Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sun Palace



The Sun Palace is located in Khorasan Razavi province and is from the time of Nader Shah Afshar. It is believed to have been home to the royal family although it seems unlikely anyone actually lived there prior to Nader Shah’s death. In the center of this palace there is a tower enhanced with fire architectural designs. The facade of this palace is cylindrical, built of black marble. The palace stands 20 meters high and contains 12 rooms decorated with paintings and ornamental works such as plaster moldings. This palace was built in 1740 and sits on top of a tomb from the Ilkhanid period. Its facade work was left unfinished due to Nader Shah’s sudden death. The main area of the structure is founded on an octagonal ground floor 34 meters wide and raised 4 steps high with a terrace constructed on each side.



The external facade is decorated with stones and images of vases, flowers, leaves and fruits in 3D form and have been painted in non-native style. Judging by the depictions of fruits such as bananas, pineapples and mangos on the walls, the structure is possibly the work of Indian artists. These paintings are left unfinished, because of the unclear state of affairs after the death of Nader Shah. The internal area is adorned with attractive paintings on plaster and a cornice on the dome, in gold, with the date of 1740 and a verse of Quran, which reinforces the notion of it being a tomb.



The site consists of the cellar, the floor level and the cylindrical tower supported by 66 columns. The cellar is the largest and contains 8 connecting rooms. Some argue that these rooms were home to Nader Shah’s rare treasures while others believe prisoners were kept there. The floor level consists of one large central open area and small smaller side rooms. Regardless of its original function, evidence suggests that during the early Qajar era it was used as a residential headquarters. In fact it can be seen that some of the Safavid artwork had been hastily plastered over with Qajar style art replacing them. The surrounding garden stretches 168 meters long and 122 meters wide and contains 8 pools with connecting streams and fountains.


For a lengthy stretch the Sun Palace had gone through unfortunate circumstances. In addition to gradual and natural deterioration, the surrounding gardens had not only been neglected but had also become the target of construction work. Today the structure has been renovated and the surrounding garden has been restored, although many of the older trees have been removed. It is currently being utilized as a museum of anthropology.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Azarakhsh Fire Temple


The Azarakhsh Fire Temple is located at the foot of the mountains in Fars province approximately 5 kilometers southeast of Darab city. Some scholars believe that the Azarakhsh Fire Temple was initially a temple of Aryan Mehr worshipers and was converted to fire temple in the Sassanid era. In the lunar year of 652, during the time of Mohammad Hassan Mobarez, an alter was added to the Fire Temple, and from then onwards this structure was converted into a mosque. Today it is referred to as the Stone Mosque.



The Fire Temple has an amazing structure with cross shaped façade and a corridor around it. It spans 420 square meters and has been carved into the mountain stones. Part of the ceiling of this structure is open and there is a shallow pool under it. The structure is almost a square with its longest side spanning 20 meters long and the adjacent sides 18 meters each. Outside the Fire Temple a small room is situated, also carved into the mountain, and seems to have been for the guardian of the Fire Temple. Entering this room one descends three stairs and reaches a room 8 meters long.


Based on the remains it appears that its construction was initiated by carving the mountain downwards (similar to a well) starting around the area of the open end ceiling. Once deep enough, it was expanded horizontally in all four directions into its current shape. At the entrance is a small porch and surrounding the main structure is a portico. The entrance is sandwiched in between two columns that are carved in and connected to the wall housing the entrance. Most of the ceilings are curved similar to what can be seen in various Iranian structures. There are various inscriptions on the structure, one of them directly above the altar. Due to natural deterioration, most of the inscriptions are no longer legible.


Close to the Azarakhsh Fire Temple a stone mill with unique architecture was built inside the mountain. This mill has two huge stone furnaces which allow water entry to the mill.


The Azarakhsh Fire Temple is registered as natural heritage site number 229. In 2010 some renovations were being planned in order to preserve the Azarakhsh Fire Temple with some 200 million rials allocated to the project.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Siah Gav Twin Lakes


The Siah Gav Twin Lakes are located in Abdanan, Ilam Province and are one of the most prominent natural beauties of the area. The Lakes are 180 kilometers south of the city of Ilam and on the slopes of Kabir Kooh. These Lakes are a rare and unique natural phenomenon and a popular destination for adventurous hikers and sightseeers. They are surrounded by fields and high slopes and create a breath taking scene during the fall and spring.


The two Lakes are very similar and almost round in size with an approximate radius of 30 meters. The region’s climate promotes mostly late winter and spring tourism although in reality at any given the Lakes’ beauty attracts visitors. The two Lakes are connected via a canal spanning 8 meters wide, 4 meters deep and 70 meters long. The water in the Lakes is so clean and clear that one can easily see deep into them, spotting various and multi colored types of fish in either Lake. The water supply for the Lakes is provided by natural underground sources and springs although seasonal rivers also contribute to the Lakes’ volume and location. While the Lakes are estimated to go back a few thousand years, however, due to natural deterioration of its perimeter and subsequent gradual filling of the Lakes, their area has been decreasing over the years. The two Lakes have a nominal difference in elevation while the slightly bigger Lake is also somewhat clearer, to a large extent as a result of human littering.


Inside the Lakes are a variety of salts and sediments and the water itself has a sulfuric taste to it. During the seasons when water exits the Lakes, it flows and irrigates many local villages along its way. The surrounding slopes also contain many caves and oddly shaped rocks and boulders.


One of the mysteries regarding the Siah Gav Lakes are their names. One local story indicates that in the past a hippopotamus lived in one of the two Lakes and due to its dark color and the unfamiliarity of the locals with this species it was nicknamed the black cow. In 2010, the Siah Gav Twin Lakes were registered as a natural heritage list and as a result funds have been allocated for the construction of necessary surrounding infrastructures. Furthermore in 2011, with the help of environmental groups and the local Red Cross chapter, general cleaning of the Lakes was initiated.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Dehloran Tar Spring


The Tar Spring of Dehloran is located in Ilam province in a natural protected area named Abgarm on the slopes of Siah Kooh, approximately 7 kilometers northeast of Dehloran adjacent to an abandoned building belonging to the National Oil Company. The road to the Tar Spring starts near Dehloran and leads to the Abgarm natural protected area where a sign guides visitors to the Spring via a narrow road. The last few hundred meters of the road is not suitable for vehicles and requires a short walk to reach to the Spring. An unpleasant odor emits from this Spring and visitors will notice the smell of tar as they approach. The area also contains mineral water springs, native trees, bat caves and also a special scarce type of bat.


The Spring’s diameter is about 9 meters and an has approximate depth of 50 centimeters. Hot water full of liquid tar particles flows out of it. There is a fence to protect animals from approaching and getting trapped in the tar. From this natural liquid spring, a mix of tar and water flows to the surface of the earth from underground. The water passes through stones that have alloy substance, and therefore gets mixed with tar. The mixture subsequently accumulates in a small pool and ultimately flows outside. The exit flow merges with water from other hot springs containing sulfur and leaves a very visible tar residue along its path.


According to myths told by the native people, this tar spring was the blood of a dragon that was killed by the Iranian hero, Esfandiar. Ancient Iranians made full use of this natural spring in naval and construction industries by applying the tar to render ships and roofs waterproof going about 3000 years back. The Roman historian, Procopius, in the 6th century spoke of the Mede’s oil and how Iranians would mix this oil with sulfur, set it on fire and launch its containers at their enemies. According to Procopius, this fiery concoction was made in such a way that it would float on water and thus could be used to destroy approaching enemy ships as well.


During the course of the World War I, British troops had intended to utilize this Spring and as a result had constructed railway tracks to its close proximity which still stands today. Currently the Tar Spring remains very much neglected and in spite of its obvious natural benefits and room for improvement in Dehloran and Ilam in general, no use is being made of it other than as a tourist attraction.


زمین اژدهافش دهان باز بود
سیه قیر جوشان، پر از راز بود
سیه قیر آکنده شد آن چنان
تو گویی که بر وی سرآمد زمان

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Yaqub Leis


Yaqub Leis Saffari (840-June 5, 879) was the founder of the Saffarid dynasty in Sistan, with its capital at Zaranj (a city now in south-western Afghanistan). He ruled territories that are now in Iran and Afghanistan, as well as portions of West Pakistan. In Iranian folklore, Yaqub is regarded as Robin Hood because according to legend he stole from the wealthy and helped the poor.



Yaqub was born in 840 in a small town called Karmin, which was located east of Zaranj and west of Bost, in what is now Afghanistan. He lived a very poor life until his family moved to the city of Zaranj. Yaqub began work as a coppersmith while his brother Amr worked as a mule-hirer. When the Tahirid dynasty of Khorasan came south to take control of the region, Yaqub fought in 852 under a local commander of Bost (now Lashkar Gah), Saleh. After killing a Kharijite captain named Amman, Yaqub was promoted to the position of a commander. He decided to give himself the title Emir at that point.


He attracted the attention of an Abbasid Caliph by conquering non-Muslim territories in the east, which are now mostly part of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then he began acting as an independent ruler and eventually succeeded in gaining control of much of what is now Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. On the western periphery of the Afghan area the princes of Herat and Sistan had given way to rule by Arab governors but in the east, in the mountains, cities submitted only to rise in revolt and the hastily converted returned to their old beliefs once the armies passed. The harshness and avariciousness of Arab rule had produced such unrest that once the waning power of the Caliphate became apparent, native rulers once again established themselves independent. Yaqub became the sovereign monarch of the first dynasty after the Arab conquest and in many cases, the people he conquered had rebelled against their Islamic overlords and reverted to prior forms of worship.


From his capital Zaranj, he conquered a vast area that included Kabul Valley, Sindh, Tocharistan, Makran, Baluchestan, Kerman, Fars, Khorasan and Tabarestan. Yaqub was not ready yet to take on the Caliphate, so he used politics and instead of hostility. He sent many presents, silk, jewels and precious stones to Caliph to convince him that all of his conquering has occurred in the name of Caliph and that him and his troops were still faithful to Baghdad. This tactic worked and Caliph blessed him and gladly accepted the presents. This gave Yaqub a peace of mind from the West, to concentrate on the East. By the end of 873 AD, Yaqub had freed and reunited the majority of Iranian States from the hands of Arabs. He attempted to conquer Baghdad but was defeated by the much larger forces of the Caliph al-Mu'tamid.


It was during his rule that Persian was introduced as an official language, ending the pervasive influence of the Arabic language. Yaqub has been accorded the historical status of a popular folk hero in history because his court began the revitalization of the Persian language after two centuries of domination by the Arabic language.


Yaqub had colic disease and refused treatments when advised to do so. As a result, he died on Wednesday, June 5, 879, at a place called Gundishabur. Legend has it that on his deathbed he received the Caliph’s emissary who presented him jewels and offered him the governorship of several provinces. Yaqub responded with anger “Tell your ruler, I have lived all my life on bread and onion, if I survive, only sword will rule between the two of us”. He is buried 12 kilometers southeast of Dezful in a cone-shaped domed mausoleum and surrounded by other graves. An Arabic script inside the masouleum spelling out Yaqub’s name (and thus validating the claims of this being his tomb) and signs leading to the mausoleum have been vandalized with spray paint. While continuously in need of renovations and upkeep, the mausoleum for the most part remains neglected.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Shazdeh Garden


The Shazdeh Garden is a historical Persian garden located on the outskirts of Mahan in Kerman province, and was constructed under the orders of the governor of Kerman, Abdolhamid Mirza Naserodoleh, during the late Qajar period. Built in the traditional style in the late 1900s, the Garden consists of pools in a terraced fashion. The construction was left unfinished, due to the death of Abdolhamid Mirza in the early 1890s. It is rumored that upon hearing the news of the Governor’s death, the masons immediately abandoned their work and as a result the main entrance still shows some unfinished areas. Its location was selected strategically as it was placed on the way between the Bam Citadel and Kerman.


The Garden is approximately 407 meters long and 122 meters wide in a rectangular shape with a wall around it and surrounded by desert land. It consists of an entrance structure and gate at the lower end and a two-floor seasonal residential structure at the upper end. The distance between these two is ornamented with water fountains that are engined by the natural incline of the land. There are several pavilions and a central canal. There was originally a building leading from the pavilions which has long since been destroyed. The main structure is now partially converted to a restaurant. The garden is a fine example of Persian gardens that take advantage of suitable natural climate an incline of the land (approximately 6.4%).


Other than the main residential building, at its entrance the Garden also consists of a two-storied building for which the second floor was used as living quarters and for receiving guests. Other smaller utility rooms are situated along the sides of the Garden. Amongst them a few side entrances also connect the Garden to the outside.


The garden itself consists of a variety of pine, cedar, elm, buttonwood and fruit trees which benefit from the appropriate soil, light breezes and qanat water enable such an environment in contrast to its dry surroundings. The water enters the Garden at the upper end and while irrigating the trees and plants along its way, flows down through a series of steps and falls. On the two ends of the water path, meaning at the main entrance and the residential structure, there’s a pool that collects and subsequently redistributes the water. All together from top to bottom there are 8 levels/falls along the water path.


In 1991, the premises were completely renovated due to the commemoration ceremony of Khaju Kermani. A traditional guesthouse has been constructed in the city center for the use of tourists and visitors. Some damage to the Garden was caused as a result of Kerman’s 2004 earthquake. In 2005 experts of the Research Center for Historical Sites and Structures were preparing documents to register Shazdeh Garden, amongst other gardens, on the UNESCO World Heritage List and the Garden was finally inscribed in June of 2011.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Simorgh


Simorgh is the modern Persian name for a fabulous, benevolent, mythical flying creature. The figure can be found in all periods of Greater Iranian art and literature, and is evident also in the iconography of medieval Armenia, Byzantium and other regions that were within the sphere of Iranian cultural influence.


Simorgh is depicted in Iranian art as a winged creature in the shape of a bird, large enough to carry off an elephant or a whale. It appears as a kind of peacock with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion; sometimes however also with a human face. Simorgh is inherently benevolent and unambiguously female. Being part mammal, she suckles her young. Simorgh has teeth. It has an enmity towards snakes and its natural habitat is a place with plenty of water. Its feathers are said to be the color of copper, and though it was originally described as being a Dog-Bird, later it was shown with either the head of a man or a dog.


Iranian legends consider the bird so old that it had seen the destruction of the World three times over. According to myths, she lived ages before Adam and saw many wonderful evolutions of different species of beings that inhabited the universe, before the creation of humankind. Simorgh learned so much by living so long that it is thought to possess the knowledge of all the ages. In one legend, Simorgh was said to live 1,700 years before plunging itself into flames (much like the phoenix). Simorgh was considered to purify the land and waters and hence bestow fertility. The creature represented the union between the earth and the sky, serving as mediator and messenger between the two.


Simorgh made its most famous appearance in the Ferdosi's epic Shahnameh, where its involvement with the Prince Zal is described. According to the Shahnameh, Zal, the son of Sam, was born albino. When Sam saw his albino son, he assumed that the child was the spawn of devils, and abandoned the infant on the mountain Alborz. The child's cries were carried to the ears of the tender-hearted Simorgh, who lived on top this peak, and she retrieved the child and raised him as her own. Zal was taught much wisdom from the loving Simorgh, who has all knowledge, but the time came when he grew into a man and yearned to rejoin the world of men. Though the Simorgh was terribly saddened, she gifted him with three golden feathers which he was to burn if he ever needed her assistance.


Upon returning to his kingdom, Zal fell in love and married the beautiful Rudaba. When it came time for their son to be born, the labor was prolonged and terrible; Zal was certain that his wife would die in labor. Rudaba was near death when Zal decided to summon Simorgh. Simorgh appeared and instructed him upon how to perform a cesarean section thus saving Rudaba and the child, who became one of the greatest Persian heroes, Rostam. Ferdosi’s rationalist interpretation of Simorgh transforms the creature from a mere mythical bird to a symbol of wisdom, ethics and pure knowledge.


In Simorgh’s third and final appearance in Shahnameh, occurs during Rostam’s battle with Esfandiar. Rostam has been dragged out of his retirement by the young Prince Esfandiar who demands to take him to the Shah, in shackles. Of course Rostam would not agree, and they end up doing battle. However, Esfandiar’s body is invulnerable and, as a result, Rostam and Rakhsh receive multiple wounds, some so severe as to make Zal fearful of their imminent demise. At this point, the hoary-headed Zal, who has been holding on to Simorgh’s feather for over six hundred years, summons Simorgh. Simorgh heals Rostam’s wounds and having failed to convince him to withdraw from this battle, guides Rostam to the edge of a body of water and a tamarisk branch. She advises him how to straighten it over fire and affix a two-pronged arrowhead to its tip and three feathers on its base, and how to structure and articulate his last humble plea to the powerful prince before releasing the arrow toward its destined aim. In this last appearance she also makes a passing reference to her mate, now vanquished at the hand of Esfandiar.


Simorgh makes an appearance in the poet Attar’s Conference of Birds. The poem uses a journey by a group of 30 birds, led by a hoopoe as an allegory of a Sufi sheikh or master leading his pupils to enlightenment. The story recounts the longing of the group of birds who desire to know the great Simorgh, and who, under the guidance of a leader bird, start their journey toward the land of Simorgh. One by one, they drop out of the journey, each offering an excuse and unable to endure the journey. Each bird has a special significance, and a corresponding didactic fault. The guiding bird is the hoopoe, while the nightingale symbolizes the lover. The parrot is seeking the fountain of immortality, not God and the peacock symbolizes the "fallen soul" who is in alliance with Satan.


The birds must cross seven valleys in order to find the Simorgh: yearning, love, mystical enlightment, detachment, unity of God, bewilderment and, finally selflessness and oblivion in God. These represent the stations that a Sufi or any individual must pass through to realize the true nature of God. Eventually only thirty birds remain as they finally arrive in the land of Simorgh. Once there, all they see are each other and the reflection of the thirty birds in a lake. The thirty birds seeking the Simorgh realize that Simorgh is nothing more than their transcendent totality. As the birds realize the truth, they now reach the station of subsistence which sits atop the Mountain Qaf.