Saturday, December 25, 2010

Church of Saint Stephanos

The Church of Saint Stephanos ((کلیسای سن استپانوس located in East Azerbaijan was built in the 9th century and is among a handful of magnificent churches in Iran. The Church's architectural style is a mixture of Urartan, Parthian, Greek, and Roman styles. With respect to the history of the construction of this building, which is considered one of the architectural masterpieces of north-western Iran, there are a number of differing views. However, historic evidence, the type of construction, the building materials, the ornamentation, the philosophy behind the ornamentation, and the circumstances that allowed for the creation of this Church all attest to the fact that it was constructed during the tenth to twelfth centuries AD. The Church is located in the abandoned village of Dare Sham. Prior to 1971 it was accessible only by a dirt path, however, a road was constructed providing access by automobile. 

Passing through an increasingly hilly terrain approaching a mountain, the dome of the entranceway to the Church of Saint Stephanos becomes visible. The dome of the entrance building has a width of four meters at its base, while the grounds are covered by a variety of trees. A large pool exists on the site with a clear, clean spring flowing to it. The fortifications for the monastery and Church are located to the east of the site and consist of a tall rampart with seven watchtowers and five cylindrical buttresses. The watchtower on the south-western corner has crumbled, but the other portions of the fortification have remained relatively sound. The gateway to this rampart is situated in the center of the western wall. It has a width of approximately one and a half meters, and a height of roughly two and a half meters. The door itself is made of wood, with wrought iron details, much in the style of fortress gates in the Safavid and Qajar eras. The pillars, and the dome above the gate are all constructed of red limestone and bear extensive masonry, and sculpting. A stone relief of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus is sculpted in the dome's vault. This gateway opens on to a dark passageway that leads on the south to the monastery, on the north to the Church.

  Once inside, one must pass through a narrow corridor, climb a few steps, and enter the Church's courtyard. The Church is constructed entirely of stone, and consists of three distinct parts: the belfry, the Church proper, and Daniel's furnace. The Church proper has a height of an average three story building with remarkable samples of masonry, sculpting and decorative work both in the interior and exterior of the building. Remarkable stone relief of the disciples, saints, and angels have been sculpted on the faces of the sixteen-sided prismatic structure, which is considered the impost for the tower of the Church.  

The interior of the shrine is laid out as a basilica and consists of three components: arcade, apse and altar. The balcony to the arcade is situated upon two stone demi-columns. The altar is located on the eastern side of the shrine with its base and surface made of marble. 

There are a number of interesting objects within the shrine of which two inlaid chairs, three images of Mary and Jesus, a brass reliquary, and four bibles stand out. The chairs are from the Safavid period, the paintings resemble those from the 17th and 18th centuries, the bones within the gilded reliquary are said to be those of Saint Gregory, and the oldest bibles date, according to Sarkis Misaghian, from the 17th century.  

Daniel's furnace is a hall connected to the Church's northern wall. It is divided into three parts: the furnace, a congregation space, and a baptismal fountain. The furnace is separated by a wall from the congregation hall which is located in the center of the space. The baptismal urn is situated in the eastern extremity of the hall and stands in the middle of a high platform. The furnace is named after Saint Daniel, who was born in Syria in the year 410. The bell tower is located on a two storied balcony that is connected to the Church's southern wall. This tower is octagonal in shape, and stands on eight cylindrical columns, all of which are of the same red stone as the Church.  

In 2005, a team of Iran's Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) who were studying documents from Iranian churches for international registration, discovered some bones in a box in the Church. It is believed that the box consists of remains of John, the Baptist. Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French traveler, recalls he saw the box when he was passing Saint Stephanos Church in 16th-early 17th century where he was told that the box belonged to one of the 12 Apostles of Christ. 


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reza Shah

Reza Shah Pahlavi (رضا شاه) (March 15, 1878 – July 26, 1944), was the Shah of Iran from December 15, 1925 until he was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in September 16, 1941. Reza Shah overthrew Ahmad Shah Qajar, the last Shah of the Qajar dynasty, and founded the Pahlavi Dynasty. He was later designated by parliament as "Reza Shah the Great". He established an authoritarian government that valued nationalism, militarism, secularism and anti-communism combined with strict censorship and state propaganda. He was known as being highly intelligent, without any formal education. Reza Shah introduced many socio-economic reforms, reorganizing the army, government administration, and finances. His reign brought law and order, discipline, central authority, and modern amenities - schools, trains, buses, radios, cinemas, and telephones. 

Reza Pahlavi was born in the village of Alasht in Savad Kooh county, Mazandaran in 1878. His father, Abbas Ali, and his mother Zahra were ethnic Mazanderani. Abbas Ali was a member of the regional army. When Reza was sixteen years old, he joined the Persian Cossack Brigade, in which, years later, he would rise to the rank of Brigadier. He also served in the Iranian Army, where he gained the rank of gunnery sergeant under Qajar Prince Abdol Hossein Mirza Farmanfarma's command. He rose through the ranks, eventually holding a commission as a Brigadier General in the Persian Cossack Brigade. He was the last and only Iranian commander of the Persian Cossack Brigade. 

In late 1920 the Soviet Socialist Republic in Rasht was preparing to march on Tehran with a guerrilla force of 1500 Jangalis, Kurds, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis, reinforced by the Soviet Red Army. This fact, along with various other disorders, mutinies and unrest in the country created an acute political crisis in the capital. On February 21, 1921, Reza Khan staged a coup d'état together with Seyyed Zia'eddin Tabatabaee, to get control over a country which had practically no functioning central government at the time. Commanding a Russian-trained Cossack Brigade, Reza Khan marched his troops from Qazvin, 150 kilometers to the west of Tehran, and seized key parts of the capital city almost without opposition and forced the government to resign. With the success of the coup, Tabatabaee became the Prime Minister of Iran. Reza Khan's first role in the new government was as commander of the army, which, in April 1921, he combined with the post of Minister of War. At the same time, he took the title Reza Khan Sardar Sepah. The coup d'etat and the emergence of Reza Khan were assisted by the British in order to halt the Bolsheviks penetration of Iran and the threat they posed on their colonial possession in India. It is thought that British provided ammunition, supplies and paid for Reza's troops. On October 26, 1923, Reza had seized control of Iran and forced the young Ahmad Shah Qajar to exile in Europe. He maneuvered against Qajar dynasty and in October forced the parliament to depose the young King. He assured the landlords and the conservative clergy that he would defend Islamic law and would not undertake any radical reform. The Majles, convening as a constituent assembly on December 12, 1925, declared him the Shah. Three days later, on December 15, 1925, he took his imperial oath and thus became the first Shah of the Pahlavi dynasty although it was not until April 25, 1926 that Reza Shah would receive his coronation and first place the Imperial Crown on his head. 

  In his national policies two main features stood out: nationalism and modernization. During Reza Shah's sixteen years of rule, major developments, such as large road construction projects and the Trans-Iranian Railway were built, modern education was introduced and the University of Tehran was established. The government sponsored European education for many Iranian students. The number of modern industrial plants, increased 17 fold under Reza Shah, (excluding oil installations) while the number of miles of highway increased from 2000 to 14,000. Along with the modernization of the nation, Reza Shah was the ruler during the time of the Women's Awakening (1936-1941). This movement sought the elimination of the Islamic veil from Iranian society. Supporters held that the veil impeded physical exercise and the ability of women to enter society and contribute to the progress of the nation. Women were allowed to study in the colleges of law and medicine, and in 1934 a law set heavy fines for cinemas, restaurants, and hotels that did not open doors to both sexes This move met opposition from the religious establishment. The unveiling issue and the Women's Awakening are linked to the Marriage Law of 1931 and the Second Congress of Eastern Women in Tehran in 1932. 

Reza Shah was the first Iranian Monarch after 1400 years who paid respect to the Jews by praying in the synagogue when visiting the Jewish community of Isfahan; an act that boosted the self-esteem of the Iranian Jews and made Reza Shah their second most respected Iranian leader after Cyrus the Great. Reza Shah's reforms opened new occupations to Jews and allowed them to leave the ghetto. He forbade photographing aspects of Iran he considered backwards such as camels. As his reign became more secure, Reza Shah clashed with Iran's clergy, as he did with all other political constituencies in the country, and he banned Islamic dress and chadors in favor of Western dress. Women who resisted this compulsory unveiling had their veils forcibly removed. 

Despite the support initially given to him by the British, the Shah worked to balance British influence with other foreigners and generally to diminish foreign influence in Iran. In 1931, he refused to allow Imperial Airways to fly in Persian airspace, instead giving the concession to German-owned Lufthansa Airlines. The next year he surprised the British by unilaterally canceling the oil concession awarded William Knox D’Arcy (then called Anglo-Persian Oil Company), which was slated to expire in 1961. The concession granted Persia 16% of the net profits from APOC oil operations. The Shah wanted 21%. Following a brief challenge by the British before the League of Nations, the British acquiesced. He previously hired American consultants to develop and implement Western-styled financial and administrative systems. Included among them was US Economist, Dr. Arthur Millspaugh who acted as the nation's Finance Minister. Reza Shah also purchased ships from Italy and hired Italians to teach his troops the intricacies of naval warfare. And began bringing in hundreds of German technicians and advisors for various projects. Mindful of the Persian’s long period of subservience to British and Russian authority, Reza Shah was careful to avoid giving any one foreign nation too much control. He also insisted that foreign advisors be employed by the Persian government so that they would not be answerable to foreign powers. In his campaign against foreign influence he annulled the 19th century capitulation to Europeans, granting them extraterritorial jurisdiction. The right to print money was moved from the British Imperial Bank to his National Bank of Iran. The administration of the telegraph system from the Indo-European Telegraph Company to the Iranian government as was the collection of customs by Belgian officials. He eventually fired the American Millspaugh, and prohibited foreigners from administering schools, owning land or traveling in the provinces without police permission. 

On 21 March 1935, he issued a decree asking foreign delegates to use the term Iran in formal correspondence in accordance with the fact that "Persia" was a term used for a country called "Iran" in Persian. To counterbalance British and Soviet influence, Reza Shah encouraged German commercial enterprise in Iran. On the eve of World War II, Germany was Iran's largest trading partner. During World War II, the Iranian consular office in France was instrumental in saving Iranian and non-Iranian Jews from persecution by Nazi Germany. In the context of Iran's good diplomatic relations with Germany, Iran saved some lives of Iranian Jews and non-Iranians stating they were citizens, this shows that Iran, who had a strong relationship, did not fully agree with the "Third Reich". His foreign policy, which had consisted essentially of playing the Soviet Union off against Great Britain, failed when those two powers joined in 1941 to fight the Germans. To supply the Soviet forces with war material through Iran, the two allies jointly occupied the country in August 1941. 

In August 1941, the Allied powers United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, occupied Iran by a massive air, land, and naval assault subsequently forcing Reza Shah to abdicate in favor of his son. The Shah received with disbelief, as a personal humiliation and defeat, news that fifteen Iranian divisions had surrendered without much resistance. Some of his troops dispersed and went home, while others were locked up in their barracks by the Allies. The Shah's son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, officially replaced his father on the throne on September 16, 1941. Reza Shah was soon forced into exile in British territories, first to Mauritius, then to Durban thence Johannesburg, South Africa, where he died on July 26, 1944, of heart ailment from which he had been complaining for many years. His personal doctor had boosted the King's morale in exile by telling him that he was suffering from chronic indigestion and not heart ailment. He lived on a diet of plain rice and boiled chicken in the last years of his life. He was sixty-six years old at the time of his death. After his passing, his body was carried to Egypt, where his body was embalmed and kept at the royal Al Rifa'i Mosque in Cairo. Many years later, the remains were flown back to Iran, where the embalming were removed, and buried in a beautifully designed and decorated mausoleum built in his honor at the Shia shrine town of Ray/Shah Abdol Azim, in the southern suburbs of the capital, Tehran. On January 14, 1979, shortly before the Iranian Revolution, his remains were moved back to Egypt and reburied in the Al Rifa'i Mosque in Cairo. Following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Reza Shah's mausoleum was destroyed. 


Friday, November 12, 2010

Boroujerdi House

The Boroujerdi House (خانه بروجردی‌ها) is a historic house in Kashan, Iran located on Alavi Street. The house was built in the 19th century by architect Ostad Ali Maryam Kashani, at the order of a wealthy merchant, Haj Seyed Hassan Natanzi (who was nicknamed Boroujerdi because of the trade he did with the city of Boroujerd). The Boroujerdi family were seeking the hand in marriage of a girl who came from the affluent Tabatabaei family, for whom Ostad Ali had built The Tabatabaei House some years earlier. The condition set for the marriage was the construction of a house as beautiful as The Tabatabaei House. It is distinguished by a six sided wind tower and a large hall decorated with mirrors. The unique features of the House have resulted in a minimal amount of renovation and alteration of the original structure.  

The house took eighteen years to build using 25 workers, painters, and architects, although some accounts place the number of craftsmen as high as 150. It is considered a true masterpiece of Persian traditional residential architecture. It consists of a rectangular beautiful courtyard, delightful plaster and stucco works of fruits and flowers and wall paintings by the royal painter Kamal-ol-Molk and three 40 meter tall wind towers which help cool the house to unusually cool temperatures. The House is famous for its unusual shaped wind towers which are made of stone, brick, sun baked bricks and a composition of clay, straw and mortar.  

It has 3 entrances, and all the classic signatures of traditional Persian residential architecture. The entrance to the building is in the form of an octagonal vestibule with multilateral skylights in the ceiling. Near the entrance is a five-door chamber with intricate plasterwork. Following a narrow corridor, a vast rectangular courtyard opens up. The courtyard has a pool and is flanked by trees and flowerbeds. Also in the vicinity of the corridor is a reception area sandwiched in between two rooms. Due to the high amount of sunlight these two rooms receive, they were mostly utilized during the winter months.  

In the east and northeast area of the property lie the kitchen, rooms and stairways to the basement. The wind towers allowed for the basements to consistently benefit from a flow of cool air. On the southern side is a large covered hall adorned with many reliefs, artistic carvings and meshed windows which was the main area for various celebrations. It consists of a raised platform on its far side and would normally by reserved for the more important guests.  

Since exceptional attention has been paid to all minute architectural details demanded by the geographical and climatic conditions of the area, the house has attracted considerable attention of architects and recognition from Iranian and foreign scientific and technical teams. One relief of the House, quite justifiably reads, “Persian craftsmen made gold out of dust.” While the House used to be a private home, it is now is open to the public as a museum. The museum is arranged with four sides, for reception, ceremonies, residential halls and rooms. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Gor City

Gor City (شهر گور) is located 50 kilometers east of Meymand and 6 kilometers north of Firouzabad in Fars province. As Iran’s first round city it’s considered an ancient wonder. Historically the City is traced back to the Achaemenid Dynasty. Gor has a diameter of 2 kilometers and is surrounded by brick wall and a moat 50 meters across. The City had 4 entrances named Hormoz Gate (north), Ardeshir Gate (south), Mehr or Mithra Gate (east) and Bahram Gate (west). The City conatins an inner circle with a diameter of 450 meters which was separated from the rest of the city by a wall. The inner circle was for government buildings and homes of the upper class. 

At the center of the City a structure 30 meters high and spiral in design existed which is suspected that it was for safekeeping of burning fires. The city contains a number of historical relics such as motifs of a number of Sassanid Princes on the remains of a Castle dating back to the time of Ardeshir Babakan. Ardeshir Babakan is depicted receiving a royal ring from Ahura Mazda. Other regional historical remains in and around the City include a motif of Shapur I (victorious over the Roman Emperor Valerian), Dokhtar Castle, Ardeshir Castle and a number of fire temples. The City is also adorned with many other paintings and artifacts dating back to the Sassanid era. Even after approximately 2,000 years, many of the paintings of the city have retained their original unfaded colors. As recent as 2006 a number of graves of Sassanid Princes in tub like coffins accompanied by paintings were discovered. 

Gor was chosen by Ardeshir Babakan of the Sassanid Dynasty as the capital of their empire. In fact, and perhaps as a result, the City is also known as Khor Ardeshir. The round feature of the City and further renovations are attributed to the Parthian Dynasty although Ardeshir can be credited for repopulating it. During the Sassanid Period, Gor contained one of the largest libraries of the region containing many rare and priceless books. Its importance grew due to its strategic location of being on the commerce routes between China and India towards and Rome.  

The original Gor City was destroyed when Alexander the Great ordered the closing of a dam and the redirecting of the flow of water into the City and ultimately the City being flooded. . The resulting lake he created remained until Ardashir built a tunnel to drain it. Following the collapse of the City and its eventual takeover by the Arabs, it was renamed Jor City. The city's importance was revived again in the reign of Azud al Dowleh of the Daylamite dynasty, who used the city as his frequent residence. It is at this time that the old name of the city had come to mean grave. Azud al Dowleh found it distasteful to reside in a grave and the city's name was changed to Pirouzabad. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Tashkooh (تشکوه) is a mountain in Ramhormoz, Khuzestan on the way to Roodzard and past the village of Gonbad Loran. The mountain is known as Tashkooh, abbreviated from Atashkooh, named as a result of continuous burning slopes since ancient times.  

According to experts, the reason for its burning nature is the presence of sulfur beneath the mountain along with the ascending of natural gas from far below to the Earth’s surface in this particular location. Such gases, consisting of hydrocarbons, pass through the various layers of the earth and eventually break through the surface cracks, combusting on their way out. Such cracks operate exactly as fresh water springs would, except that rather than water they act as an outlet for fire.  

The flames caused as a result of this combustion give the area a very unique look and attracts many curious tourists, especially during the night. As a result of the rise, evaporation and ultimate burning of these gases, no other fire can be lit in the vicinity.  

The mountain is approximately 50 meters off of the main road and very visible for passersby, especially at night. Unfortunately for tourists interested in viewing this natural phenomenon there are no signs or brochures to lead them here and their only guide to Tashkooh’s whereabouts is assistance from the locals. For those interested in paying this site a visit, the best way to access it is to take the Ramhormoz road towards Izeh and follow the signs towards Abolfars. After passing a metal bridge, Tashkooh should be in sight on your left.  

Similar to Tashkooh and its jaw dropping features is another smaller mountain in Aghajari known as the Burnt Mountain. Flames protrude from amongst the Burnt Mountain’s rocks and boulders accompanied by black smoke. Perhaps as a result of this continuous smoke over the years, the mountain itself has taken a black color which sets it aside from its neighboring peaks. At the top of the Burnt Mountain is a noticeable crack, probably the result of past displacement of the Earth, and is the main exit for the gases and sight of the flames. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hindu Temple

The Hindu Temple in Bandar Abbas (معبد هندوها) is a historical monument that was constructed in 1892 during the rule of Mohammad Hassan Khan Sa'adolmolk, Governor of Bandar Abbas. Much of the credit for its construction can be given to visiting Indian merchants and the Temple can be considered as one of the significant cultural interactions between Iran and India. It is one of the few historical structures in Bandar Abbas and is located on one of the port’s main streets and close to the bazaar. The Anthropological Museum of Bandar Abbas is located in the Temple. 

The Temple consists of a square room in the center of which is a jagged shaped, conical dome. The unique shelf-like architectural style of its dome not only sets it apart from other domes in Bandar Abbas, but also from any other domes in the country. The architecture of this structure is very similar to that of the Indian temples. Adorning the room are a number of shelves and frames. The altar is on the northern wing and is made out of wood. The room itself is surrounded by corridors which were utilized for pilgrims to circle the room. There are a few rooms connecting to the corridors for the clergies. Some of the rooms contain paintings such as that of Krishna, the Indian deity.  

From the western corridor, a winding staircase branches off leading to the roof where four piers and the main dome with its Indian decorations are situated. Surrounding the dome are approximately 72 trapezoidal–shaped mini towers and a huge metal bar in the middle of the dome symbolizes the axis of the universe. On the east side of the dome is a large hall which was used for gatherings and contains various Indian paintings each representing a different Hindu belief or philosophy.  

It’s been said the Temple also contained a number of statues of deities, however, around 1965 when the Hindus left the area, they were taken with them. Studies indicate that this Temple was created for the Brahman sect and specifically for worship of the Hindu god Vishnu. While most Brahman temples are traditionally made of stone, however, due the climate of Bandar Abbas, rubble stones, mortar, coral rock, soil material and plaster was used in this Temple’s construction.  

The Temple has been closed since 2005 for proposed renovations.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tomb of Daniel

The Tomb of Daniel (مقبره دانیال) is the traditional burial place of the biblical prophet Daniel. Various locations have been named for the site, but the tomb in Susa, Khuzestan, is the most widely accepted. The Book of Daniel mentions that Daniel lived in Babylon and may have visited the place of Susa, but the place where he died is not specified; the tradition preserved among the Jews and Arabs is that he was buried in Susa. Today the Tomb of Daniel in Susa is a popular attraction among local Muslims and Iran's Jewish community alike.  

The surrounding landscape today is a desolate plain beside a meandering river with a central hilltop where an armed fortress palace or citadel once stood in all its glory. The tomb is a building surmounted by a pineapple cone in white plaster and it is clearly of no great antiquity. The premises have two courtyards, which are surrounded with chambers and porches. The mausoleum is located at the end of the second courtyard, which has rooms in three side of courtyard for a nights stay of pilgrims. In this mausoleum, the sepulchre below the tomb is an old yellow colored stone devoid of any inscriptions. The ceiling of the mausoleum has beautiful mirror works with light apertures on eight sides under the dome. The foundations of the mausoleum are old but thick and strong. The upper section of eastern side of mausoleum is adorned with tile works. The dome of is hexagonal in shape and erected on a circular base.  

 According to the Biblical book of Daniel, at a young age Daniel was carried off to Babylon where he was trained in the service of the court under the authority of Ashpenaz. It is also written that Daniel became famous for interpreting dreams and rose to become one of the most important figures in the court and lived well into the reign of the Persian conquerors. The time and circumstances of Daniel’s death have not been recorded, however, tradition maintains that Daniel was still alive (and approximately 100 years old) in the third year of Cyrus the Great’s ascension to the throne of the Persian Empire.  

During the Sassanid age, the city had had a large Christian community, who in the seventh century offered resistance against the Arab invaders. Nevertheless, the city was captured. While they were sacking the town, they discovered a mummy that was buried with a seal of a man standing between two lions, which was immediately taken to be a reference to the Biblical prophet Daniel. Although Caliph Umar ordered its destruction, the conquerors decided to venerate Daniel in Susa. 

The earliest mention of Daniel’s Tomb published in Europe is given by Benjamin of Tudela who visited Asia between 1160 and 1163. In the façade of one of its many synagogues he was shown the tomb assigned by tradition to Daniel. Benjamin declares however, that the tomb does not hold Daniel's remains, which were said to have been discovered at Susa about 640 CE. The remains were supposed to bring good fortune and bitter quarrels arose because of them between the inhabitants of the two banks of the Choaspes River. All those living on the side on which Daniel's grave was situated were rich and happy, while those on the opposite side were poor and in want; the latter, therefore, wished the bier of Daniel transferred to their side of the river. They finally agreed that the bier should rest alternately one year on each side. This agreement was carried out for many years, until the Persian Shah Ahmad Sanjar, on visiting the city, stopped the practice, holding that the continual removal of the bier was disrespectful to the prophet. He ordered the bier to be fastened with chains to the bridge, directly in the middle of the structure; and he erected a chapel on the spot for both Jews and non-Jews. The King also forbade fishing in the river within a mile of Daniel's bier. According to Benjamin, the place is a dangerous one for navigation, since godless persons perish immediately on passing it; and the water under the bier is distinguished by the presence of goldfish. A somewhat similar account is given by 10th century Arab chronicler Ibn Hawqal. Acording to him during the time of Abu Mousa Ashoari a coffin was found, said to contain the bones of Daniel the Prophet. The people held it in great veneration and in times of distress, famine or droughts brought it out and prayed for rain. Abu Mousa Ashoari ordered that the coffin be encased with three coverings and submerged it in the river so that it could not be viewed.