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Octagonal minaret

Octagonal minaret

Compared to some of the elaborately decorated and colourful mosques I have visited in Iran, being one of the four oldest mosques in the country, the Congregational Mosque in Na’in is no less beautiful for its simplicity of design and clean lines shown to perfection against the clear blue sky. The oldest part of the mosque dates from the 7th Century with the remainder built in the 10th/11th Centuries.

 

Spectacular both inside and out, some of the internal features were real highlights for me and it was amazing to find that they lived up to their descriptions in the guide books. I had read about the famous minbar [an elevated pulpit from where the Imam stands to deliver his sermons] and so firstly made my way towards it only to find that was partially screened off which restricted viewing. I could still see however that it is a magnificent example of a minbar. Standing 5m high and intricately pieced together from wooden marquetry, it is 700 years old and the most valuable minbar in the Esfahan region – hence the extra protection.

 

Another common feature of Persian mosques is the finely carved stucco which decorates the mihrab and columns. The Congregational mosque has a beautiful stucco mihrab which is the traditional semi-circular niche in the wall of the mosque directing Muslims to face Mecca when praying. These unique carvings are echoed on the fourteen surrounding columns making this part of the mosque the most ornate.

The minaret at the Southeast corner, which led us to the mosque when approaching the town, is most unusual. It is 28m high and can be seen from miles around. It is also octagonal, a feature which makes it completely different from any other minaret found in the Esfahan area.

 

Na'in old mosque

Na’in old mosque

We were now entering the hottest part of the day, and with travelling East to the edge of desert country the temperature was rising steadily to 40 degrees +. Although we were walking slowly around the stone built building and being comparatively cool compared to out in the open, it was still very hot. I was very thankful therefore when Mr Aghaee, our impromptu guide, told us about the underground prayer hall and qanats which were much cooler.

Mr Aghaee proceeded to take us down two flights of stone steps leading to the Prayer Hall. He told us that the Prayer Hall remains at a constant temperature throughout the year only fluctuating 10-15 degrees even in the hottest and coldest times of year and is mostly used during high summer and mid winter when temperatures are at their least comfortable. It was a relief to escape from the oppressive heat upstairs and I could see why this area would be popular. The Prayer Hall wasn’t built or constructed but was simply dug out of the ground together with a maze of passages and small recesses also carved out beneath the mosque’s ground floor. The underground accommodation has no electric lighting, but is cleverly lit by five marble panels placed in the floor of the mosque which refract the daylight down “lampshades” made of stone. The effect is curious and can be seen in its full glory when a picture is taken with the subjects standing directly beneath one of the panels. Mr Aghaee kindly took our photos to illustrate the lighting arrangement and we could then see clearly what he meant. He knows exactly where best to stand and take the photo for best effect and we are very grateful for his inside knowledge.

 

Some of the recesses or alcoves are used for meditation and in the absence of interested visitors like us, I could understand why. Quiet, calm and comforting, the chambers are the perfect place to seek peace and tranquillity alone with your own thoughts.

 

One of the main reasons I wanted to visit the area of Na’in was to see and learn more about the qanat water system that originated in Iran and for someone who is avidly interested in how things work, I was fascinated by this concept. I am no engineer, but even I understand how the system is meant to carry water near and far in a country of massive desert areas knowing  that there are still some working examples I was determined to seek them out.

 

Old mosque qanat

Old mosque qanat

Luckily for me, the Old Mosque in Na’in has a qanat in it’s underground area, although today it is non-working, and again Mr Aghaee agreed to show us around the underground water tunnel and share his local knowledge.

 

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As usual before my holiday I spent some time researching possible trips out of Esfahan and made a list of all those things that I wanted to see. I compiled the list before I experienced the searing heat in June/July and therefore some of my plans had to be changed to suit the temperature once we arrived in Iran. One trip which I didn’t have to change however, even though we were due to head South-East towards the desert, was a visit to Na’in. I read about the old mosque with its minbar, the carpets, the citadel and the qanats in this town and convinced Feri and Will that they would love to spend a day in Na’in too.

Rahmon (see previous post) was duly roped in to our adventure-willingly as usual- and we set off early on Sunday morning with our normal supplies of  iced water and tea. Although this was the first day of Ramazan we were hopeful that we would find somewhere open to eat lunch later and we left the nun and panir at home.

As we traveled out of Esfahan to the East, the landscape gradually changed and we saw several pigeon towers dotted across the fields; herds of goats and their herdsmen were sheltering from the sun under the tree-shade by the roadside, the large guard dogs were also trying to keep cool by lying in the ditch. As we traveled towards Na’in, the soil became more sandy and the already sparse green shrubs became fewer and farther between. The passing cars left a thick dusty trail behind them as they disappeared into the distance.

After a short stop for a drink, we continued the long and winding climb through the mountains as the sun started to get really hot and intense.  We arrived in Na’in and drove straight to the old mosque-Masjeed-e Jame which we found easily by its tall 28m high octagonal minaret. We parked the car close to the mosque and walked towards the entrance.

The 28m high octagonal minaret

The 28m high octagonal minaret

Mr Aghaee

As we approached the mosque a man came towards us and greeted us in both Farsi and excellent English. I clearly understood the English but strangely, Feri and Rahmoon had difficulty in understanding the Farsi dialect. It appears that he was speaking the Pahlavi Old Persian which is not widely spoken in Iran but at least they understood more than they were able to speak!

Now they know how I feel 🙂

This very polite man introduced himself as the curator of the old mosque and Pirnia House (Pir= old, nia= ancestry) an Ethnographic Museum which Mr Aghaee has built up almost single-handedly, and was particularly proud of his mention in the Brandt Travel Guide to Iran. I actually had a copy of this guide with me and turned straight to page 112 where I read; ” Do persuade the knowledgeable curator, who speaks very good English to take you round; his wife is a noted carpet maker in the locale. He has persuaded the townspeople to lend him interesting archival material, such as marriage contracts, as well as metalwork and ceramic objects.”  

Feri & Mr Aghaee

Feri & Mr Aghaee

I can vouch for both his extensive knowledge and his excellent English and he was more than happy to escort us around the site. There was no persuasion required but if you visit and he is not there, do try and find him as it will make your visit much more meaningful.

During our initial conversation he explained that he is 73 years old (that was a surprise-he looks much younger I think), he has 7 children (must be the secret of eternal youth!) and his wife is a renowned local carpet maker. He corresponds with several ex-visitors by email, including an eminent professor from Oxford University. He has learned 22,000 verses of Persian poetry including some from Rumi and Hafez, and proceeded to recite some for us.

One of my favourite sayings of his was;

“Grey hairs are not a sign of growing old.

Growing old is when you have no love left in your heart”

As one who is cultivating grey hair at an alarming rate this was rather comforting.

Once we has listened to some of his poetry, Mr Aghaee offered to take us round the old mosque. This was too good an opportunity to miss as he was clearly both very knowledgeable and passionate about both the mosque and the museum of his and so it turned out to be.

Next time: Na’in, the old mosque.

Learn the lingo

Goat              Boz

Mosque             Masjeed

Museum         Muze

Carpet           Farsh

      

 

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