Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Saadi Shirazi (1210-1291), better known by his pen-name as Saadi, was one of the major Persian poets of the medieval period. He is not only famous in Persian-speaking countries, but has also been quoted in western sources. He is recognized for the quality of his writings and for the depth of his social and moral thoughts. Saadi is widely recognized as one of the greatest masters of the classical literary tradition.

A native of Shiraz, his father died when he was an infant. Saadi experienced a youth of poverty and hardship, and left his native town at a young age for Baghdad to pursue a better education. As a young man he was inducted to study at the famous Nezamiyeh Center of Knowledge, where he excelled in Islamic sciences, law, governance, history, Arabic literature, and Islamic theology.

The unsettled conditions following the Mongol invasion of Kharazm and Iran led him to wander for 30 years abroad through Anatolia, Syria, Egypt and Iraq. In his work he also refers to his travels in Pakistan, India and Central Asia. He also performed the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina and visited Jerusalem. It is believed that Saadi may have also visited Oman and other lands south of the Arabian Peninsula. Saadi traveled through war wrecked regions from 1271 to 1294. Due to Mongol invasions he lived in desolate areas and met caravans fearing for their lives on once lively silk trade routes. Saadi lived in isolated refugee camps where he met bandits, Imams, men who formerly owned great wealth or commanded armies, intellectuals, and ordinary people. He sat in remote teahouses late into the night and exchanged views with merchants, farmers, preachers, wayfarers, thieves, and Sufi mendicants. For twenty years or more, he continued the same schedule of preaching, advising, and learning, honing his sermons to reflect the wisdom and foibles of his people. Saadi was captured by Crusaders at Acre where he spent 7 years as a slave digging trenches outside its fortress. He was later released after the Mamluks paid ransom for Muslim prisoners being held in Crusader dungeons.

When he reappeared in his native Shiraz he was an elderly man. Saadi was not only welcomed to the city but was respected highly by the ruler and enumerated among the greats of the province. The remainder of Saadi's life seems to have been spent in Shiraz.

His best known works are Boostan (The Orchard) completed in 1257 and Golestan (The Rose Garden) in 1258. Boostan is entirely in verse and consists of stories aptly illustrating the standard virtues recommended to Muslims (justice, liberality, modesty, contentment) as well as of reflections on the behavior of dervishes and their ecstatic practices. Golestan is mainly in prose and contains stories and personal anecdotes. The text is interspersed with a variety of short poems, containing aphorisms, advice, and humorous reflections. Saadi demonstrates a profound awareness of the absurdity of human existence. The fate of those who depend on the changeable moods of kings is contrasted with the freedom of the dervishes.

Saadi is well known for his aphorisms, the most famous of which, Bani Adam, in a delicate way shows the essence of Ubuntu and calls for breaking all barriers between the human beings:

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.

Saadi is buried in Shiraz in a mausoleum with walls inscribed with his work in tile. Set in a pleasant garden, the present tomb was built in 1952 (with inspiration from Isfahan’s Chehel Sotoun) and replaces an earlier much simpler construction. It contains eight brown columns up front with the main structure made of white marble. Unlike the outer structure. the interior is octagonal in shape. Saadi’s tomb lies in the octagonal room whereof the walls are inscribed with snippets of Saadi’s work while the 8th provides information regarding the construction of the mausoleum. To the left is a separate room housing the tomb of a Safavid era poet. The complex contains an outdoor pool running parallel to the left wing where people can throw coins into the water and make a wish. There is also an octagonal indoor pool, covered by a windowed octagonal roof. Since 2009, 50 toman coins in Iran are adorned with Saadi’s Mausoleum on them.

April 21st marks the National Saadi Commemoration Day which is usually commemorated with ceremonies at his Mausoleum.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kolah Farangi Citadel

The Kolah Farangi Citadel is located in Birjand in South Khorasan province. It was built during the late Zand and early Qajar era between the years 1848 and 1895. The structure is a unique landmark of Birjand and was constructed by Amir Hassan Khan Sheybani. It consists of the garden, the stable, the bathhouse, the offices, and the reception hall.

The structure has a hexagonal base and a white conical top. It is white in color and the building materials consist of brick and limestone. The wall decorations are honeycomb plasterwork, motifs and niches. It is six stories high although only two floors are functional. Due to the Citadel’s design, the ground floor is the largest. The main entrance is preceded by a roofed area containing some eye-catching arcs. The interior of the ground floor has a number of different rooms which are connected by hallways. In its center is a room containing a pool which can be accessed from many different entrances. It is situated approximately a meter lower than the rest of the floor and is octagonal in shape. The pool helps keep optimum ventilation throughout the building.

The next floor is also octagonal in shape although with fewer rooms and less area. The remaining floors are progressively smaller and are strictly to create the Citadel’s current shape and have no other practical usage.

The Kolah Farangi Citadel is registered as national cultural heritage site number 1880. Today it is used as Southern Khorasan’s governorship offices and storage space.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Farvahar is one of the best-known symbols of Zoroastrianism, the state religion of ancient Iran. This religious-cultural symbol was adapted by the Pahlavi dynasty to represent the Iranian nation. The symbol is currently thought to represent a Fravashi (guardian angel). Because the symbol first appears on royal inscriptions, it is also thought to represent the ‘Divine Royal Glory’ or the Fravashi of the King. The winged disc with a man's upper body that is commonly used as a symbol of the Zoroastrian faith has a long and splendid history in the art and culture of the Middle East. Its symbolism and philosophical meaning is an ancient heritage that extends through three millennia to modern times. In ancient Iranian culture, the concept of Farvahar was considered as the invaluable component of human existence because it is an attribute of Ahura Mazda’s infinite entity. It is incorporated in human at birth to guide and lead toward perfection, and after death it unites with its origin or Ahura Mazda as pure and perfect as it was.

It is made up of the following six parts:

1. Head - The figure inside is that of an old man representing wisdom of old age that reminds us the Farvahar of the elderly can be a better guide, and that we should consult experienced and wise people.

2. Hands – The right hand points upwards, telling us that we should always be in only one direction (of Ahura Mazda). The other hand holds a small ring, the ring of promise, which shows respect for promise. In today’s world, we see it in the form of wedding rings signifying the promise between two humans.

3. Wings - The wings are spread apart signifying the ascent of the soul or upward progress of human. Each wing contains three major segments, representing Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds. This suggests progress through the triple principle.

4. Central circle - A circle is a line that has no beginning and no end. The central circle in the Farvahar symbolizes the cycle of life and the eternity of the universe and indicates that our spirit is immortal, having neither a beginning nor an end. It tells us that the results of man’s actions return to him in this world, and in the other world the soul of the righteous one will enjoy the reward. On the other hand, the soul of the wicked one will face punishment.

5. Feathered tail - The feathered tail below is also in three parts. It represents the opposite of the wings namely, Bad Thoughts, Bad Words, and Bad Deeds. It indicates the fact that we should always drop bad choices down and avoid them.

6. Two lower loops - These two loops signify the Good Mind and the Evil and Angry Mind. These may occur in human minds at any time and everyone is responsible for embracing the Good Mind and discarding the Evil Mind.

In present-day Zoroastrianism, the Farvahar is said to be a reminder of one's purpose in life, which is to live in such a way that the soul progresses towards union with Ahura Mazda, the supreme divinity in Zoroastrianism. Although there are a number of interpretations of the individual elements of the symbol, none of them are older than the 20th century.

Many of ancient Iranian standing sites such as Persepolis, the Yazd Atashkadeh, the Tomb of Ferdowsi, and some older bank and school buildings contain the Farvahar icon.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Khalil Oghab

Khalil Oghab was born in Shiraz in 1924. During his younger years he was active in Varzesh’e Bastani and subsequently became involved in strongman shows. He was the founder of the first strongman show in Iran that charged an admission and included other acts such as music, acrobatics and animal tricks. He was also the first man to bring back lions and bears from India for trained animal acts. During the 60s Khalil Oghab performed in Tehran in venues such as Amjadieh Stadium in front of crowds estimated as high as 50,000 people and entertained the crowd with acts such as bending metal beams, wrapping iron rods around his wrist, and supporting the weight of 20 passing cars over his legs and chest.

He was courted by various film producers for performing in theaters or on television. He eventually appeared in 21 movies with various other film projects never being completed. Khalil Oghab toured various towns and provinces of the country and after achieving many domestic honors, in 1970 he accepted an invitation from Japan to appear on television. Subsequently he moved to Ireland in 1971, England in 1972 and then Italy, mainly appearing in circus acts. He spent approximately 20 years in various European, African and Central American countries performing shows until finally establishing a circus in Italy called Iran and Italy. He set many records in Europe such as lifting a 1,400 kilogram elephant with his feet or carrying a 450 kilogram weight with his teeth. According to his own admission, for five years Khalil Oghab lifted two elephants on a daily basis.

In 1991, upon receiving a government invitation, he returned to Iran with his traveling circus that toured and country. His circus contained 60 performers from countries such as Italy, Romania and Portugal. Also Khalil Oghab’s two children, Shahrzad and Ibrahim, accompanied him on these tours and in fact were active participants in the shows. In turn Ibrahim started his own circus in 2010 for which he invited many foreign based Iranian performers to take part in.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse

The Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse, also known as the Ghasemi Bathhouse, is a traditional Iranian public bathhouse in Isfahan province. It is located in Kashan on Sultan Amir Ahmad Street off of Alavi Street. It was constructed in the 16th century during the Safavid era, however, the bathhouse was damaged in 1778 as a result of an earthquake and was renovated during the Qajar era. It underwent further renovations in 1996. The Bathhouse is named after Imamzadeh Sultan Amir Ahmad, whose mausoleum is nearby.

The Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse has an area of approximately 1,000 square meters. It consists of two main parts, the dressing hall (Sarbineh) and the hot bathing hall (Garmkhaneh). Sarbineh is past the main entrance. It is in the shape of a large octagonal hall, which has an octagonal pool in the middle, surrounded by 8 pillars separating its outer sitting area. At the time of construction of the Bathhouse, its intended use was not just to serve cleanliness purposes but rather was a place for rest, gatherings, discussions and even prayers. As a result there are benches surrounding the perimeter of Sarbineh elevated by a few steps above the central pool where visitors can lounge. Garmkhaneh is the main washing area. It consists of hot and cold pools and sitting areas. There are four pillars in Garmkhaneh, which create smaller private bathing rooms all around as well as the entrance to the main bathing room (Khazineh).

The interior of the Bathhouse is decorated with turquoise and gold tilework, plasterwork, brickwork as well as artistic paintings. Most of the decorations of the Bathhouse’s interior are in the Sarbineh area. The temperature in the Sarbineh area is slightly warm in order to avoid a drastic temperature change when entering or exiting the facilities. The area connecting Sarbineh and Garmkhaneh was intentionally designed with multiple turns to minimize the heat and humidity exchange between the two areas. The roof of the bathhouse is made of multiple domes that contain convex glasses to provide sufficient lighting to the Bathhouse while concealing it from the outside. The Bathhouse has other supporting areas as well which were utilized for regulating the amount of water and its temperature.

In the past the Bathhouse has been used as a traditional teahouse although today it serves as a museum. In 1956 the Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse was registered as a national heritage site by Iran’s Cultural Heritage Department.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Espakhoo Fire Temple

Espakhoo Fire Temple is one of the oldest structures in Iran's North Khorasan province which according to the studies and excavations, belongs to the Sassanid era. The Fire Temple is situated by a village of the same name and in the vicinity of Maneh and Solghaman, 115 kilometers off of the Bojnourd to Golestan road and 65 kilometers west of Ashkhaneh. The Temple is built on top of a high hill adjacent to a forest of pines and cedar trees.

Beyond its entrance into a rectangular yard, a corridor leads to a domed room in the eastern part of the structure. The Fire Temple has a domed roof and consists of stones and mortar, further strengthening the assumption of its Sassanid origins. It is believed that the Fire Temple gets its name from the Pahlavi Persian word Hasb which gradually evolved into Asb (meaning horse). The area and village in particular appeared to have been a training ground for horses.

The locals refer to the Fire Temple as a church although there has been next to no evidence of any past Christian residents. Furthermore the domed roof, its scattered slits (presumably to allow smoke to escape), and its round altar give the Fire Temple theory more credibility.

In 2010-2011 studies were being made to research the feasibility of renovations to the Fire Temple. The Espakhoo Fire Temple has been registered as a national heritage site by Iran’s Cultural Heritage Department.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cyrus the Great

Cyrus the Great (کوروش بزرگ) (c. 600 BC or 576 BC–530 BC) was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. The son of Cambyses I (کمبوجيه), he originated from Persis, roughly corresponding to the modern Iranian province of Fars. Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much of Central Asia and the Caucasus. From the Mediterranean Sea and Hellespont in the west to the northwestern areas of India, Cyrus the Great created the largest empire the world had yet seen. Superimposed on modern borders, the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus' rule extended approximately from Turkey, Israel, and Armenia in the west to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and to the Indus River in the east. He pronounced what some consider to be one of the first historically important declarations of human rights via the Cyrus Cylinder sometime between 539 and 530 BC.

According to the ancient historians, Astyages, father of Mandana and Cyrus’s grandfather, was told in a dream that his grandson would overthrow him. To avoid this he ordered that the baby be killed. However the official delegated with the task gave the baby to a shepherd instead. When Cyrus was ten years old, the deception was discovered by Astyages as the behavior of Cyrus was too noble. Because of the boy's outstanding qualities Astyages allowed him to return to his biological parents, Cambyses I and Mandana.

Cyrus the Great had a wife named Cassandane. She was an Achaemenian and daughter of Pharnaspes. From this marriage, Cyrus had four children: Cambyses II (who would later become the king of Persia), Bardia, Atosa (who would marry Darius the Great), and another daughter whose name is not attested in the ancient sources.The reign of Cyrus the Great lasted between 29 and 31 years. Cyrus built his empire by conquering first the Median Empire, then the Lydian Empire and eventually the Neo-Babylonian Empire. Either before or after Babylon, he led an expedition into central Asia, which resulted in major campaigns that were described as having brought "into subjection every nation without exception". Cyrus did not venture into Egypt, as he himself died in battle, fighting the Massagetae along the Syr Darya in December 530 BC. He was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who managed to add to the empire by conquering Egypt, Nubia, and Cyrenaica during his short rule.

Cyrus the Great respected the customs and religions of the lands he conquered. It is said that in universal history, the role of the Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus lies in its very successful model for centralized administration and establishing a government working to the advantage and profit of its subjects. In fact, the administration of the empire through satraps and the vital principle of forming a government at Pasargadae were the works of Cyrus. Cyrus created the first postal system in the world, and this must have helped with intra-Empire communications. He is also well recognized for his achievements in human rights, politics, and military strategy, as well as his influence on both Eastern and Western civilizations.

Though it is generally believed that Zoroaster's teachings exerted an influence on Cyrus's acts and policies, no clear evidence has been found that indicates that Cyrus practiced a specific religion. His liberal and tolerant views towards other religions have made some scholars consider Cyrus a Zoroastrian king. Proponents of this belief point out that fire altars and the mausoleum at Pasargadae demonstrate Zoroastrian practices, and cite Greek texts as evidence that Zoroastrian priests held positions of authority at Cyrus's court. On the other hand other scholars emphasize the fact that Cyrus is known only to have honored non-Zoroastrian gods. Cyrus initiated a general policy of religious tolerance throughout his vast empire.

Though his father died in 551 BC, Cyrus the Great had already succeeded to the throne and became king of Anshan in 559 BC; however, he was not yet an independent ruler. Like his predecessors, Cyrus had to recognize Median overlordship. The province of ancient Persis declared its independence and commenced its revolution as it attempted to separate from the Median Empire as Cyrus rallied the Persian people to revolt against their feudal lords, the Medes. In 552BC, he lead his armies against the Medes until the capture of Ecbatana in 549 BC, effectively conquering the Median Empire and assuming the title King of Persia.

The exact dates of his Lydian conquest are unknown, but it must have taken place between Cyrus's overthrow of the Median Empire and his conquest of Babylon (539 BC). Lead by Croesus, the Lydians first attacked the Achaemenid Empire's city of Pteria. Cyrus levied an army and marched against the Lydians, increasing his numbers while passing through nations in his way. The Battle of Pteria was effectively a stalemate, with both sides suffering heavy casualties by nightfall. While Croesus awaited reinforcements via his allies, Cyrus pushed the war into Lydian territory and besieged Croesus in his capital, Sardis. Cyrus defeated and captured Croesus and occupied the capital at Sardis, conquering the Lydian Kingdom in 546 BC.

By the year 540 BC, Cyrus captured Elam and its capital, Susa. Cyrus fought the Battle of Opis in or near the strategic riverside city of Opis on the Tigris, north of Babylon. The Babylonian army was routed, and Sippar was seized without a battle, with little to no resistance from the populace. It is probable that Cyrus engaged in negotiations with the Babylonian generals to obtain a compromise on their part and therefore avoid an armed confrontation. Two days later, his troops entered Babylon, again without any resistance from the Babylonian armies. To accomplish this feat, the Persians, using a basin dug earlier by the Babylonian queen Nitokris to protect Babylon against Median attacks, diverted the Euphrates river into a canal so that the water level dropped "to the height of the middle of a man's thigh", which allowed the invading forces to march directly through the river bed to enter at night. Prior to Cyrus's invasion of Babylon, the Neo-Babylonian Empire had conquered many kingdoms. In addition to Babylonia itself, Cyrus probably incorporated its subnational entities into his Empire, including Syria, Judea, and Arabia Petraea, although there is no direct evidence of this fact. After taking Babylon, Cyrus the Great proclaimed himself "king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four corners of the world".

When Cyrus conquered Babylon, he declared the first Charter of Human Rights known to mankind. There he was much admired by the Jews, allowing more than 40,000 Jews who had been held captive since the time of Nebuchadnezzar to leave Babylon and return to their homeland. One of the few surviving sources of information that can be dated directly to Cyrus's time is the Cyrus Cylinder, a document in the form of a clay cylinder inscribed in Akkadian cuneiform. It had been placed in the foundations of the Esagila (the temple of Marduk in Babylon) as a foundation deposit following the Persian conquest in 539 BC. It was discovered in 1879 and is kept today in the British Museum in London. The text of the Cylinder denounces the deposed Babylonian king Nabonidus as impious and portrays Cyrus as pleasing to the chief god Marduk. It goes on to describe how Cyrus had improved the lives of the citizens of Babylonia, repatriated displaced peoples and restored temples and cult sanctuaries. The United Nations has declared the relic to be an "ancient declaration of human rights" since 1971, approved by then Secretary General Mr. Sithu U Thant. The Cyrus Cylinder has become part of Iran's cultural identity.

The details of Cyrus's death vary by account although one of the more popular states that Cyrus met his fate in a fierce battle with the Massagetae, a tribe from the southern deserts of Khwarezm and Kyzyl Kum in the southernmost portion of the steppe regions of modern-day Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, following the advice of Croesus to attack them in their own territory. In order to acquire her realm, Cyrus first sent an offer of marriage to their ruler, Tomyris, a proposal she rejected. He then commenced his attempt to take Massagetae territory by force, beginning by building bridges and towered war boats along his side of the river Jaxartes, or Syr Darya, which separated them. Tomyris then challenged Cyrus to meet her forces in honorable warfare, inviting him to a location in her country a day's march from the river, where their two armies would formally engage each other. He accepted her offer, but, learning that the Massagetae were unfamiliar with wine and its intoxicating effects, he set up and then left camp with plenty of it behind, taking his best soldiers with him and leaving the least capable ones. Lead by the general of Tomyris's army Spargapises, who was also her son, the Massagetian troops killed the group Cyrus had left there and, finding the camp well stocked with food and wine, unwittingly drank themselves into inebriation, diminishing their capability to defend themselves, when they were then overtaken by a surprise attack. They were successfully defeated and, although he was taken prisoner, Spargapises committed suicide once he regained sobriety. Upon learning of what had transpired, Tomyris denounced Cyrus's tactics as underhanded and swore vengeance, leading a second wave of troops into battle herself. Cyrus the Great was ultimately killed, and his forces suffered massive casualties in what Herodotus referred to as the fiercest battle of his career and the ancient world. When it was over, Tomyris ordered the body of Cyrus brought to her, then decapitated him and dipped his head in a vessel of blood in a symbolic gesture of revenge for his bloodlust and the death of her son. Upon Cyrus's death, his son Cambyses II succeeded him. He attacked the Massagetae and recovered Cyrus's ravaged body.

Other accounts claim that Cyrus met his death while putting down resistance from the Derbices infantry, a Central Asian tribe. They were aided by other Scythian archers and cavalry, plus Indians and their elephants. Supposedly it was an Indian spear that wounded Cyrus, who died several days later northeast of the headwaters of the Sry Darya. An alternative account further claims that Cyrus died peaceably at his capital.

Cyrus's remains were interred in his capital city of Pasargadae, where today a limestone tomb still exists. The inscription on his tombstone reads: “O man, whoever you are and wherever you come from, for I know you will come, I am Cyrus who won the Persians their empire. Do not therefore begrudge me this bit of earth that covers my bones.”

In 1994, a replica of a bas relief depicting Cyrus the Great was erected in a park in Sydney, Australia. It is intended as a symbol for multiculturalism, and to express the coexistence and peaceful cohabitation of people from different cultures and backgrounds. October 29th, the day that Cyrus the Great entered Babylon, has been designated as Cyrus the Great Day.