. A girl started a conversation whilst in the tea house and during lunch, a girl studying English at Esfahan University came over and asked if she could sit with us and and ask some questions which I gladly answered.

Visiting the Fin Gardens in Kashan I was inundated with requests for photographs from a group of schoolgirls and one by one they stood with me as their friends took the photos. I was there for a good 20 minutes whilst they made sure that everyone had a photo of me on their phone but I got my own back when I asked to take a photo of their group and they were so excited to agree!

This direct approach from strangers has never happened on previous visits although you could see that they wanted to. Something has changed so that people feel willing and able to open dialogue between us.

This can only be good for everyone and I welcome it.

Read Full Post »

I still get lost in this town and have to find my bearings before making a directional decision. When I get to the end of our street “I Lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help” which in Sede means the Sala mountains, and I know just where I am and which way to walk.

This morning however I came unstuck and had a reminder of where I am in the big wide world. The mountains had disappeared in a dust storm which is the outer edge of a sandstorm originating in the desert and I couldn’t see a thing beyond 500m. The sandstorm had hit Qom, a city between Tehran and Esfahan and we got the dregs. In fact, we still have the dregs although the dust is settling slowly. It’s a weird experience as it is like looking at the world through a Vaseline lens and I want to take my glasses off to clean them but no amount of cleaning will make the vision any clearer and we have to wait for nature to take its course.

 

I took these photos and whereas you can normally make out the mountains very clearly, you have to look hard to see their outline-but they are there!

In the meantime, the weather has turned from comfortably warm to hot which means that our adventures are restricted to mornings and evenings as it is too warm to do much at midday and early afternoon. But that’s OK as it gives me time to catch up on my blog whilst everyone else is asleep. They will just have to put up with Mrs Grumpy later.

Read Full Post »

ISBN 964-334-171-2

This is a great book if you are travelling in Esfahan and Esfahan Province and it contains plenty of information, helpful hints and tips for travellers, photographs and illustrations.

If you are unable to get the book before you travel, there are bookshops in the area opposite the Hotel Abassi in Esfahan which should stock it. It cost me approximately £12 to buy in Iran.

Read Full Post »

A mere 5 minute walk from Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Esfahan is the spectacular Chehel Sotun Pavilion and gardens. Chehel Sotun literally means “40, or many, columns”. In fact there are only 20 columns supporting the front of the structure, but when you take into account the reflection of these columns in the very blue pond in front of the building, 20 becomes 40.

The pavilion was built to receive foreign royalty, ambassadors and dignitaries and you only have to imagine being introduced to the resident Persians on home territory in the great mirrored hall to realise how imposing it must have been.

Any trade or diplomatic discussions would probably have been conducted with the visiting envoy already on the back-foot and in awe of the magnificent decor and architecture rarely seen elsewhere circa 1650AD.

As well as the beautiful building itself, the paintings, murals, artefacts and elaborate decoration, the pavilion stands within the lovely Chehel Sotun gardens. The flower beds are bright with blooms and the grass very green and lush. Clearly both are well-maintained in these often dry conditions.

 

 

 

An outstanding attraction in the late summer sunshine, it must be equally beautiful in the frosty conditions of winter.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: