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Posts Tagged ‘Sarteep’

(Continued)

As well as enjoying the sunshine and appreciating the history and grandeur of Sarteep House, we soon learned that there were connections between the House and Feri’s family which Feri did not know about.  

Some Ashrafi family background will help to explain the connections.

Heidar Ali Ashrafi (19xx-1980)

Feri’s father Heidar Ali Ashrafi, started his working life in management at a sugar factory in Esfahan. Keen to help his local community and passionate about politics it wasn’t long before he was elected Councillor, a member of the Anjoman-e Shar, (Town Council) in Sede, his home town. He was subsequently elected Mayor and served three terms in Sede. He was also the Mayor of Tiran, Rehnan and Mubarakhe and we still have the orders from the Ministry of the Interior commanding him to take up his Mayorships.  

Heidar was determined to improve the living and working conditions for the people of Sede and he was renowned for being a very active  and “hands-on” Mayor. During his Mayorship, irrigation systems through the town to the local orchards were vastly improved and proper sewerage systems were introduced; the main roads were tarmaced for the first time and he created two town squares at each end of town to welcome people into Sede from Esfahan and Tehran. These works are still in evidence today and are an amazing legacy for the community.

Heidar was still in office as Mayor in February 1979 when the Revolution took place but was deposed soon after and put under House Arrest. Sadly, he died in unexplained circumstances some 9 months later.

 Heidar Ashrafi is still remembered by the community with a great deal of respect and fondness for his vision, passion and generosity and we never visit the town without someone, somewhere taking time to tell us.

Feri’s grandfather, Mohamad Ashrafi, was a very experienced theologian and lawyer and became the Head of the Ministry of Justice of Esfahan Province. This was in the days before jury’s were introduced and he was responsible for passing judgement and sentences on those brought before him who had committed less serious crimes. If he was faced with a murder case or more serious crime, he would call upon the Council of Guardians of the town who would meet at Sarteep’s House for deliberation and final judgement.

 

This is the same room in which those meetings took place and we stood quietly thinking about Feri’s grandfather sitting on these steps deliberating with his fellow judges all those years ago. Feri had never seen this room before and didn’t know that his grandfather had been there before him but hopefully it has spurred him on to find out more about his fascinating family history.

Feri came to the UK to study when he was 19 years old. His father and his two elder brothers died during this period and he did not return to Iran for the next 22 years.  There are still gaps in his knowledge and understanding about what happened to his family but we are gradually finding the missing pieces which we hope will complete the jigsaw.

Dr Amini 

 

During our visit we saw three other visitors at the house. Two were walking round with filming equipment and the third walked towards us. The guide introduced Feri to Dr Amini. Feri didn’t flinch but clearly recognising the Ashrafi name and after asking a couple of questions about Feri’s father, Dr Amini introduced himself as Feri’s junior school teacher. It was a particularly emotional moment and I was quite choked as the two men embraced.

Dr Amini spoke very highly of Heider Ashrafi, remembering much about his achievements whilst Mayor of Sede. He turned to Sethari, Feri’s niece and told her how proud she should be of her grandfather and her ancestry as well as the legacies he left for the town.  I know that she is proud of her family roots and she appreciates the respect and warmth which clearly still exists for her grandfather, but to hear this from an eminent historian now working for the equivalent of UK’s National Trust was quite overwhelming and it brought home to me what the Ashrafi name still stands for in Sede and in many ways why I have been made so welcome in the town.

When Feri and Dr Amini finished talking, Dr Amini left for an interview with a local TV station about Sarteep House, and we completed our tour of the house somewhat subdued and stunned by the morning’s events. Before we left, the guide explained that the Trustees of Sarteep House want to add a model of Feri’s father to their collection along with his Biography and would we be able to help with putting something together.

I’m sure that we can, but I have said that we will commission the “Madame Tussaud’s” model…….

 

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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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