Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sheikh Bahai Public Bath

The Sheikh Bahai Public Bath (حمام شیخ بهایی) is located in Isfahan in a small street named after him which leads northwest off of the southern section of the old bazaar close to the Masjed’e-Jomeh. The bath derives it principal fame from the story that they were heated by a single candle which never needed renewing. The English are widely credited with destroying this unlikely phenomenon.  

This miracle of this bath was constructed under Sheik Bahai’s skilful supervision. The special feature of the bath was that the water in it used to be lukewarm in all seasons although there was no apparent heating arrangement there. The bath was providing warm water to the bathers, even during the peak of winter seasons for some 250 years. When the English arrived there during the period of Fath Ali Shah, they were very much surprised. Trying to understand the mechanism behind the bath’s heating system, they demolished the water reservoir of the bath and found that at the bottom of the structure only a small wax candle was burning.  

The candle was rather larger than the ones we use on tables and the clay pipes which circulated the water became unusable many years ago. According Sheikh Bahai’s own instructions, the candle's fire would be put out once disclosed. This happened during the restoration and repair of the building and no one could make the system work again.  

It is believed that the reason for the constant warm water was due to the particular construction of connecting pipes from the sewage system which enabled the extraction of energy in the form of gasses such as Methane which in turn manifested themselves as heat.  

Numerous annexes were added to the public bath during the Safavid, Qajar and Pahlavi eras thus changing its actual form dramatically. Beginning in 2007, plans were underway to identify the historical strata of Isfahan’s famous Sheikh Bahai Public Bath so as to remove irrelevant annexes from the structure and bring it back to the original form of 400 years ago. 

Menar Jonban

Unlike most other historic sites in Isfahan that are located close together in the center of the city, Menar Jonban (منار جنبان) is located on the boundaries of the city. Menar Jonban, a historical building with a mausoleum and two minarets, is located 7 kilometers west of Isfahan and dates back to Safavid period. It is mausoleum of a hermit named Amo Abdollah’e Karladani and was built in 716 A.H. (1316 A.D.), designed by Sheikh Bahai.  

This building includes two minarets and they are 17 meters high from the ground level, the distance between them is about 10 meters and they are the main attraction of this mausoleum. Because of the ratio between the height and width of the minarets, any movement produced in one of the minarets is automatically reflected not only in the other minaret, but even in the whole balcony. The minarets are made so that if one of them is moved the second one and the whole building will shake. For a long time, this curious phenomenon was attributed to the magic powers of the holy priest buried under the balcony.  

The minarets are actually located on the top front part of the mausoleum. A narrow stairway in the back of the mausoleum leads to the roof where the minarets are located. Previously visitors were allowed to climb the minarets and do the shaking themselves. To protect the minarets, the shaking is now limited to the professional staff.  

The unique characteristic of the shaking of the minarets, and the entire building itself for the matter, has been repeatedly studied. The findings of most of such research indicates that the specific dimensions and proportions of the building and minarets and even the material forming the bricks used for the building contributes to the vibrations. Following physical experiments on the building, it was concluded that this phenomenon is similar to the mirror image vibrations observed when connecting two vertical identical pieces of string to a connecting horizontal one. Should the two vertical strings be of different lengths or weights the same results would not be achieved.  

However, such a theory also has its skeptics and is dismissed as a mere coincidence under the guise that most buildings also have such vibrations (although on a smaller scale) and it’s only the height of the minarets that make it so visible in this particular case.  

The balcony of the structure is accessible through a spiral staircase. The balcony of the mausoleum has been ornamented with four-pointed and polygonal azure tiles, and the inscription on the tombstone reads as follows: This is the tomb of the virtuous, god-fearing Sheikh, "Amu Abdollah ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmood Saqla, may God bless his soul.” 

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Naghsh'e Rostam

Naghsh’e Rostam (نقش رستم) is an archaeological site located about 12 kilometers northwest of Persepolis, in Fars province, Iran. Naghsh’e Rostam lies a few hundred meters from Naghsh’e Rajab. 

The oldest relief at Naghsh’e Rostam is severely damaged and dates to c. 1000 BCE. It depicts a faint image of a man with unusual head-gear and is thought to be Elamite in origin. The depiction is part of a larger mural, most of which was removed at the command of Bahram II. The man with the unusual cap gives the site its name, Naghsh’e Rostam because the relief was locally believed to be a depiction of the mythical hero Rostam.  

Four tombs belonging to Achaemenid kings are carved out of the rock face. They are all at a considerable height above the ground. The tombs are known locally as the Persian crosses, after the shape of the facades of the tombs. The entrance to each tomb is at the center of each cross, which opens onto to a small chamber, where the king lay in a sarcophagus. The horizontal beam of each of the tomb's facades is believed to be a replica of the entrance of the palace at Persepolis.  

One of the tombs is explicitly identified by an accompanying inscription to be the tomb of Darius I (r. 522-486 BCE). The other three tombs are believed to be those of Xerxes I (r. 486-465 BCE), Artaxerxes I (r. 465-424 BCE), and Darius II (r. 423-404 BCE) respectively. A fifth unfinished one might be that of Artaxerxes III, who reigned at the longest two years, but is more likely that of Darius III (r. 336-330 BCE), last of the Achaemenid dynasts. The tombs were looted following the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Alexander the Great.  

Seven oversized rock reliefs at Naghsh’e Rostam depict monarchs of the Sassanid period. 1) The investiture relief of Ardeshir I (r. 226-242): The founder of the Sassanid Empire is seen being handed the ring of kingship by Ahura Mazda. In the inscription, which also bears the oldest attested use of the term 'Iran', Ardeshir admits to betraying his pledge to Artabanus V (the Persians having been a vassal state of the Arsacid Parthians), but legitimizes his action on the grounds that Ahura Mazda had wanted him to do so.  

2) The triumph of Shapur I (r. 241-272): This is the most famous of the Sassanid rock reliefs, and depicts Shapur's victory over two Roman emperors, Valerian and Philip the Arab. A more elaborate version of this rock relief is at Bishapur.  


3) The "grandee" relief of Bahram II (r. 276-293): On each side of the king, who is depicted with an oversized sword, figures face the king. On the left stand five figures, perhaps members of the king's family (three having diadems, suggesting they were royalty). On the right stand three courtiers, one of which may be Kartir. This relief is to the immediate right of the investiture inscription of Ardeshir, and partially replaces the much older relief that gives Naghsh’e Rostam its name.  

4 & 5) The two equestrian reliefs of Bahram II (r. 276-293): The first equestrian relief, located immediately below the fourth tomb (perhaps that of Darius II), depicts the king battling a mounted Roman soldier. 

The second equestrian relief, located immediately below the tomb of Darius I, is divided into two registers, an upper and a lower one. In the upper register, the king appears to be forcing a Roman enemy from his horse. In the lower register, the king is again battling a mounted Roman soldier. Both reliefs depict a dead enemy under the hooves of the king's horse. 

6) The investiture of Narseh (r. 293-303): In this relief, the king is depicted as receiving the ring of kingship from a female figure that is frequently assumed to be the divinity Aredvi Sura Anahita. However, the king is not depicted in a pose that would be expected in the presence of a divinity, and it hence likely that the woman is a relative, perhaps Queen Shapurdokhtak.  

7) The equestrian relief of Hormizd II (r. 303-309): This relief is below tomb 3 (perhaps that of Artaxerxes I) and depicts Hormizd forcing an enemy (perhaps Papak of Armenia) from his horse. Immediately above the relief and below the tomb is a badly damaged relief of what appears to be Shapur II (r. 309-379) accompanied by courtiers. 



Obeid Zakani

Najamoddin Obeid Zakani (نجم الدین عبید زاکانی) was a Persian poet and satirist of the 14th century from the city of Qazvin. He studied in Shiraz, Iran under the best masters of his day, but eventually moved back to his native town of Qazvin. He however preferred Shiraz to Qazvin, as he was a court poet in Shiraz for Shah Abu Ishaq, where a young Hafez was present as well. His work is noted for its satire and obscene verses, often political or bawdy, and often cited in debates involving homosexual practices. He was a remarkable satirist and social critic who looked upon his world of extravagant indulgence and corruption with the censorious eyes of a juvenile and portrayed it with the cynicism and wit of a Voltaire, and the hilarious grotesqueness of a Rabelais. He used scathing stories and sardonic maxims to paint a world full of deceit, greed, lust, sycophancy, and perversion, where old values and virtues were scorned and extremes of wealth and poverty, violence and bloodshed were the order of the day. He is one of the most remarkable poets, satirists and social critics of Iran, whose works have not received proper attention in the past, probably as a result of his explicit sexual references. He wrote the Resaleh Delgosha (Joyous Treatise), as well as Akhlaq al-Ashraf ("Ethics of the Aristocracy") and the famous humorous fable Masnavi Moosh va Gorbeh (Mouse and Cat), which was a political satire. His non-satirical serious classical verses have also been regarded as very well written, in league with the other great works of Persian literature. While pursuing his studies in Shiraz Zakani became one of the most accomplished men of letters and learning of his time, acquiring complete proficiency in every art, and compiling books and treatises thereon. He subsequently returned to Qazvin, where he had the honor of being appointed to a judgeship and was chosen as the tutor and teacher of sundry young gentlemen. As an example of the corrupt morals of the age and its people, he composed the treatise known as Akhlaq al-Ashraf, which was not intended as mere ribaldry, but as a satire containing serious reflections and wise warnings. So, likewise, in order to depict the level of intelligence and degree of knowledge of the leading men of Qazvin each one of whom was a mass of stupidity and ignorance, he included in his Resaleh Delgosha many anecdotes of which each contains a lesson for persons of discernment. Zakani composed a treatise Ilm-i-Ma'ni u Bayan (Rhetoric) which he desired to present to the King. The courtiers and favorites, however, told him that the King had no need for such rubbish. Then he composed a fine panegyric, which he desired to recite, but they informed him that His Majesty did not like to be mocked with the lies, exaggerations and fulsome flattery of poets. Zakani, himself a kind of poet-jester, resented being kept waiting because the King was busy with his real jester. Zakani wondered whether the King's most intimate acquaintance could be gained through jesting and ribaldry, and the jesters become his favorites, while the men of accomplishment and learning would find themselves deprived of his favors. He began recklessly to utter the most shameless sayings and the most unseemly and extravagant jests, whereby he obtained innumerable gifts and presents, which none dared to pose and contend with him. Thus Zakani a serious writer, a moralist and a panegyrist was compelled by circumstances to become a ribald satirist. He wrote Moosh va Gorbeh around 1370 and in it he highlights the moral dilemma of the suppressed who faces the problem of his own powerlessness. The mice who fight against the domination of the cats, don't simply fail because of their weakness, smallness or fear, they lose because of the cats' superiority in brutality. For the mice no alternative exists. Because of the ribald and often homoerotic quality of his verse, he has been widely censored. The majority of both the originals and the translations of his raunchy poetry either bowdlerizes or omits the naughty words with coy little dashes to indicate the lacunae which the knowledgeable reader may furnish by inference. A TV series based on the life of Zakani is scheduled to be produced and will include 18 to 26 episodes. Zakani's tales will be used in dialogues of the script. Reza Kianian will play the role of Zakani in the series. 

Gholam Reza Takhti

Jahan Pahlevan Gholam Reza Takhti (غلام رضا تختی) (August 27, 1930 – January 7, 1968) is the most famous wrestler in Iranian history. He was known for his chivalrous behavior and sportsmanship, and he continues to symbolize the essence of sport to the Iranian people. He competed in the international freestyle wrestling arena for 16 consecutive years and remains one of only two Iranian athletes -- along with weightlifter Mohammad Nassiri -- to have participated in four Olympics. 

Takhti was born in Khani Abad, Tehran on August 27, 1930. Due to his family’s poverty, Takhti only experienced 9 years of schooling in Manoochehri elementary and high school. He trained in a makeshift sports hall until he left Tehran to work as an oil worker. After being drafted into the army he was introduced to freestyle wrestling. He was recognized as a natural athlete and after frequent visits to the local zoor khooneh, he was noticed by Hosein Razizadeh of the Poolad Gymnasium and was taken in for further training.  

Takhti started as a middleweight wrestler. He won his first Iranian championship in 1950 and became the first Iranian wrestler to win an international medal when he took a silver medal in the world event in Helsinki in 1951. He followed this accomplishment up by earning a silver medal in the 79kg weight category in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics at age 22. Four years later in Melbourne he got better results and alongside his fellow countryman Emam Ali Habibi became the first Olympic gold winner for the country, standing top in the 87kg bouts. 


He snatched two world gold medals and one silver medal in Tehran, Yokohama, Japan, and Toledo, Ohio, in 1959, 1961, and 1962 respectively. In the US, Takhti participated while suffering from illness to the extent that upon completion of the tournament, he was immediately transferred to a New York hospital and operated on the following day. He added a silver medal to his collection during the 1960 Olympics in Rome. 


With the passing of years Takhti getting heavier and thus he decided to move up to the next weight, 97kg, for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. But this proved tough for the great champion. He competed unsuccessfully at the Tokyo Olympics and the 1966 world championships. Though he lost in the last two competitions, his popularity was not diminished. Takhti’s full list of medals reads as follows: 1951: Silver, World championship, Helsinki 1952: Silver, Olympic Games, Helsinki 1955: Silver, World championship, Warsaw 1956: Gold, Olympic Games, Melbourne 1958: Silver, World championship, Sofia 1958: Gold, Asian championship, Tokyo 1959: Gold, World championship, Tehran 1960: Silver, Olympic Games, Rome 1961: Gold, World championship, Yokohama 1962: Silver, World championship, Toledo, Ohio.


Upon departure for what turned out to be his last competition, Takhti paid tribute to the many that had come to see him off at the airport by proclaiming, “I feel like I owe all of my fans who have come here to see me. How much kindness do I need to repay them?”  

Takhti was found dead in his hotel room on January 7, 1968. The Iranian government officially proclaimed his death a suicide. However, some claim that he was murdered because of his political activities against the Pahlavi regime, directing accusations against Savak. Upon his death the whole country went into mourning with the streets of Tehran with hundreds of thousands grieving fans observing their last tribute to their hero. He is buried at Ibn-e Babooyeh cemetery in the Southern part of Tehran, near Shahr’e Ray, where he is commemorated every year by his fans. He was survived by his wife and son, Babak Takhti, an author and translator, born a mere 4 months before Takhti’s sudden death.  

Decades after his death, Takhti remains the most popular athlete in Iranian sports. People fell in love with his dignity and humanity since his debut in 1950. 

In 1961, a terrible earthquake occurred in Boein Zahra in western Iran, killing 45,000 people. Takhti was deeply touched by the suffering. Already one of Iran's biggest stars, he began to walk one of the main avenues of Tehran, asking for assistance for the victims. He inspired other champions to follow in his footsteps, and thousands gave to alleviate the suffering. He and his friends loaded up trucks with blankets and food and distributed these, together with money they had collected, among the devastated areas. 

Another example of Takhti’s character comes from a match in Moscow. After defeating the then-world champion Anatoli Albul, Takhti saw the sorrow on the face of Albul's mother. Takhti went to her and said, "I'm sorry about the result, but your son is a great wrestler." She smiled and kissed him. And another memory of him that clarifies his character even more: Once he had a match with Russian wrestler Alexander Medved who had an injured right knee. When Takhti found out that he was injured, he never attacked that leg. Instead, he tried to attack the other leg. He lost the match, but showed that he valued honorable behavior more than reaching victory. Alexander Medved, out of respect, has visited Takhti's grave many times in Iran over the years. The famous Iranian weight lifter Salmasi remembers one such chivalry during the Olympics. In the opening day Takhti gave up his responsibility of carrying the flag and gave it to Salmasi as a gesture of respect to Salmasi who had been brought to the Olympics as Iran's weightlifting coach. As Salmasi recollects, in his own words, "I was standing toward the end in the Iranian group. We are waiting for our turn to enter the Rome Stadium. I am a short guy and I was almost lost in the Iranian delegation. Suddenly I saw Pahlevan Takhti coming toward me with the flag in his hand. He practically dragged me to the front and handed me the flag and said 'Sir, as long as you are here with us I will not allow myself to carry this sacred flag. You are an Olympic veteran and because of the respect and honor we owe you, it is you who should carry this flag not me!' He then stood behind me and I carried the flag into the Stadium."