Monday, May 31, 2010

Baharestan Carpet


The Baharestan Carpet, also known as Bahar Khosro and Bahar Kasra, was commissioned by the Sassanid King Khosro Anooshiravan, which was made for the main Audience Hall of the Sassaniad dynastic imperial Palace at Ctesiphon, in current day Iraq.

Reports of its actual size differ, but many believe the Carpet was 140 meters long and 27 meters wide although other reports place it at 30 meters by 30 meters. Woven of silk, gold, silver, and rare stones, the carpet depicted a splendid garden akin to Paradise. Representations of paths and streams were embroidered on it with gems against a ground of gold. Its border was embroidered with emeralds to represent a cultivated green field in which were flowering spring plants with fruit embroidered with different colored gems on stalks of gold with gold and silver flowers and silk foliage.

In 637 CE with occupation of the Iranian capital Ctesiphon, the Baharestan Carpet, being too heavy for the Persians to carry away with them, was taken by the Arabs and sent to Omar in Medina. The assembly agreed that Omar should use his own judgment in disposing of it while Ali was concerned lest someone be deprived of a rightful share in the future. Omar wanted to keep the carpet as a whole, yet once Ali pointed out that Arabs may talk and even revolt (in order to receive their share of the loots). As a result Omar changed his mind and ordered the carpet to be cut up and divided it into 60,000 pieces among the Muslims. Although Ali did not receive one of the best pieces, he sold his for 20,000 dirhams. No trace of this carpet is to be found today.

It should be pointed out that while many historians have described the events as listed above, however, some details, particularly about the Carpet’s dimensions may have been exaggerated. Even if one assumed the smaller 30 meter by 30 meter size, the weight of such a carpet could easily exceed a ton. How something of such weight (and also proportionately large volume) was transported to Saudi Arabia is puzzling. Furthermore, and for the sake of argument assuming the larger estimate of 140 meters by 27 meters, when cut in 60,000 pieces the Carpet would result in square segments with a side of 25 centimeters, roughly the size of a place mat. A price tag of 20,000 dirhams for such a small and practically useless item seems questionable.

According to historians, the famous Taghdis throne was also covered with 30 special Baharestan Carpets representing the 30 days of the month and four other carpets representing the four seasons of a year.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dezak Fortress


Dezak Fortress is located close to Dezak Village in Charmahal and Bakhtiari province, 32 kilometers from Shahr’e Kord. Boasting European architecture and with an area of 5,076 square kilometers, this Fortress is constructed by Lotfali Khan, one of the famous Khans of the Haft Lang’e Bakhtiari.


Due to the regional weather, Dezak Fortress is built in two floors with north and south balconies. The ground floor rooms make maximum use of heat and light during winter, and the first floor rooms enjoy a cool summer. The ground floor has an octagonal vestibule in the center which joins the courtyard of the Fortress from the sides. At the sides of this octagonal vestibule there are four porticos, two at the north and the other two situated at the south. The first floor is accessible from the north porticos. In the middle of the green yard of this Fortress, there is a polygonal stone pool whose water stems from the springs on the heights around Dezak Village.


This castle had four towers (two of which have been ruined) in the shape of conic pinnacles. Various decorative architectural features have been used in this edifice especially in its first floor. A blend of brickwork and varnished tiling in the building's coat of bricks has led to splendid patterns. The most eye catching parts of this edifice are Sofreh Khaneh Hall and Ayeneh Room.


Sofreh Khaneh Hall is a dinning area and its perimeter walls and around the main entrances and doors are decorated with stucco and artistic paintings. Various pictures such as those of angels as symbol of purity, and of lions' head as a sign of power and valor, and some hunting sceneries are stuccoed on the walls of Sofreh Khaneh Hall. Its ceiling is wooden and made in a framing style and its doors and windows are decorated with silver.


Next to Sofreh Khaneh Hall is the Ayeneh Room whose walls and ceiling are decorated with tiny pieces of mirror. Making use of behind the glass painting has added to the magnificence of this room. The paintings generally depict horse riding, castles and buildings in different models.


Dezak Fortress has been home to several incidents throughout history, such as some events of the Constitutional Revolution where it served as headquarters for uniting the locals with the revolutionaries. Ali Akbar Dehkhoda, the well known Iranian author, has resided in this edifice for some time and made use of the existing references in its library to lay the foundation of the famous Dehkhoda Persian dictionary. Also Timsar Teymour Bakhtiar, who was born in Dezak Village, resided at the Fortress.


Dezak Fortress has been registered in the list of Iran's national monuments thanks to its significance.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Babak Khorramdin


Babak Khorramdin is considered as one of the most heroic freedom fighters of Iran who initiated the Khurramites movement. It was a freedom fighting movement aimed to overthrow the Arab Caliph occupiers and at the time rulers of Iran.


Babak Khorramdin was born in the 8th century in Balal Abad region of Azerbaijan, close to the city of Ardebil. His father died from wounds suffered in a fight during a journey to the Sabalan district when Babak was in his teens and the responsibility of his two brothers and mother fell on his shoulders. By age 18, Babak had already established himself in the city of Tabriz, and was engaged in the arms trade and industry. His engagement in businesses gave him the opportunity to travel throughout Central Asia and Eastern Europe.


In the 8th century Iran was under the rule of Arab Caliphs and hence unrest and resistance was growing in all the Iranian provinces. Many Iranians started revolts in different regions of the country in order to regain their freedom. This in turn, forced the Arab Caliphs to use more violence against the Iranian population in order to keep the country under control. Moreover, Azerbaijan which was at the time the only region in the country that Iranians were resisting Arab occupation was constantly under the ravage of Bani Abbas to expand Islam further North. During this time, Azerbaijan defended itself through the leadership of Javidan, who was in control of Azerbaijan. Witnessing all this pressure being exerted on the people, Babak joined Khurramites movement in what later became known as “Babak Fortress”, located in the mountains of Qarabag.


The story of joining the Khurramites movement is told in Waqed's account, in summary, as follows: Two rich men named Javidan and Abu 'Emran were living in the highland around the mountain of Badd and contending for the leadership of the highland's Khurramites inhabitants. Javidan, when stuck in the snow on his way back from Zanjan to Badd, had to seek shelter at Balal Abad and happened to go into the house of Babak's mother. Being poor, she could only light a fire for him, while Babak looked after the guest's servants and horses and brought water for them. Javidan then sent Babak to buy food, wine, and fodder. When Babak came back and spoke to Javidan, he impressed Javidan with his shrewdness despite his lack of fluency of speech. Javidan therefore asked the woman for permission to take her son away to manage his farms and properties, and offered to send her fifty dirhams a month from Babak's salary. The woman accepted and let Babak go.

Babak's knowledge of history, geography, and the latest battle tactics strengthened his position as a favorite candidate for commander during the early wars against the Arab occupiers. One of the most dramatic periods in the history of Iran was set under Babak’s leadership between 816-837. During these most crucial years, they not only fought against the Caliphate, but also for the preservation of Persian language and culture. After a number of victories against the Arabs, Javidan became severely injured and passed away, hence Babak took over the movement's leadership. Babak's followers who were mostly from Azerbaijan area used to wear red uniforms.

After the death of Javidan, he married Javidan's wife, and became the Khurramites' leader, sometime in the year 816-17 during al-Ma'mun's reign. Babak incited his followers to rise in rebellion against the caliphal regime. Babak called Persians to arms, seized castles and strong points, thereby barring roads to his enemies. Gradually a large multitude joined him. For many years the persistence of Iranian residence under Babak's leadership yielded many victories for the Iranians and failure of the Arab generals and expeditionary forces to quell the movement.

In 835 Al-Mo'tasem, the Abbasid Caliph, placed Afshin, a senior Persian general and a son of the vassal prince of Osrusana, in command of an expedition to destroy his compatriot, Babak. Afshin faced Babak in battle and inflicted heavy losses, however, Babak escaped. The next year, Afshin avoided the traps Babak planned and instead surprised Babak, captured his camp and drove off his forces and finally stormed Babak Fortress in August 837. Eventually, Babak, his wife, and his warriors were forced to leave Babak Fortress after 23 years of constant campaigns. In 837-838 Al-Mo'tasem reinforced Afshin and provided him clear military instructions. Al-Mo'tasim sent a safety guarantee for Babak to Afshin. This was taken to Babak who was very displeased and said:

"Better to live for just a single day as a ruler than to live for forty years as an abject slave."

He made his way to the Armenian leader Sahl Sombat, Prince of Khachen. Sahl Sombat, however, handed Babak over to Afshin, punishing Babak for devastation that his troops inflicted upon Armenian lands of Syunik and Artsakh in addition to cashing in on the large reward for the capture of Babak promised by Afshin.

During Babak’s execution, the Caliph’s henchmen first cut off his legs and hands in order to convey the most devastating message to his followers. Legend has it that Babak bravely rinsed his face with the drained blood pouring out of his cuts, thus depriving the Caliph and the rest of the Abbasid army from seeing his pale face (a result of the heavy loss of blood) and attributing it to fear.


Babak was a highly spiritual person who respected his Zoroastrian heritage and made every possible effort to bring Iranians together. Babak’s sensational and legendary campaign to defend Iran’s national identity and interest is still pursued after nearly 1,200 years in Southern Azerbaijan every year on his birthday. Every year in July, Iranian pilgrims visit Babak Fortress to hail their Iranian hero, Babak, as the symbol of Iranian resistance against Arab occupiers. The pilgrims read poetry including Shahnameh and play traditional Persian music and also light up bonfires to follow traditional rituals of ancient Iran.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Haykashen


Haykashen is a private vacation community/town in Northern Iran on the coast of the Caspian Sea. The name of the community takes its roots from Hayk, a legendary forefather of Armenians. Haykashen is semi-autonomous and the judicial system of Iran based on Islamic Law does not apply within the community’s borders. Islamic laws (such as hijab and drinking) have been stopped at the gates of Haykashen and for the first time in Iran, a non-Islamic court has been established in this city. The police force is also from Armenians and Iranian muslims are not permitted to enter this city. Haykashen community consists of a church, shops, restaurants and the entertainment centers.


The community’s church is located in the close proximity of the city of Noor. Its construction was completed in 1974. The outside walls are concrete while inside the walls are plastered with stucco. The church is octagonal in shape with various tall and narrow windows surrounding it. The church is settled on a 5-meter tall platform with 2 sets of stairways leading to its main entrance. Above the main entrance is the church steeple which is also octagonal and rises 5 meters high.


Established and administered by Father Nerses Tosunian of the Armenian Catholic Church, Haykashen caters to over 30,000 vacationers every year. During the Iran-Iraq war, over 15,000 Armenians found refuge there.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Alamut Fortress


Alamut Fortress was once a mountain fortress located in the central Alborz Mountains south of the Caspian Sea near Qazvin Province, about 100 kilometers from Tehran. Suggested explanations for its name are "Eagle's Nest" and "Eagle's Teaching". According to legend, an eagle indicated the site to a Daylamite ruler; hence the name, from aloh (eagle) and amut (taught). Some 20 citadels, including the famous Alamut Fortress, are scattered in Alamut. The first Fortress was built in 840 at an elevation of 2,100 meters on a rocky crest. It was built in a way that had only one passable artificial entrance that wound its way around the cliff face (the one natural approach, a steep gravel slope, was too dangerous to use); thus making conquering the Fortress extremely difficult. It is perched on rocky heights and was well-equipped to withstand long sieges, thanks to a vast capacity to store provisions and an elaborate system of cisterns, qanats, and canals.


The Alamut Fortress has an eastern and western sector, each of which comprises of two segments again. These are the lower and upper castles. The upper part was used as the residential section while the lower part served as its outlet to the outside world and housed industrial activities. The length of the structure is approximately 120 meters and its width ranges from 10-25 meters in certain areas. The eastern rampart of the upper castle is constructed of stone and gypsum, and is about 10 meters in length and 5 meters in height. To the northwestern front of the upper castle, two chambers have been excavated in the rocks of the mountains in one of which is a small pool of water. At the foot of this chamber, and at a lower level than the structure, is the northern rampart with a length of 12 meters and width of 1 meter.


To the eastern section of the castle the guards and their dependants resided. The western rampart of this sector is still standing to an elevation of 2 meters. Here there are three water reservoirs excavated in the breast of the mountains. Between the upper and the lower castles is an area surrounded by ramparts, that divides the sector into two. Three towers in the northern, southern and eastern corners can still be observed. The only entrance and gateway to the castle is in the northeast.


In 1090 the Fortress was infiltrated and occupied by the powerful Hashshashins, lead by Hasan Sabbah and a faction of Niazari Ismaili Shia Islam known to the West as "the Assassins", and was then fabled for its gardens and libraries. Later the Fortress was in the hands of Zaydi Alids, until its capture by the Ismailids.


The Fortress has never been taken by force. It was destroyed on December 15, 1256 by Hulagu Khan as part of the Mongol offensive on southwest Asia. The Fortress itself was impregnable, but Roknoddin Khorshah surrendered it without a real fight, in the vain hope that Hulagu would be merciful. It was partially dismantled by the Mongols and its famous library burned except for a few non-heretical works. The Fortress was gradually destroyed by time and local inhabitants searching for hidden treasure, mainly during the Qajar era.


While initially believed to have been restored under the Safavids to serve as a prison, archaeological investigations indicate that it was used as an exile residence for members of the royal family and rulers. The discovery of blacksmith, carpentry, and tile workshops belonging to the Safavid period shows that the place was not used as a prison. Some ceramic pieces are also found which belong to dishes only used by high classes of society and royal family. The amount of ruins excavated from the Safavid period in Alamut also confirms the attack of Afghans to the Fortress.


In 2004, an earthquake further damaged the already crumbling walls of the Fortress. Measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale, it tore down part of the watchtower of the Fortress.