A glimpse on the Persian Carpet

Persian Carpet (Quali) has been considered as a sublime embodiment of timeless beauty and elegance over thousands of years in human history and it has constantly evolved into a more elegant and artistic creation throughout its existence. It has always been an essential part of Persian culture and a staple of each Iranian home. For centuries, Persian Carpets have been appreciated for their high quality, uniqueness and the fact that they are handwoven. The variety of Persian Carpets is somewhat impressive if you put some thought into it; from large carpets knotted in workshops to lively patterned village carpets and charming nomadic carpets. These hand-woven arts are not only limited to carpets. There are other relative structures with different materials, design executions and techniques, that have also made a special place for themselves in Persian culture such as Gabbeh, Kilim and Palas

The journey through the world of antique Persian Rugs is not only a treat for the eyes, but also a journey through culture. The patterns, the sizes and the colors are all rooted in deeper meanings and sometimes, possibly stories. Stories of past generations and their traditions.

Theoretically, it is implied that a Persian Rug would have to be at least 80 years old to be considered “antique”.

Persian Carpets

Hand-woven Persian Carpets

As the Persian carpet has been a subject of interest amongst many people including us, Kalout team has taken the elaborate decision to present this historical and cultural legacy through our eyes. We are beyond ourselves to be able to share this gem with our international friends and clients.

Brief History

A significant part of the movement of the Persian floor covering lies related to the different leaders of the nation all through time. By vanquishing Babylon in 539 BC, Cyrus the Great was struck by its quality, which led him to present the craft of rug making into Persia. Numerous history specialists credit Cyrus for this cultural and artistic impression. It is said that the burial chamber of Cyrus the Great, at Pasargadae close to Persepolis, was secured with valuable rugs.

Renowned conventional Iranian floor coverings caused some zones to incorporate Mashhad, Tabriz, Arak, Isfahan, Kashan and Kerman. Notable assortments of Persian carpets, some from the previously mentioned cities and provinces include Khorasan, Herat, Shiraz and Hamedan.

Through history, until the 19th century, people from nomads to kings, only utilized the rugs from Persia as floor coverings and decorations. Generally, the word carpet was used for any cover, such as a table cover or wall hanging. However, afterwards it has been seen with a fresh pair of eyes, as a genuine art form.

Nowadays, these carpets are appreciated not only as artworks but also as investment worthy pieces. The experience of seeing and feeling a genuine antique Persian rug in person, can be truly powerful.

Iranian Carpet

Antique Persian Rug

The orientation of carpet weaving in Persia goes back to more than 2,500 years ago. At first, carpets and rugs were made as simple necessities to cover the floors, protecting people from the cold and damp and provided them with warmth and comfort. However, through time, the skill and craft of weaving carpets gradually evolved to the creation of art works that passed down from generation to generation over the centuries.

In the past, it was believed that the geometric designs and symbolic figures protect the Persian rug’s owner from misfortune and evil. As for the tribal rug designs, the pattern of animals, people, and everyday objects, are a classic example of art imitating life. Persian antique rugs are one-of-a-kind masterpieces and luxury design items, which can make a house, feel like a home. Not to mention they have been quite popular amongst Europeans aristocrats like England and Germany, especially during the 1850’s. Due to their timeless elegance, hand woven Persian rugs are an unbeatable, must-have piece among designers.

During the Safavid Period, Persia was an ancient and powerful empire embracing lands from Africa to India. The largest flourishing carpet producing areas were the now modern-day cities of Tabriz, Herat, Kashan and Kerman. The Safavid Dynasty encouraged many other kinds of arts as well, which stepped into the original foot prints of the art of carpet weaving, including painting, calligraphy and intricate weaving. Nowadays these patterns have made their way onto the nomads traditional clothing, table cloths and animals’ saddlebags. There are also certain woven curtains, which are mainly used to divide a room from another. These detailed weavings and pattern are not only bound down to nomadic areas. Modern day fashion is no stranger to intricate weaving or crosshairs. Many hand-made rugs with intricate designs, which passed down from one generation to another, have survived for hundreds of years, as they were so well crafted and cherished. These specific rugs are evidence of a rich heritage and culture.

Iranian Rugs

A local woman hand weaving a Persian carpet

Persia is considered one of (if not the most) varied carpet producing regions of the Middle East. However, the golden era of Persian Carpets really began after the foundation of the Safavid Dynasty and during the 16th and 17th centuries, Persia produced many of the great masterpiece carpets, which are still in existence today.

The display of Persian carpet from outside in & International legacies

As briefly mentioned, the rugs from Persia also made their way west to Europe. Persian Carpet started a long journey of display from Spain, which was initially introduced to the art from Northern Africa and Morocco and ended up in Southern Europe.

As of today, the most famous Persian carpets came from Tabriz, which are referred to as the Twin Ardabil Carpets. These carpets have made it in the permanent collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum and Los Angeles Country Museum.

Sheikh Safi Persian carpet at the Victoria and Albert museum

Sheikh Safi Persian carpet at the Victoria and Albert museum

It is only fit to introduce some of these fine carpets to paint a picture of how mesmerizing they actually are. Let’s not forget that with Kalout international tours, all these treasures would be personally introduced to our visitors.

A beautiful rug belonging to Northwest Persia is the animal” carpet, half of which is in Kraków Cathedral, Poland, and half in the Museum of Decorative Arts, Paris. Another legacy of antique Persian carpet is the great hunting” carpet, which now is in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan. A deep blue field, where hunters dash after their prey, covered with a compelling network of blossoming stems surrounds a scarlet and gold medallion which brings this magnificent design to finish. The words inscribed with the museum display read: “It is by the efforts of Giyath-ud-Din ʿJami that this renowned carpet was brought to such perfection in the year 1521.”

The world’s oldest hand-woven carpet is the Pazyryk Rug, which dates back to 2,500 years ago. This piece includes Iranian and Achaemenid motifs. The carpet is currently kept at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

And lastly, Silk carpets woven to surround the shrine of Shah Abbas the second in Qom were the last superior achievements in Persian Carpet weaving. The pattern is beautiful, the colors are varied and in harmony with each other. The piece is dated and signed by Nimat Allah of Joshaqan.

Silk Persian carpet

Silk Persian carpet

The market and value of Persian carpets

Hand-woven Carpet is one of Iran’s key non-oil exports, considering Iran makes three quarters of the world’s hand-woven carpets.

The Persian Carpet is pretty popular among European (Germany for instance) and American Aristocrats and interior design or art connoisseur in general.    

The value of the Persian carpet is determined by various factors, including the beauty, intricacy and authenticity of designs, durability of colors, the quality of materials and the knots as well as the years of labor spent for producing each carpet.

According to estimates by the Iranian Industry, Iran annually makes around 400 tons of hand-woven carpets, the majority of which are exported to other countries.

The display of a few grand Persian carpets for an auction

The display of a few grand Persian carpets for an auction

The authentic Persian carpet has lost a part of its share in the international market as replicas with lower price and quality from China, Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan have flooded the market. Regardless of other countries’ replicas and Monets of the Persian Rug, real Persian art connoisseurs believe this particular Iranian handicraft still maintains its status in the world.

Moreover, the unique features of the Persian Nomadic Rug have made it impossible for other producers to copy the exact handicraft.

According to the recent reports, over the past decade, the Persian Carpet Industry has experienced one of the roughest times in its era. Nonetheless, it still stands on top of its game due to its deep roots.

Fun facts

Khosrow Carpet: There has been a legendary, royal silk carpet woven with an intention of nothing but magnificent beauty, dedicated to the divine role of the king, a mythical king who turned each season around and promised the return of spring and earth’s fertility. The Spring of Khosrow Carpet made for the audience hall of the Sāsānid palace at Ctesiphon

Khosrow Carpet  was a representation of the Garden of Eden, which in other words symbolized a promise of eternal happiness.

Unfortunately, this masterpiece has not survived throughout time. According to written records, the motifs and superior embellishments of this piece were mind blowing. Just to train your imagination, picture a royal garden with watercourses, paths, rectangular flowerbeds and blossoming shrubs and fruit trees, which were the main motifs and patters of this carpet. A literal yellow brick road, woven in gold and each flower pedal, fruit or bird was worked in with pearls and different jewels. The border was not just woven out yarn like ordinary carpets. This border was by itself, a smaller frame holding the scene of a meadow, solid with emeralds. It’s truly a shame to miss out laying our eyes on such a terrific piece. 

 Qab Qabi( Frame pattern)carpet

Qab Qabi( Frame pattern)carpet

It is referenced in numerous western records that Iranians stroll on nurseries, sky and suchlike that were weaved on twist and woof. Iranian heaven had seven dividers to keep evil spirits from entering inside, the example which has been seen in the arrangement of Persian Gardens too.

The general state of the Iranian rug is square or square shape, to help to remember the four old style components, the four fundamental headings and the example of nurseries. At the point when the circle joined the rug conspire, it has become to look like a sanctuary, keeping each consecrated thing inside it. In Islamic time the hover set in the focal point of the square shape territory, to be the uprightness of presence. The Islamic craftsmanship sought after to take earth to the sky and carry the sky to earth, and how decent rug has carried out this responsibility.

Gold threaded rugs (In Kashan)

Around the 17th century, the rise of lavish lifestyle and luxury, lead to the production of gold- and silver-threaded carpets. Some were even costume ordered or exported to Europe, due to the good relations between the two countries at the time. It is believed that the main producing city for these rugs were Isfahan and Kashan. As the Persian Carpets, particularly the silver and gold-threaded one were first exhibited in Paris, many believed that the rugs were actually European.

The gold thread Persian rug with silk from Kashan

The gold thread Persian rug with silk from Kashan

Iran Carpet Museum

As Iran is one of the major carpet producers in the world with an immaculate history attached, it would only be just to have a museum dedicated to this art. The Iran Carpet Museum, located northwest of Laleh Park in Tehran, is a visionary representation of all the rave on Persian Carpet, its evolution and history. The architecture of this building is something that your eyes won’t miss as you approach. A façade resembling a carpet weaving loom, casting shadows on the walls, is not only a visionary but also a practical shelter to cool down by. Even though this museum has many photography hot spots, it should be mentioned that flash photography in not allowed inside. You will not miss visiting this Museum, traveling with Kalout tours.

Kalout team has expert guides who will make sure that you won’t miss out on the one of a kind adventure to visit Iran Carpet Museum. Not to mention that you will be hearing all about the history and culture, right there in the moment, along with the introduction of some of Iran most famous carpets.

Iran carpet museum in Tehran

Iran carpet museum in Tehran

The building is divided into two exhibition galleries on two floors, with each exhibition displaying different styles from varies regions and backgrounds. In short, the ground floor belongs to permanent exhibitions and the upper floor is designed for temporary exhibitions and regional displays. The overall collection of Iran Carpet Museum holds more than 150 pieces, dating from the 17th century up to the current creations.

Closer

Iran has many roots and cultural authenticities to rely on when it comes to proving its originality. However, putting aside all the fuss and marketing competitors, what captures anyone’s heart regarding Iran’s cultural aspects, is the warmth, the hospitality and sheer humbleness of the people who contributed to this art.

As Kalout Tours is quite familiar with the enthusiasm regarding Persian Carpets, visiting carpet weaving workshops and traditional Bazaars are usually squeezed in most of our classical and cultural itineraries, passing through popular cities such as Tehran, Kashan, Na’in, Kerman, Shiraz and Isfahan, where you can witness the art of weaving, which open the doors to a trail of Iran’s history, culture and nature of this ancient land. Most tourists are drawn to purchase one fine piece as a souvenir to have as a memoir of their trip to the land of 1001 nights.

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque also known as the Pink Mosque is an elegant piece of art and architecture that belongs to the end of 19th century.  Located in Shiraz, it is a colorful mosque built during Qajar dynasty. Nasir al-Mulk Mosque takes its name from one of the Qajar rulers – Mirza Hasan Ali Nasir al-Mulk – who ordered to construct the mosque. Mohammad Hasan-e-Memar and Mohammad Reza Kashi-Saz were the professional designers of such an exquisite mosque. The construction of the mosque lasted from 1876 to1888. Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz-the combination of art and architecture- is one of the attractions for many of the tourists who travel to Iran.

Since the pink color and stained glass windows are applied elaborately in the structure and design of the Mosque, it is known by different names. Pink Mosque, Rainbow Mosque, Mosque of colors, and Kaleidoscope Mosque all describe different interpretations of visitors from this fantastic site.

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Glory of colors shining through the stained glass windows of Nasir al-Mulk Mosque

At dawn, the sun shines through the stained glass windows of the Mosque and it glides from the right-hand side to the left-hand side to fill the inside with the glory of various colors combined. The vivid colors spread over the ground, the Persian carpets, the ceiling, the walls, the tiles, and the arches to give soul to the solid structure of the mosque. They caress the amazed visitors’ and worshipers’ faces and inspire photographers with great ideas to take amazing pictures. Maybe the designers had aimed to construct such an astonishing space to hold everybody in awe and to create a sacred space for prayer.

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque has two eastern and western shabestans. The eastern shabestan has a gorgeous tiled altar and twelve columns along with stained glass windows. The arts of tiling and painting in shabestans, and beautiful decorations of Mihrab have extraordinary beauty. The harmony among columns, fantastic geometric patterns, the play of light and colors, and the splendid Muqarnas all dazzle the eyes of visitors and photographers. The mosque has great elements of traditional architecture such as a central fountain, an iwan, panj kāseh-i (five concaves), faience, and plaster-works.

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The magnificent use of pink color in Nasir al-Mulk Mosque

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque has been inscribed as one of the national heritage sites of Iran and it annually attracts many travelers to Iran. The best time to visit the mosque is early in the morning and about 8 to 9 am. This is the best time to see the light passing through the stained glass windows and making kaleidoscopic space that amuses travelers, photographers, and worshipers. The interesting point is that Nasir al-Mulk Mosque is still used for worship. Today this glorious mosque is under protection by Nasir al-Mulk’s Endowment Foundation.

Hafezieh is the most popular historic-cultural site in Iran

Tomb of Hafez

 

 

Hafezieh is one of the most popular poets in Iran, as well as the most well-known Iranian poet in the world.Every year, millions of tourists visit the mausoleum of this famous Iranian poet.Based on the latest census of 20 historical sites, The Hafezia mausoleum in  Shiraz is known as the most popular place.
The tomb of Khajeh Hafiz Shirazi is located in the city of Shiraz, near the Koran Gate.The Hafezieh Hall of Shiraz builts during the Zandieh era.This mausoleum is about 2 hectares.
Hafez’s Tomb is the most magnificent historical monument of Iran during the New Year Eve.

 

CONGREGATIONAL  MOSQUE  (MASJED  JAME)

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In Islamic countries there is a congregational mosque in every city. In fact, the most important mosque in any city is called the Jame Mosque. Friday preaching or prayer is recommended to the Shiites and community mosques in cities are used for the Friday preachers. Large areas were allocated in the large cities.
Masjede Jame in Isfahan is the most notable mosque in Isfahan. It is an encyclopedia of Iranian and Islamic art and architecture. Step by step development of Iranian art and architecture can be seen in this complex. It takes at least half a day to visit different parts of it. The complex shows different structures from different centuries, which date back to the 10th century to the 18th century.
The oldest part was built on a Sassanid fire temple, which belonged to the Zoroastrians. The first part of the mosque dates back to the 8th century. The second mosque or part belonged to 1030.
During the Buyid Dynasty in 908-932 one of the oldest parts was built. In Buyid, a court of several prayer halls was built. In later centuries changed in the mosque.
Saheb Ibn Ebad was a learned minister of the Buyid dynasty who lived in Isfahan and played a major role in the development of Isfahan. The Seljuk Dynasty extended the mosque in the 11th century.
The jame mosque shows specifications of Iranian mosques. It has a courtyard and there are four large Eivan (Grand Arches). It has one of the largest courtyards in Iran.
Four Eivans are connected by two storey arcades. Eivans are from the 15th to 17th century. These arcades are decorated with tiles. Some of these tiles are glazed and some are inlaced. There are two marble pools in the courtyard. One of these basins is covered by a structure that reminded Saint Kabeh of Mecca. Muslims were able to practice the Hajj rites before they traveled to Mecca.

View Masjede Jame

 

THE  SOUTHERN  EIVANS

This Eivan is known as Soffe Saheb Ibn Ebad. The present Eivan dates back to Seljuk period. There are two beautiful minarets on the top of Eivan, which are 35 meters high, and belong to Aq- Qunlu era.
Interior and exterior parts of Eivan are beautifully decorated with tiles and tile mosaics. The inscription comes from the Safavid dynasty. On the back of this Eivan there is a wonderful sanctuary called “Nezam Al Molk” dome.
Nezam Al Molk was a popular vizier of the Seljuk dynasty. This dome was built in 1030. The dome reminds us of Sassanid architecture.
There is fantastic calligraphy in Kufic script, which dates from the 11th century around the dome. The name of Nezam Al Molk can be seen in the calligraphy. The dome is one of the most glorious domes of Iranian mosques.
The base of the dome is in a rectangular shape, which is transformed into a circular dome. This is a pre-Islamic technique, but the size of the dome can not be compared with pre-Islamic domes, which were much smaller than this high monument. Ornaments of the Mehrab (prayer benches) and also marble stone of the lower part belong to the Safavid era.

NORTHERN  Eivan

Jame mosque

HYPOSTYLE  HALLS  &  TAJ AL MOLK  DOME.
Sofe – ye Darvish (Eivan) is from Seljuk dynasty. Fabulous ornamentations of this Eivans belong to later period. Specifications of ornamentation are different from other parts of the mosque. The magnificent stuccoworks are from Shah Soleiman Safavid.
Behind the Eivan, there are successions of hypostyl halls, which come from different times. At the far end is the tall dome of the Taj Al Molk. Taj Al Molk was a Vizier from the Seljuk Dynasty. He competes with Nezam Al Molk. This magnificent dome was built by the command of Taj – Al Molk.
Interior decoration of Taj Al Molk dome is unique in all Iranian mosques. It is a single shelled dome. Fortunately the dome and its decoration have not been damaged. Great varieties of designs are made of plaster and small pieces of bricks are a splendid sample of huge artistic work. In fact there is a collection of designs which have survived for more than 900 years. The dome is without any Mehrab (prayer- niche).
One of the entrances to the mosque is located next to the dome. For those architects who are seeking traditional adornment, the dome is considered a museum of decorative designs. The Kufic calligraphy around the dome’s base dates back to 1080 and covers the name of Taj Al Molk. The Khaki dome is about 18 meters high and about 9 meters in diameter.

THE WESEREN EIVAN
The western Eivan is called Soffe – ye – Ostad. The original construction belongs to Seljuk dynasty. The beautiful tile and tile- mosaic work belong to era of Shah Sultan Hossein.
This Eivan is considered a wonderful museum of Iranian and Islamic calligraphy. Various types of calligraphy such as Solth, Nastaliq, Bannaeis and geometrically designed calligraphy have decorated inner parts of Eivans. For those artists who have selected calligraphy as their field of art, this Eivan has a lot to teach. Next to the Eivan, there is a door that opens to another part of the mosque built by Sultan Oljeitu. One of the most fantastic mehrabs is in this part. Many Iranians consider this Mehrab has a unique structure. It shows an excellent stucco work from the year 1310.
Unfortunately, it was damaged at bombing of Isfahan. There is an old wooden minbar in this part.
The Mehrab’s design shows a combination of calligraphy, imaginary flowers, blossoms and leaves which is a masterpiece in Islamic world. Such a fantastic work can be created by a unique faithful stucco work artist.

THE WINTER GALLERY (BEIT AL SHETA)

Jame Mosque

Each part of the Jameh mosque is a masterpiece of art and architecture. This winter gallery from Timurid era is one of the beauties of Iranian architecture, dates back to 1447.
Every part of it looks like tents used by Timurid. This part is quite cool and warm during the hot summer season during the cold days of the winter season. The style of the winter gallery is almost self-sufficient for heating and cooling systems. Daylight is reflected to Beit Al Sheta through small windows covered with slices of marble stone. The architect has made ideas from tents to create this part.

EIVAN  SHAGERD (SOFFEH- YE  SHAGERD)
It was originally built during the Seljuk period. Ornamentation is from Seljuk and IL – Khanid periods. Fortunately his ornamentation from Seljuk and IL Khanid has not been damaged. The calligraphy of this Eivan is from Shah Soleiman Safavid.
The central part of Eivan has a structure which is similar to Eivane Ostad, on the opposite side. Next to this Eivan there is a corridor leads us to a Madreseh (Theological School) from Mozafarid era.

Cyrus II, who was later known as Cyrus the Great, is the founder of Achaemenian dynasty, creator of Persian Empire and the father of a nation called Iran. He was appointed as governor at the Southern part of Iran by Medes who rules from Zagros Mountains at the Northwestern and Western of Iranian plateau. He was also the king of an area known as Anshan for eight years. It was a territory at central Iran.

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Famous Reliefs attributed to Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae

Two Major Accomplishments of Cyrus the Great

The reputation of Cyrus the Great is due to two major accomplished tasks he had brought to reality:

  1. He changed the small country of Persia to a powerful empire in a vast territory. No other government had reached this level of authority in the world till then.
  2. His ethical values had made him a well-behaved emperor with humble policies and favorable method by which he treated the conquered nations.

The world was dominated by brutal arrogant rulers who didn’t care about their nations’ rights. In fact, they oppressed everyone with sheer rigidness to put awe in their hearts. Cyrus changed all such mannerism.

When the final years of Medes’ domination was accompanied by oppressing people and treating them unfairly, the level of injustice was so high and suppression so severe that Median people had no choice but to wait for someone to save them from their brutal ruler. Cyrus turned to be this savior character. When he came to power, the new situation couldn’t corrupt him and make another monster out of him. Instead, he won lots of hearts and gained many nations’ respect for his mannerism. Cyrus united Medes with Persians.

cyrus-tomb-pasargadae

The tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae

 

The Policies of Cyrus the Great

He maily focused on bringing peace, security, understanding, respect for others’ opinions and justice to his empire. He deeply influenced the civilization at the world of his time with positive impacts. The century in which he established Achaemenian Empire became the golden era of the world history and the century of creating arts and cultures. Subsequently, he brought about the acceleration in evolution of human societies and the development in ethical values, civilizations and human rights.

Cyrus the Great is well-known for his policy of tolerance and respect. When Cyrus defeated Croesus, the last king of Lydia, he ordered him to be saved, not killed and made him an advisor for his empire. He conquered Babylonia without a fight. He respected hand-made gods of all conquered nations despite of the fact that he believed in an unseen God. He went further and even helped the followers of other religions to rebuild their temples and take back their gods to their worshipping places. Historians and the Old Testament has recorded the way he treated captivated Jews forever.

pasargad-palace

Ruins of the residential palace of Cyrus at Pasargadae

Cyrus allowed the nations under Persian Empire to keep their religions, traditions, dress code, language, etc. He didn’t force the ideas, rituals and beliefs of Persians to the rest of the world. However, today we see that there are lots of powerful influences of Persian culture outside the present boundaries of Iran in a vast area.

The mighty rulers before him used to build minarets out of people’s heads and created heaps of corpses to demonstrate their power to the subject nations. They burned the people alive in fire, gouged their eyes, cut their tongues and boasted of the number of young girls and women imprisoned and taken away by their brutal soldiers. On the contrary, he didn’t carry out bloodshed, plunder, brutality, etc to prove his power. He established a government that tried hard to found unity and peaceful coexistence among nations from India to the Mediterranean Sea. To win people’s support, he used a different policy: He supported their rights, promoted justice and worked for their prosperity.

 

tall-e-takht-pasargad

Ruins of the fortification at Tal-e-Takht at Pasargadae

The Legacy of Cyrus the Great

After the death of Cyrus the Great, Pasargadae, his capital city, wasn’t the capital anymore. Yet, it kept its significance among the succeeding Achaemenian kings. They held their coronation ceremonies there first and paid their respects to him as the founder of the dynasty. Then, they went to Persepolis to keep up with their festivities.

He built the first series of Achaemenian palaces in Pasargadae. He planned and made the first examples of Persian gardens at Pasargadae. He planned water channels and basins along the ducts there. We see the same style of parks and gardens made in Iran using the same plan.

persian-garden-channels

Water Channels of Persian Gardens remained at Pasargadae

 

Without Cyrus the Great, there wouldn’t be any nation called Persia and later Iran. He united different ethnic groups via mutual respect and humanitarian supports under one flag. He taught everyone that tolerance and kindness is more powerful than any other weapons.

Even until 20th century, all dynasties in Iran tried to connect themselves somehow, through bloodline, etc, to Achaemenians and Persian Emperors. He’s the author and father of Iran. He’s the source of pride for everyone in Iran.

Cyrus II, known as Cyrus the Great, was the founder of Achaemenid dynasty. His maternal grandfather was Astyages, the last king of the Medes, and his paternal grandfather was Achaemenes, the first founder of hereditary rule among the Persians.

Cyrus presented a new empire based on morality, justice, and decency to the world. Unlike the previous emperors, he treated the defeated with compassion, enemies with tolerance, and those with opposing beliefs and customs with liberality. His statement in Babylon, written on a clay cylinder, is the first draft of the Declaration of Human Rights.

The followings are three sites worth exploring to learn more about the rise and fall of Achaemenids. You can leave Shiraz for a one-day tour to visit these spectacular sites and then come back.

Pasargadae: This Is Where Achaemenids Rose to Power

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Tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae, Iran

 

It was the dynastic capital of Achaemenid Empire, the first great multicultural empire in western Asia. Today, it’s located near Shiraz in Fars province, south western Iran. It’s where Cyrus the Great conquered Astyages, the last Median king, in his last battle, and then founded the first Persian Empire in the same region and beyond. He founded Pasargadae and constructed palaces in memory of his victory. It was the rise of Achaemenids and Cyrus the Great was the author of Achaemenid dynasty. His tomb is also here in this city.

According to UNESCO, “palaces, gardens, and tomb of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture, and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization”.

A brief description of the site

The tomb of Cyrus has long been a focal point for visitors to Pasargadae and the palace area lay almost a kilometer north of it. This area included a palace to receive audiences and a whole series of adjacent gardens. They emerged to be the first Persian gardens. Unfortunately, all that has remained from Achaemenid era in this region are stone foundations and some wall socles.

In this site, the columned hall is the most common form of design. A notable architectural point about this hall was making use of stone-working techniques. It’s notable because all the previous columned halls in Iranian plateau were built in mud-brick walls and wooden columns.

Such an innovation facilitated the production of stone platforms, staircase, floors, and stone columns. Each one of these structures was to become a hallmark of architecture in Achaemenid era from about 540 BCE onward.

The gardens at Pasargadae would appear to be the first known occurrence of chaharbagh or fourfold garden, a specific articulation of space. It went on to become a distinctive characteristic of later garden designs in Iran for centuries.

Pasargadae kept its importance to Achaemenid emperors, but during the reign of the next kings, the capital moved to other cities.

Persepolis: The Glorious Times of Achaemenids

 

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Gate of All Nations at Persepolis, Achaemenid Era

 

It’s the other dynastic center of Achaemenid kings located about 60 kilometers south of Pasargadae. After Cyrus the Great, Darius I, known as Darius the Great, succeeded in ruling the Persian Empire. He started the construction of Persepolis. It consists of ceremonial palaces, provisional residential palaces, a treasury, and a chain of fortification. It was built as a ceremonial palace complex mainly for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year festival.

The gate to the site was from the south, through a staircase. To the right of this entrance, you can see a huge rectangular block bearing four cuneiform inscriptions in the name of Darius the Great: Two in Old Persian, one in Elamite, and the fourth in Babylonian. These scripts were clearly meant to inform visitors of the nature of Persepolis, the people who contributed to its construction as well as Darius’ beliefs and ideals.

The remarkable parts of the palace complex consist of:

  • The Gate of All Nations.

It was a four-columned square hall with three stone doorways. Two enormous winged bulls are carved at the inner side of eastern as well as western doorways, and the gates are decorated in the upper part with six cuneiform inscription sections.

  • The audience palace of Darius, The Apadana

The double-reversed stairways of this palace are the most splendid parts of Persepolis

  • The Palace of Darius known, the Tachara.

A charming structure which is the oldest palace of Persepolis. Here, you can find three different scripts carved in various historical periods: one in cuneiform from Achaemenid era, one in Pahlavi from Sassanid era, and one in modern Persian from Qajar era.

  • The Palace of Xerxes, the Hadish

It was the Xerxes’ temporary residence.

  • The Central Palace, the Tripylon

A small but lavishly ornamented structure located in the center of the complex. Three doorways and a couple of corridors and staircases were linked to the other palaces. It must be attributed to Xerxes and Artaxerxes I.

  • The second largest palace of Persepolis, The Hundred Column Hall

Its main feature was a square hall provided with ten rows of ten columns. It was an audience hall.

These structures were built by Darius the Great and his successors, Xerxes and Artaxerxes I, and maintained until 330 BCE, when they were looted and burnt by Alexander of Macedonia. Although today you can see only the remains of this complex, its magnificence can still impress you.

Darius the Great was a powerful and sage emperor in the ancient world. His territory was so extended that there were no such imperial expansion until then and long after.

Naqsh-e-Rostam, Mighty Emperors Have Rested Here

Naqsh-e-Rostam

Naqsh-e Rostam, Achaemenids’ Necropolis near Shiraz, Iran

 

It’s one of the most spectacular ancient sites of Achaemenid era dating back to the times when the fall of Achaemenids was about to happen. It’s located almost 5 kilometers northwest of Persepolis, and consists of the colossal rock tombs of Persian kings dating back to the first millennium BC. Here you can see the best ancient rock reliefs in Iran from both the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods.

The rock-cut tombs of Achaemenid rulers and their families dating back to the 5th, 4th, and 3rd centuries BC have been engraved on the façade of a mountain. The tombs belong to Darius the Great, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. In addition to being a royal necropolis, Naqsh-e-Rostam was a major ceremonial center for the Sasanians until the 7th century AD.

I highly suggest you to put these three spectacular Achaemenid sites in your checklist for travelling to Iran. It takes just one day to visit them all and learn about the rise and fall of Achaemenids. I promise there will be so many amazing things that can cause your admiration.

 

Iran-tea

Tea first reached Iran by caravans traveling the Silk Road 450 years before the modern Christian era. Residents were largely coffee drinkers until the seventeenth century but now consume four times the world average for tea.

The beverage is served hot at almost all social occasions and family gatherings.

Every morning, in houses all over Iran, a gas burner flickers to life under a kettle that will continue to boil all day. It boils through morning prayers, lunches of rice and kebabs, afternoon conversation and late into the evening meal, sustaining talk of politics, gossip and news well into the night.

The kettle contains tea, one of the most important cornerstones of Iranian culture, and the tea house is its centuries-old keeper.

culture

culture

 

Tea production is a major industry in the Caspian Sea area and a large part of its economy. Before 1900, there was no tea production in Iran, but in 1895, an Iranian diplomat named Kashef Al Saltaneh decided to change that.

At the time the English had a strict monopoly of tea production in India, with rigid rules against non-Europeans engaging in this trade. Kashef Al Saltaneh, who had studied in Paris as a young man and was fluent in French, went to India, posed as a French businessman, learned the trade and smuggled some tea saplings and seeds to Iran.

lwjxLXeV_Ethnology

After six years of experimentation, he introduced his first product to the market, and started the industry that revolutionalized the economy of two northern states, Gilan and Mazandaran, and made Iranians avid tea drinkers.

He is known today as the father of Iranian Tea, and his mausoleum, in the city of Lahijan, houses the tea museum.

kashefolsaltane

Further reading reveals that Kashef Al Saltaneh’s other honorable titles include Prince Mohammad Mirza, Iranian ambassador to India, and first mayor of Tehran.  Moreover, the stash that commenced the tea plantation might have actually been 3,000 saplings!

Tea houses, or chaikhanehs, have been in existence since the Persian Empire. They gained prominence after the 15th century, when coffee was abandoned in favour of tea leaves that were easier to come by through China’s Silk Road.

Though once the purview of men, chaikhanehs have increasingly become frequented by all members of society, and especially by Iran’s large youth population.

kerman tea house by travfotos

Iranian tea comes in a variety of subtle flavours, but its defining characteristic is its deep reddish-brown colour, which tea-drinkers can choose to dilute with water depending on their preference. Despite its cultivation in the country’s northern provinces, other teas from Sri Lanka and India are also widely consumed as the country imports a majority of its tea in order to meet the large demand.

tea-party

 

Most chaikhanehs will serve tea on the stronger side unless otherwise indicated by the drinker. The stronger the tea, the higher the concentration of tannin and caffeine, so a good cup of tea is like a good cup of coffee for those who take it straight. Because of its bitterness, many prefer to have sugar with their tea. The traditional way to do this is to take a sugar cube and place it between your teeth. You then sip the tea and allow the sugar to melt. Iranians, especially in colder regions of the country, find this a convenient way to drink multiple cups. Crystal, or rock sugar, can be found throughout the country and bought in spice shops for this specific purpose.

 

The taking of tea is a ritual unto itself: most meetings or formal occasions will begin with the offering of tea, and most meals will end with it. Some chaikhanehs have takhts, or low-rise platforms covered in rugs and pillows that you may recline on. Remove your shoes before doing so; most meals are served on a tablecloth laid at your feet.

Traditionally, tea is served from a samovar, a heating vessel originally imported into Persia from Russia. Literally meaning “self-boiler”, the samovar is used to keep water hot for prolonged periods of time through a fuel-filled pipe in the middle of the structure that heats the contents surrounding it. Made from copper, brass, silver or gold, the samovar is still used throughout Russia, central Asia and Iran, and ornate versions from the -Qajar dynasty may still be found in use.

Chaikhanehs come in all shapes and forms, from the simple kitchen-turned-tea room in villages to ornate venues in urban centres, and from underground venues to popular tourist destinations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Azari Tea House in Tehran is one of the most famous chaikhanehs known to tourists and locals, with its detailed architecture and traditional decoration. In existence since the 14th century, this chaikhaneh on Vali Asr street contains one of the more interesting embellishments to emerge from tea house culture: teahouse painting.

cycling-in-Iran

Don’t believe what people tell you about Iran

Iran was undoubtedly the most surprising country for positive experiences. After months of being told that I would be killed there, and the media reporting that it’s a country full of terrorists, I was humbled to enter a country of incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and kind people. I shared many nights in the houses of strangers and wouldn’t be allowed to leave in the morning without having my bags filled with food and gifts. They have many problems of their own in Iran, and are also aware of how the Western media portrays then, yet they still took it upon themselves to help me as best they could.

The beauty of travel by bike is how slow it is, and how it offers intimate view of the lives of strangers. I cycled between 60 and 80 miles a day, occasionally much more, sometimes much less due to weather, altitude or people I would meet on the way. It’s been hard, but the experiences it has given me sure beats working in an office. My freedom and lack of deadlines or destinations led to aimless wandering, mainly guided by the avoidance of bad weather systems and fitting around the seasons. All I really knew was that I wanted to circumnavigate the world and that I was doing that in an easterly direction.

Whenever I struggled to motivate myself to continue, it was the strangers I met on the road that helped me carry on. I’ve lost count of the favors I’ve been granted and the times I’ve been offered assistance. Wherever I went, human goodness shone through.

The Zagros Mountains Bakhtiari world | traveling with Nomad in Iran as a Australia woman

Bakhtiari world

Kerri-Ann Smith:  Our three days traveling with Nomad. Tours in the Zagros Mountains was a highlight of our recent trip to Iran. We experienced firsthand the world of the Bakhtiari nomads and the stunning natural wonders of the high ranges. Here, perhaps a million people live a nomadic pastoral lifestyle, moving between summer and winter camps with their flocks of goats and sheep.

Out of Shar-e-Kord, the bitumen soon gave way to dirt road that unraveled across green ridges. Like a child’s drawing of mountains, a zigzag line of remnant snow formed white triangles on grey pyramids. Being late May, the lower altitudes were already sweltering in the heat haze of the high 30s and the nomads had reached their cooler summer camps.  Occasional black goat hair tents and simple stone structures covered with boughs and tarps appeared on the hillsides.

Along the way, we enjoyed a picnic lunch cooled by a fine mist floating from a 30-metre waterfall. We traveled through villages of flat-roofed stone houses where some nomads have settled over the last century.  Our guides quickly became our friends as we talked and they shared their knowledge of the area, its people and the issues facing them.

Bakhtiari-Nomad-Iran

 

Later, we were welcomed at a camp to experience a nomad family’s typical day. Their lives are dominated by the care and use of their animals – meat, milk products, and wool. It’s raw and unrefined. It’s physically hard. Women in long, brightly-colored and multi-layered dresses poured milk from the afternoon’s milking into large pans for boiling. A hapless goat was selected from the herd and was led away. A gaggle of smiling children giggled as we swapped words: “goat” – “boz”, “milk” – “sheer”. The Bakhtiari speak a Lorish dialect as well as Farsi.

Later, by firelight, we ate succulent fresh goat kebabs and stew. A blackened teapot sat on the fire; the glasses of tea were filled many times. For hours we chatted and ate with the men. The women worked and ate separately. We slept where we ate, under the woven goat hair tent.

The culture and traditions of the Bakhtiari nomads are under pressure from government settlement policy; the need for better access to health, education and employment; and the simple desire for a more comfortable life. Some years ago, the patriarch Assad Allah had sold off the family’s flocks and moved them all into a village. But, unhappy there, he returned to his nomadic roots, bringing his wife, Batool, and many of their four daughters and four sons and their husbands, wives and children.

 

Iran-Zagros-Bakhtiari-Nomad

The chores were underway at dawn. Two men headed out with a rifle, but returned empty-handed. In a branch enclosure, the younger women caught and milked the goats before they could dart for the exit. One boy set out for a three hour walk to school to sit an exam. Then, as the sun crept higher in the sky, we accompanied one young shepherd and his flock of goats and fat-tailed sheep over rocky ridges in search of good grazing.

Some of the women headed out on their daily 2-3 hour walk to collect water from a spring. When slaughtered, animal hides are carefully preserved intact to become water receptacles and butter churns. Batool started the hours of rhythmic churning needed to turn milk into butter. Hung from a sturdy wooden tripod and decorated with colorful pom poms, skins filled with milk are rocked vigorously and left to hang.

While we could have stayed for much longer, we said goodbye and continued our journey through the mountains, visiting villages and seeing the handicrafts of the local people. Along the way, we gave lifts in our truck to a mother seeking medical help for her child and to two men wanting to visit their cousins in a camp further downriver. Hospitality and generosity is given and expected. A way of life.

 

Zagros-Nomad-Iran

 

Our last overnight stay was at Sar-Aqa-Seyyed, a stepped village yet to be discovered by tourism, where the roof of each house forms the verandah of the one above, grasses are tossed with wooden forks and villagers share common toilets along the creek. From there we walked part of a nomadic route along a steep-sided gorge and visited a salt mine worked in the summer by local women. Our last main stop before heading back to Isfahan was the majestic Koohrang spring where millions of liters of water gush from a slit in a cliff before roaring off as a large river.

‘Authentic’ is a ridiculously overused word to describe experiences. But here, it could not be more appropriate. Be ready to be awed.

Kerri-Ann Smith, Canberra Australia

Photos by Kerri-Ann Smith

travel trip adventure pictures photographer fotografo fotografia viajes periodismo periodista aventura viaje oliver munoz phototempus retrato portrait muñoz tehran isfahan yazd farsi khaju iran persa iman jomeini shahrekord bakhtiari Naqsh-e Jahan hakim kashan abyaneh kurdistan garmeh zurkhaneh shiraz Mashhad Shah Cheragh Nasir al-Mulk qeshm howraman uraman marivan palangan sanandaj bandar abbas Paiposht Laft minab

 

Reaching Nisf Jahan with limited time and unlimited wishes, setting aside all worries of this or that world, fully living in those moments

Treasure remains hidden in distant lands. I can’t exactly describe how and when the idea got stuck in my imagination. I feel a curious combination of mysteriousness and sacredness associated with the wordtreasure. Things like vessels, gold pots, jars, stones, carpets and never-deciphered writings do not come to my mind when I think of the word treasure. Instead, whenever I come to imagine some distant land, a vague yet strongly moving idea of ‘holy mystery’ weighs in on me.

Isfahan-Iran-tourism

 

Isfahan epitomised that distant land for me. So when a few years back, I sat in the bus destined to Isfahan from Tehran, I was under the spell of the idea of a treasure that was going to be uncovered in the next few hours. I looked through the window and wondered at Isfahan Nisf Jahan (half the world) and the half-hidden sun.

I dropped the curtain abruptly. Secrets should not be revealed so fast.

It took us almost six hours to reach Isfahan, a city of 17th century Safavids, capital of Persia in the 16th and 17th centuries, city of Hasht Bahisht, Maidan e Naqsh-e-Jahan, Imam Mosque, Chehel Satoon, Chahar Bagh Boulevard, mosques, bridges and of Zinda Rood (Zayanderood).

In Isfahan, one strongly notices Iranians’ unwavering love for their ancient culture. They have preserved, maintained and promoted old texts, monuments and even rituals.

As I was about to reach Isfahan, I tried to unpack the meaning of Nisf Jahan. People have put this single city against the rest of the world because of its sheer splendid beauty. I too had read and listened about the unmatched beauty, the splendour of its gardens, palaces, mosques, historical buildings, bazaars etc. Suddenly, an idea flashed into my mind: this mundane and the world hereafter both makeJahan-e Mukkamal (the whole world). This particular Islamic interpretation seemed more valid. Muslim Kings have been in pursuit of emulating and creating the Heavenly Paradise as it has been described in the Holy Scripture. Isfahan might have been a copy of Bahisht, the other yet complementing half of the Jahan.

As I got out of the bus, I felt tired, as were the seniors accompanying me. Contrary to my expectations, first impression of Isfahan was more of an ordinary city. The first people who ‘warmly’ welcomed us in the ‘paradise’ were not Hoors or Ghilman but taxi drivers, not speaking Arabic or our mother tongue but Persian. They were looking for good fortune among foreign people while we too were in search of a treasure in a foreign land. A clash of interest was apparent.

Imam Mosque.

Imam Mosque.

Airports, railway stations and bus stands of all major cities of the world offer a unique opportunity to understand how two strands of worldliness (on the part of taxi drivers) and disinterestedness (on the part of travellers) collide as well as cooperate. Anyhow, we did hire a taxi and arrived at a hotel. It is a long story how we shopped for hotels, bargaining and finally succeeding in getting a room in a comparatively low-rent hotel.

After having a cup of black tea, we left the hotel. I must admit how much I loved the ‘black tea’ in Iran. I couldn’t enjoy Doogh-e-Goshfil and Burgers. Chulo Kababs were delicious but, unfortunately, weren’t for me since I am allergic to rice.

We had limited time — we had to leave for Tehran the next evening — but wishes unlimited. We decided to see all what we could on foot. We started our journey from the main tree-lined boulevard that wasn’t not too far from our hotel. I was reminded of Agar Firdos Bar Roo e Zameen Ast/ Hameen Ast o Hameen Ast Hameen Ast.

It was May which is not hot in Isfahan. It was as mildly cold as Lahore is in February. Cool shadows of breezy trees standing in a symmetrical order along both sides of the wide metallic main road were soothing. Chirping of birds deluded us into a world that is discoloured by globalisation. There were shops on both sides of the boulevard but the bustle of big cities was absent.

 

Si-o-Seh Pul.

Si-o-Seh Pul.

The markets on both sides of the road made it seem like a western city. Most people wore western clothes, except perhaps the headscarf which has been made compulsory after Inqilab for women in Iran. Iranian women seem to have carved a way to assert their freedom by putting on tight jeans and shirts and with an unflinching love for cosmetics.

In Isfahan, one strongly notices Iranians’ unwavering love for their ancient culture. They have preserved, maintained and promoted old texts, monuments and even rituals. They have also incorporated ancient cultural values and ‘world-view’ in their ‘new’ architecture. This we observed while visiting Hasht Bahisht, Maidan e Naqsh-e-Jahan, its adjacent bazaars, Imam Masjid, Chehel Satoon, bridges of Zinda Rood and reliquaries.

Converting to Islam has not made them skeptical, disdainful or disrespectful to their earlier history and its texts and heroes. We in Pakistan need to learn from Iran in this regard.

The most exciting experience was visiting the three red bridges — Pol-e-Khaju, Si-o-Seh Pul, Pol-e-Chobi — built in 17th century by the Safavids on Zinda Rood. They seem to redefine the meaning and purpose of bridging the brinks. If you really want to connect the two shores, you will have to create a kind of ambience that could make the act of crossing a true, deep experience of bridging two different worlds and diverse perspectives.

Crossing Si-o-Seh Pul (bridge having 30 arches) was a marvellous experience. We literally stopped at every step, praising the wonders of architecture.

In the evening, we spent an hour at a café built under a bridge. I could never forget the moments while sipping black tea, listening to the whispering of slow waters of Rood mixed with the twitter of evening birds and radiant faces of Iranian people. In those moments, I was able to set aside all kinds of worries of this or that world, fully living in those moments. I felt fortunate to have finally grasped the ‘holy mystery’ of Isfahan.