Nishapur meaning “New City of Shapur” is one of the oldest city of Persia dating back to Sassanid Dynasty. It has been the home of great thinkers of Persia. Though Nishapur was demolished and burnt to ground in Mongol Invasion, it raised from ashes again after a while and became an important city in Islamic era. Tourists should not miss visiting Nishapur Highlights while they are passing this beautiful city. Here are some:

A Gem Garden of Nishapur

A Gem Garden of Nishapur

Mausoleum of Attar Neyshaburi

The Mausoleum of Attar Neyshaburi, the great mystic poet Attar (1150-1220), also known as the Martyr Poet, is a small octagonal monument covered by a turquoise dome. Born and raised in Nishapur, he dedicated his life to study mathematics, poetry and hagiography. Nevertheless, the Mongols, unfortunately murdered the famous Persian Poet who has a heavy influence on Hafez Shirazi, in 1220. He is known for his masterpiece The Conference of the Birds (or Dialogue of the Birds), written in the form of an allegory. Groups of birds are in search of search of divine wisdom, called Simorgh, literally means “Thirty Birds”. In the end, only thirty birds succeeded in finishing the journey and surprisingly they found out that they themselves are Simorgh.  Here is a piece of The Conference of Birds:

If Simorgh unveils its face to you, you will find

that all the birds, be they thirty or forty or more,

are but the shadows cast by that unveiling.

What shadow is ever separated from its maker?

Do you see?

The shadow and its maker are one and the same,

so get over surfaces and delve into mysteries

(The Conference of the Birds by Attar, translated by Sholeh Wolpe)

Mausoleum of Attar Neyshaburi

Mausoleum of Attar Neyshaburi

Mausoleum of Omar Khayyam

Born in 1048, Omar Khayyam was a great Persian philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet who wrote his poetry in four lines known as Rubaiyats.

He was born in a small village near Nishapur and passed his early education in there. Then he headed to Samarkand, another province of Persia then. His genius in astronomy, physics, mathematics and Poetry made him famous all over the Persian Empire quickly. But his world fame came to him in the middle of the 19th century, when his poetry was translated into English by Edward FitzGerald, an English poet and writer. His mausoleum was designed by Hooshang Seyhoun, a well-known Iranian architect, in Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Period.

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness—
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

(The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, translated by Edward FitzGerald in 1889)

Mausoleum of Omar Khayyam

Mausoleum of Omar Khayyam

Kamal al Molk Tomb

Known as Kamal-ol-Molk, Mohammad Ghaffari, one fo the greatest painter of Iran, born in Kashan in an affluent family of Ghaffari in 1848. In his teens, he decided to move to Tehran to further his education, enrolled in Dar-ul-Funun, and got the attention of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar who invited him to his court and because of his mastery titled him as Kamol-al molk (Perfection of Land). His paintings mostly includes portraits of courts men, landscapes, royal camps and hunting grounds, and different parts of royal palaces.  Kamal-ol-Molk died in Nishapur, Iran, in 1940 and buried next to Attar.

Kamal al Molk Tomb

Kamal al Molk Tomb

Mirror Hall

Mirror Hall, which he believed to be his best work. He painted it over a five-year period

Iran: Literary Tourism

Many scholars have different divisions from literary places.But many of them believe that tourism places are in three main categories:

1-Real places: These places are directly linked to the writer’s life.These places are very attractive for enthusiasts of literature, For example, visiting the work table, where their favorite writer wrote survival effects, create a great feeling for them.The place of residence, burial place or birth place are other real places.For example, Shahriyar’s house in Tabriz and Nima’s house in Yosh-Mazandaran, the tomb of Hafez, Saadi, Ferdowsi and others. . .

2-Imaginary Places: These places are somewhat fanciful and relate to the spaces of novels, poem, and plays.

3-Fictitious Places: These places are built with the attention to literary spaces to attract tourists.Dickens World, Chatham, Stratford, that can see the facilities with the theme of Shakespeare’s works.

Top 10 Literary Destinations
Literature in pre-Islamic Iran goes back to the Avesta poems around 1000 BC.These poems, which were part of the ancient Iranian tradition of oral tradition, were shifted chest to chest, and later they created parts of the Avesta book during the Sassanid era.Persian classical literature was created during the first era of Islam in Iran under the rule of the Arabs.The Iranian people’s attention to culture and art has led to the emergence of very famous poets in Iranian literary history.With this long history in the literary history of the world, unfortunately, Iran does not have a good Position among literary tourists.
Discover the top 10 literary destinations, unfortunately, Iran does not have a special place.

1- London: Tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer and John Milton
2- Stratford: Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
3- Edinburgh: The home of writers or important literary figures of the world, Sherlock Holmes Or Harry Potter.
4- Dublin-Ireland: writers such as James Joyce.
5- New York: Rebecca Miller.
6- Massachusetts: With the reputation of the book " Small Women”Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House”
7- Paris: With Victor Hugo & Alexandre Dumas And bookstores along the Sen River and Cafe Books.
8- San Francisco: Due to the immigration of some writers such as Allen Ginsberg.
9- Rome: with the characters of the ancient world, to contemporary artists “Kites”, “Shelley” and “James.”
10- St. Petersburg: With Tolstoy, Chekhov, Pushkin, and Dostoyevsky.

Today Literary Tourism

–  One billion US dollar revenue per year from literary tourism.
About 118 million American readers spend on average $ 994 per trip, generating more than $ 192 million a year for the US economy.

– Kierkegaard, Denmark: Denmark became the world’s literary tourist destination.
Thousands of literature lovers go to Copenhagen from around the world.The Center for Kierkegaard Studies at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, organizing hundreds of ceremonies and transformed the city into the world’s top literary tourism destination.

– Literary tourism attracts German readers to Britain.The stories of the English novelist, Razamwood Pilcher,
attract Germans tourists.

Mausoleum of Saadi Shirazi, The Persian Poet of 13th Century

Mausoleum of Saadi Shirazi, The Persian Poet of 13th Century

The mausoleum of Saadi, known also as the tomb of Sa’dy or Sadiyeh, is one of the major tourist attractions of Shiraz. Huge number of Iranians and non-Iranians pay a visit to this burial place and show their respect to Saadi and interest in his works, prose and poems. This Iranian poet is a globally known scholar whose words have touched many hearts across the world and wakened up many minds to take new steps in their lives to reach higher levels of humanity. The ambiance of this location is much more attractive than its architecture although it has got interesting character by itself.

A Few Words about Saadi

Saadi lived in 13th century, but he’s a man for all centuries. The rich depth of his writings and ideas with social and moral values have gone beyond time. His words have been quoted by Persian speaking people inside Iran and outside alike. Even Western sources have quoted him and continue to do so. He’s  widely recognized as one of the great masters of classical Persian literature. Some even title him second only after Ferdowsy whose position for saving the Persian Language is unparalleled and no one could even do what he did.

The reputation of Saa’i in Persian literature is because of his eloquence in using the language. After 8 centuries, his works are still easy to understand and his ideas are still admirable for the speakers of the language. His style of Farsicizing borrowed words from Arabic in Persian made it a lot easier to use those words in everyday use and understand them although Arabic was not a language of the same origin as Persian.

Saadi was a man of learning. Spending infancy and childhood without a father and going through youth in poverty and hardship never stopped him from pursuing learning. Therefore, he left his birthplace to Baghdad where Nezamieh university was the center of knowledge and many studied there in the Islamic world. Among various subjects that he studied there, he proved to be excellent in Arabic literature, Islamic sciences, history, governance, law and Islamic theology.

Saaadi was a man of traveling. Mongols invasion and unstable situation in Iran led him a lifetime of living abroad in various countries like Anatolia, Syria, Egypt,Iraq, Sindh (Today’s Pakistan), India, Central Asia, Hijaz (Today’s Saudi Arabia), etc. Eventually, after 30 years, he returned to his birthplace as an elderly man and was welcomed and highly respected.

He was titled “Sheikh” because of his knowledge and found followers who pursued his values and words.

Saadi’s Literary Works

Saadi’s Mausoleum inside a Persian Garden, Shiraz, Iran

Saadi’s Mausoleum inside a Persian Garden, Shiraz, Iran

Within two years after his return to Shiraz, Saadi wrote his two most famous books: Bustan, also known as Bostan (The Orchard) in 1257 and Golestan, known as Gulistan (The Rose Garden) in 1258. Bostan is entirely in verse introduces moral virtues and Gulistan is mainly in prose containing stories and personal anecdotes.

His works in forms of Lyrics and Odes are also well-known by the enthusiasts of Persia literature. He has created some works in Arabic as well.

I’d like to quote one of his most famous works. There are several translations of his works, but I’d rather use the one by M. Aryanpoor as below:

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain!

The Construction & Architecture of the Mausoleum of Saadi

Tiles Decorating the Entrance of Saadi Mausoleum

Tiles Decorating the Entrance of Saadi Mausoleum

 

Saadi was buried in a village outside Shiraz which is now part of the city although it’s at the outskirt in a relatively poor neighborhood. Under Karimkhan-e Zand, the 18th century ruler of Shiraz, the present Saadi’s mausoleum was built to further honor him. It’s in form of a multi-sided building with a cupola on top. From outside it may look like a square structure due to its flat facade decorated with Shirazi tiles depicting tree of life in various colors. Inside, you can see the 8 corners of the building and large lamp hanging from the ceiling. His grave is beautifully carved in Persian.

Later this building was connected to another tomb of a Shirazi poet, Shurideh Shirazi by a colonnade portico. Under Reza Shah, the father of the last Shah of Iran and founder of Pahlavi dynasty, the mausoleum was restored and annexed by some newer parts. Andre Godard, the French architect had been assigned the task of restoring several historical monuments in Iran and so forth.

The Mausoleum of Saadi is located inside a garden where beautiful flowers and several cypress trees are planted to make the setting even more beautiful. A fish pond in an underground reached by some steps lead visitors to some water channels that has been in use since the time of Saadi at this place. Today there’s some fish crossing channels and coming to the center where people can see them.

Recently, as more and more people come to this place to visit Saadi’s Mausoleum and show their respect to the poet, the garden has been enlarged and can accommodate three times more visitors in it.

 

Mausoleum of Hafez in Shiraz, Iran

Mausoleum of Hafez in Shiraz, Iran

You should visit the mausoleum of Hafez if you go to Shiraz. Hafez is the 14th century poet of Iran who was born, lived and died in Shiraz. Iran was ruled by Ilkhanid era. Shiraz exceptionally escaped the devastation and massacre of foreign Mongol invaders. Yet, living was tough and difficult for the intellectuals who wanted to express themselves and criticize the ruling system. This led Hafez to use figurative language in his works, a feature that has added to the beauty of his poems.

Father of Hafez was a wealthy merchant who died and left him and his mother in poverty. Therefore, he had to work hard and spend some time working in a bakery. However, he proceeded in learning literature and soon proved his proficiency in composing Persian poems. Many were attracted to his poems and since then he’s considered the master of Persian ghazals and no one else has been able to create such literary works.

Despite all dreadful restrictions when nobody could violate from the authority rules, Hafez used his tactfulness and brought his ideas to the public in the language of poetry without being a victim of his bold action. This quality is called “Rendy” in Persian.  He mentioned several concepts of human life in his works, but one concept has always been continually present in his works – love.

The reputation of Hafez went beyond the borders of Iran and found some followers in India. Gute, the German poet was later inspired by him. When Hafez died, he was buried in the graveyard of Shiraz. That area has been the cemetery of the city. That’s why even today there are lots of graves in that area and some family tombs can be seen in the vicinity of the mausoleum of Hafez.

The Architecture of Hafez Mausoleum

Colonnade Portico divides the garden into two parts between the entrance and the tomb itself

Colonnade Portico divides the garden into two parts between the entrance and the tomb itself

Under Karimkhan-e-Zand, a mausoleum was built to honor Hafez at his burial place with eight pillars supporting a roof made of copper. The ceiling of the mausoleum of Hafez  is decorated with mosaic works that shines in lively colors. This structure is located in a garden with family tombs on one side and a wall decorated by arches on the other side. Lots of flowers are planted and always kept in good condition by the organization in charge of maintaining the garden.

Under Reza Shah, the founder of Pahlavy dynasty, the last ruling monarchs of Iran, beginning with 1925, more redesigning of the mausoleum occurred. Andre Godard, the French architect was assigned the task of expanding and replanning the garden to make it more beautiful. As lots of visitors from inside and outside Iran go to this mausoleum everyday, more pace is needed. Therefore, the adjacent gardens have been connected through new doors recently to provide more space for the people.

A foundation of Hafez enthusiasts has got an office in the mausoleum of the poet. It’s located in a beautiful building to the west of the the main tomb. Together with the office of the mausoleum, this foundation hold exhibitions, provides information, etc to make this famous Iranian poet and poetry-related traditional arts more known to the public.

How Iranians Visit The Mausoleum of Hafez

Iranian woman praying at Hafez tomb

Iranian woman praying at Hafez tomb

 

For Iranians, visiting the Hafez tomb is like going to a relative’s tomb. The feelings, of course, are more with respect than grievance. Some bring rosewater to wash the tombstone and put some flowers on the grave. Then, they touch the tombstone with few fingers praying by reciting a chapter of Koran to ask for blessing of his soul. Some proceed to request Hafez to talk to them through his poems and tell them about the state of their lives or give them some wise advice through the words in his poems. Then, they open their eyes and open the book on any page it randomly opens and continue to read it enthusiastically.

The concepts and topics mentioned in Divan-e-Hafez, his complete works, are so life-related and overwhelmingly attractive that one connects to them easily as if the poet is living at this time and offers us his wise words in a friendly manner to enrich our lives. That’s why man y love him and keep reading his poems on a daily basis.

 

Cuneiform Script on Persepolis Walls for Ancient Iranian Language

Cuneiform Script on Persepolis Walls for Ancient Iranian Language

 

About 3000 years ago, the inhabitants of Iranian plateau and its sub-divisions were speaking languages called Irano-Aryan languages.

These languages are still spoken in the regions beyond the present borders of Iran, from Turkey to Pamir and from Caucasus Mountains to Oman Sea.

The common origin of all these languages was spoken at least since 2000 B.C. All of them had some feature in common: Iranian lexicon and grammatical structure.

The Irano-Aryan languages are within a more general branch called Indo-European. Because of the similarities between Indian languages and Irano-Aryan languages, during the early stages of the evolution of these languages, a branch called Indo-Iranian languages has been formed.

The History of the Irano-Aryan Languages

The history of the Irano-Aryan languages is divided to three main phases:

  1. Old Iranian: from early 2nd millennium to 4th & 3rd centuries B.C.
  2. Middle Iranian: from 4th &3rd centuries B.C. to 8th & 9th A.D.
  3. New Iranian: from 8th & 9th centuries A.D. to today.

The Old Iranian

Undoubtedly Aryan immigrants dispersed in different parts of Asia.  Other languages previously spoken in those regions subsequently influenced their language. It was the beginning of several dialects in the Irano-Aryan languages.

One of the deserts in central Iran, Kavir-e-Lut, was the dividing line between the Eastern dialects (Khorasmian, Sogdanian, Bactrian, Margianean) and the Western dialect (Median).

The only reliable source to explore the Old Iranian (Persian) language is the cuneiforms containing kings? orders and the events of that period. Avesta, the holy book of Zoroastrians, with its two dialects stands as a major source to explore the Middle Iranian (Persian).

The Middle Iranian

Between the Old Iranian and the Middle Iranian, there is a six-century gap (4th century B.C.- 3rd century A.D.) of which no written object has yet been discovered. But some fundamental changes had occurred in the whole grammar. Besides, the conjugational system had totally vanished.

The Eastern Iranian languages had also undergone such changes though in smaller scales. Most of the writings of this period were derived from Aramaic writing system. In general, the Middle Iranian was a direct continuation of the Old Iranian.

Pahlavi was the language spoken by Iranians during Parthians. When Arabs attacked Iran, Iranians spoke the Middle Persian. In Sogdiana, there were two dialects based on their religions: 1) Christian Sogdianian, and 2) Manichean Sogdianian.

Khorasmian was a language related to Sogdianian spoken at least from 3rd century A.D. to 12th and 13th centuries A.D. Between the Black sea and China, there was spoken another language, Scythian, since 1st Millennium B.C. for 2000 years. Turkish, later, replaced it. Bactrian was another language that was spoken at today?s north Afghanistan.

The New Iranian

‏‏‏The New Iranian, which was spoken in Sassanian court (Darbar) and capital, Ctesiphon, was called Dary and replaced gradually other Middle Iranian languages, specially in cities, during the 9th and 10th centuries A.D. This language has a remarkable share in the world?s culture and has introduced literary works by the people like Roodaky , Ferdosy, Khayyam, Hafez, Sa?dy, Jamy, Avicenna, etc.

It turned to become not only the literary and written language of the Persian speaking people of central Asia and Iran, but also the language of the Near East and Middle East people like Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Afghans, Indians, Central Asians, Turks, etc.

Farsi, the New Iranian, is the direct continuation of the Middle Iranian?s evolution although the grammatical system of some parts of speech, like verbs, has changed. Dary Farsi is the mother language of both contemporary literary Farsi and contemporary literary Tajiki.

Farsi Today

Today, Farsi is the language spoken and understood in all corners of Iran. It is the official language used in education and administration systems of Iran. Farsi is the mother tongue of the absolute majority of the population in Iran. Beyond the present borders of Iran, there are small groups of Farsi speaking people called Iranians.

Other Farsi Dialects Spoken Today

Tajiki dialects are referred to a large variety of dialects spoken in Afghanistan, being in connection with the Farsi dialects in central Tajiki dialects, Khorasan province dialects and Sistan province. But, Pashto is the dominant language spoken in Afghanistan. Since the former Soviet Union period, Tajiki was the language spoken by the people living in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It is also the official language of Tajikistan.

Ossetic dialects are referred to the dialects spoken by Ossetians who are living in central Caucasia. Their language, including two major dialects, is the continuation of the western Scythian dialects of antiquity.

Kurdish is another Iranian language spoken by Kurds in a vast mountainous region including part of Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. There are also Kurdish-speaking minor groups living in Khorasan, Central Turkey, other parts of Syria, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Armenia, Georgia, etc.

Lurish and Bakhtiari dialects are spoken in the south of the region where Kurds are living in Iran.

Baluchi is mainly spoken in the historical province of Baluchestan extended from Iran to Pakistan and southern part of Afghanistan. Some Baluchi speaking-people are also living in Turkmenistan.

Tati is another dialect of Iranian language spoken in the republic of Azerbaijan and parts of Dagestan.

Taleshi is spoken in the republic of Azerbaijan and NW of Iran by the Caspian Sea.

Mazandarani and Gilaki are other dialects spoken along the southern coast of the Caspian Sea. They are the continuation of northwest Iranian dialects.

Other Dialects inside Iran

Almost all of the above said languages are spoken in different dialects. In addition, there are many other local dialects in central and western Iran that have not been satisfactorily investigated.

The geographical extents to which the Iranian languages have been transferred are, in short, indicative of the widespread Iranian culture outside of the geographical borders of present-day Iran.

If you travel to Iran, you will certainly be amazed by the number of Iranians who visit the tombs of their poets. You see how they respect and show love for the ones buried in these places. You find out the passion and affection in their manners and treatment of the tombs. Based on what I’ve heard from the international travelers for years, this is some rare scene in the other parts of the world.

Poetry in Schooling System

A book of Persian poems with miniature paintings

A book of Persian poems with miniature paintings

As children, Iranian students begin to learn poems and even memorize them in the early years of primary schools. They get familiar with the rhythm and rhyme as well as the different styles of poetry. They learn about the famous Iranian poets. Persian literature is full of distinguished styles. Many of the textbooks they study are written in Middle Persian, the language used in Iran some 1400 years ago. Although the language has gone through lots of changes, it’s still understandable.

During high school, students study more complicated Persian literature and particularly poetry. This continues in the universities regardless of what you study.

Poems in Everyday Life

A lot of Persian expressions are in form of poems. Persian poems are very rich in subjects like love, modesty, wisdom, appreciation of creation, nature, and so on. Therefore, there are several occasions coming our ways in which one remembers some Persian sayings. For centuries, those who knew such expressions and used them in certain situations were considered the educated ones. In some other cases, one may even recite some lines of poem.

There’s no Iranian home without Persian poetry books. People continue reading poems outside schooling system too. Before the time of equinox and the coming of the New Year (Nowruz), during Yalda night (the ceremonies for the longest night of the year – Dec 20th), and many other occasions, Iranians read poems.

Iranian traditional music is so full of classical Iranian poems. Some Iranian poets are well known for their musical poems. Some of them have got powerful soothing effect. Some make you very happy and some are deeply sad and full of emotions. In various states of heart, Iranians can listen to various types of music.

Tomb of Hafez decorated with flowers

Tomb of Hafez decorated with flowers

The eloquent Persian language is used in journalism too. Sometimes the headlines as well as the news articles you read are embellished with poems, expressions and references to particular poems. Some of these poems have got a work in them which are, by themselves, a reference to another story or group of people with particular mindset and belief, etc. Therefore, understanding Iranian poems, music, stories, news articles, etc could be quite complicated, but not very much for a nation who is brought up with it.

Iranian World Class Poets

I can say Iran has offered some of the most famous poets to the world literature. They represent a nation with profound culture and thoughtful ideas.

Ferdowsy is the Iranian poet of 1000 years ago. He composed the most famous Iranian poetry book called Shahnameh. This was an unparalleled effort to save the Persian language at the time when Arab invaders had forced Iranians not to speak, write or compose anything in Persian. His epic works set nationalistic feelings ablaze in Iranians hearts.

Omar Khayyam was a well-known mathematician and poets who lived some 900 years ago. His short poems are full of maxims about life and joy.

Saadi was a man of traveling living some 800 years ago. He had studied in Nezamieh University, Baghdad. He returned to his homeland toward the end of his life and soon gained large popularity due to his lovable poems highly appreciated by the people contemporary to his time. His famous poem has decorated the UN building as below:

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

Rumi was the unique Iranian poet of 700 years ago. His rhythmic poems describe Iranian traditional systems of music. His words of wisdom, spiritual and love poems are still quoted by Persian speaking people. His book became the bestselling book of late 20th century in the US and his poems’ recordings made their way to the Billboard’s top 20 list.

Hafez was the master of Persian ghazals and still is after 700 years. The figurative language he’s used was an escape way under the rule of Mongols in Iran. His description of love and beautiful language of spiritual values are uniquely adorable.

In addition to such famous poets, there are large number of other poets who are quite well liked by Iranians although non-Iranians may have not heard of them.

Visiting Ritual of Persian Poets

People showing their affection at a poet’s tomb

People showing their affection at a poet’s tomb

When Iranian go to the tombs of poets, they treat them like a lost beloved family member. They put flower on their tombstones. Sometimes, they wash the tomb with rosewater. They sit down and pray for the dead poet. They talk to them and ask them to talk back with them. They bring the poet’s book with them to read or recite some of their poems to stay connected with them.

Such tombs are inside beautiful gardens, not among other graves in a cemetery. The decoration of the settings around it and the monument built for them are parts of the whole honor dedicated to them.

Reputation of Iranian Poets among Foreigners

Every year, there are several commemorative ceremonies and conferences for the above poets and others in Iran. Many people specialized in studying these poets’ works come together to discuss various dimensions of their characters and works. There are universal days allocated to such poets and non-Iranians understand the importance of such men of wisdom in the development of human knowledge.

Therefore, when you visit Iran, make sure you have a deeper look at the settings in which Iranians go to such tombs and grasp the feelings and appreciation to such gems at Persian literature.

 

 

naqqali-dramatic-story-telling-001

naqqali-dramatic-story-telling

 

Naqqali and reciting Shahnameh has always been a common and favorite tradition among Iranians as a branch of performing arts and story-telling. Shahnameh is the world’s longest epic poem book created by a single poet, Ferdowsy, the famous Iranian poet of 10th & 11th centuries, who save the Persian language and identity by this book.

Naqqali is performed by one person. Its goal is to transfer wisdom and experience from previous generations to the present one. To join the spectators of this popular art in such circles is a special experience of an intangible cultural heritage inherited by Iranians. It’s a tourist attraction that hasn’t been tapped into yet as of this time.

Creation of Naqqali Art in Iran

It’s not clearly known when exactly this art has emerged. However, some authors have referred to it at some history books and works like Shahnameh. Some also believe it came into existence after Islam. After the arrival of Arians into the Iranian plateau, Naqqali has flourished more than before. Old stories like those of Mithra, Anahita, and Siavash indicate the age of this art registered by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of Iranians.

From Naqqali to Shahnameh Recitation

It has been very common to narrate and tell stories during long nights of winter and Ramadan. Naqqals (story-tellers) used to tell the stories of Abu-Moslem, Samak-e Ayar, and Darab Nameh with poems and songs. Many literary works, like poems of Ferdowsy, Rumi, Nezami, Jami, Sa’adi and others, have become eternal with the help of Naqqqals’ restless works.

Gradually, story-tellers began narrating other sources as well. Among all such works, Shahnameh received a lot more attention than others. Narrating stories of Shahnameh was intertwined with the history of coffee shops (today’s teahouses) in Iran. Among all the other stories, the story of “Rostam and Sohrab” got the most significant status. Therefore, it got to the point that Naqqali in coffee shops is synonymous with “Killing Sohrab”.

Reciting Shahnameh is rooted in Iran’s rituals and traditions and its focal point is the mausoleum of Ferdowsy. Today Shahnameh recitation circles are formed at his burial place. Such circles attract large number of people from all over the world to the festival of performing arts of Iran, in particular, to Naqqali.

 

Features of Naqqals

Naqqals have been the guardians of folklore, epic stories and folkloric music. They were dressed in white or navy-blue shirt, special long cloak, vest, traditional shoes (charoq) and a special dervish-style shawl (rashmah) to be present in coffee shops. Sometimes, they also put on some old hats and armored coats to narrate battle scenes and various other topics as stories.

Comparing champions’ stories with the lives of the people at the present time, kept myths and legends alive. Story-tellers tried to attract their audience to their performance by performing arts that suited their stories’ events. When it comes to Naqqals features, one can say they:

  • Taught stories of the previous generations to the present generation,
  • Carried with themselves particular scrolls of various stories written in prose,
  • Were known as artists with high social status among people,
  • Had good voice and talent of eloquence and improvisation,
  • Were known to have particular ability to imagine,
  • Had capability to perform swift and exaggerated movements,
  • Used scepter to imitate scenes like using an arch or sword,
  • Performed in roofed places and mainly in coffee shops, and
  • Mastered reciting scrolls and memorizing different types of stories.

Naqqali, an Art for Women

Story telling is an art and event made for women. Our childhood stories are mixed with our mothers’ voices. In other words, we’ve heard our first stories from our mothers. According to cultural and historical evidences, the first Iranian female naqqal was Shahrzad. The second one was Ferdowsy’s wife called “Bot-e Mehraban” (meaning kind idol).

Women were the earliest performers of the art of naqqali, but they lost it to men due to some social issues. Naqqali was taken to coffee shops, which culturally weren’t considered decent places for women. As women have found other places to perform, today they are some of the most outstanding Iranian Shahnameh recitation artists. As a result, they contribute largely to keep this old art alive. Such beautiful event is an important attraction that brings the art and culture fans together in Iran.

Naqqali vs European Opera

One can say Naqqali is comparable to some European arts like opera. Of course, opera is categorized as a genre of musical and theatrical performance, but one can find similarities in its style of developing stories. Like Naqqali, Opera uses musical language to narrate stories, but it’s different in performing style and the number of performers.

Just remember, when you travel to Iran, make sure you join the circles of Naqqali and Shahnameh recitation. It is performed in various places and particularly in performing arts festivals. Also, keep in mind that there are many old traditional coffee shops all across Iran beautifully decorated with scenes from old stories. Each of those places and their paintings have got some stories in them that could provide you with unique and pleasant stories.