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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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Before travelling to Iran, I usually do a little homework so that we have some interesting places to see whilst we are here. It is amazing what a little planning and forethought can produce and today was a diamond. I had read about Pir-i Bakran in both of my guidebooks about Iran/Esfahan and decided that I would like to pay a visit as it is not far from where we are based although we did need a taxi for the day. Taxis are no obstacle as some of the family own a taxi business so not only did we get a great guide in Ramon who we know well, but also he could join in the fun and have lunch with us.

When he picked us up at 9am, I could tell that Ramon was not convinced that there was anything to see at Pir-i Bakran but all that changed when we arrived 45 minutes later at the first site, the old Jewish synagogue and cemetery.

The write-up in my Brandt Travel Guide was not promising saying that the guardian of the site “is monosyllabic and unhelpful” and “as yet, Jewish colleagues in the UK can find no information about the complex, known locally as Esther Khatun ( Lady Esther).” However, they clearly didn’t have the advantages I had today being that hubby’s father was the highly regarded Mayor of Esfahan province and the guardian remembered him from childhood. In addition I was accompanied by two charming Farsi speaking gents so that all paths and doors to the usually closed and hidden rooms and gardens were opened before me. We also got a full description of each room which was translated into English by my husband.

The synagogue itself is derelict but pilgrims from all over Iran gather at the site once a year in September staying in the side rooms built in a quadrangle. None of the maintenance and upkeep of the site is paid for out of Iranian Government funds as it is paid by the Iranian Jewish community and families of those buried at the site.

Whilst we were free to walk around the synagogue gardens, all the gates to the interior were padlocked but after some persuasion, the guardian agreed to unlock them and show us around for which I was most grateful.

The first room we were able to enter was the main domed room at ground level which contains the torah stand. Small prayer rooms are found upstairs.

In the corner of this room there is an arched doorway hung with a heavy stone door carved with Hebrew text. The door is opened and locked by a “secret” handle hidden in the hole in the wall to the right of the door. The guardian told us that women who cannot conceive or cannot find a husband enter the doorway and crawl along the narrow and low chamber all the time praying and asking to be blessed with children or a husband by next year’s pilgrimage.

The guardian then took us through to a blue room where he told us that the son of Jacob had disappeared through the walls never to be seen again. My guide-book tells me that it was Esther (or Sarah) who disappeared so a little more homework to be done methinks.

We spent a good couple of hours at the site and I felt privileged to have done so. It is not well-known that this is a sacred place for the Iranian Jewish community to gather every year, and neither my husband nor Ramon were aware that Jews who have been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem are afforded the same title and respect of those Moslems who have been to Mecca on the Haaj. Unless you know the area very well, or have read the guidebooks you’d never know that this place existed as it is so well hidden from the road. In fact, there is no direct access to the site from the road and you have to attract the attention of the guardian by knocking at the big metal gates before you can get in.

But it is well worth the effort.

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