Sunday, December 9, 2012

Espakhoo Fire Temple

Espakhoo Fire Temple (معبد اسپاخو) 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.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Eram Garden

Eram Garden (باغ ارم) is a historic and monumental Persian garden in Shiraz, Fars province. With its beautiful flowers, tall cypress trees and decorative plants as well as its amazing edifice, it is known for its beauties and aesthetic attractions resembling heaven. The Garden is located on the northern shore of the Khoshk River. The original layout of the Garden, with its quadripartite Persian Paradise garden structure was most likely initiated by the Seljuqs, and was then referred to as the "Bagh’e Shah", Garden of the King, and was much less complicated or ornamental.

Over the course of the years the premises have been modified, restored or stylistically changed by various participants. Since its construction and throughout the eighteenth century, it was predominantly used by the local rulers and Persian monarchs. The structure underwent renovation by the Zand dynasty and was also renovated during the time of the Qajar dynasty. In the nineteenth century, Nasirolmolk bought the Garden and had its current three story building constructed and many cypress, pine, orange and persimmon trees were planted. The Pahlavi dynasty heavily invested in this Garden, renovating it to an internationally recognizable status. The compound came under the protection of Pahlavi University during the Pahlavi era, and was used as the College of Law.

In the front of the building a large veranda with two high standing pillars sits. The large veranda is flanked on either side by smaller terraces. Directly beneath the main veranda are two-meter high solid stone plates with inscriptions depicting poems by poets such as Sa'adi and Hafez. Above the veranda are three large and two small crescent-shape tile works, each illustrating a historical event. The middle pediment, being larger than the other two side ones, shows Nasereddin Shah on the back of a white horse. The two small pediments depict a deer being hunted by a panther.

The lower story of the mansion has an impluvium especially designed for relaxation during the hot days of summer. The ceiling of this structure is beautifully adorned with colorful tiles. A small stream also passes through it, connecting to a large pool in front of the building which then flows into the Garden. On the middle story and behind the main veranda a magnificent hall is located. On the two sides of the hall there are two corridors each having 4 rooms and connecting to the side terraces. The front sides of the pillars are decorated with tiles showing the images of horsemen and flowers. The upper story consists of a large hall whose windows open to the main veranda. It is also surrounded by two corridors leading to two terraces.

Today Eram Garden is within Shiraz Botanical Garden (established 1983) of Shiraz University. It is open to the public as a historic landscape garden and house museum. It is a World Heritage Site (as part of 9 different Persian gardens) and protected by Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jameh Mosque

The Jameh Mosque of Isfahan (مسجد جامع اصفهان) is the grand, congregational mosque within Isfahan province and can be seen as a stunning illustration of the evolution of mosque architecture over twelve centuries. The Mosque is the result of continual construction, reconstruction, additions and renovations on the site from around 771 to the end of the 20th century. The origins of this Mosque lie in the 8th century although it is thought to be burnt to the ground leaving only some of the south and north prayer halls intact. It was rebuilt in the 11th century and went through remodeling many times. As a result it has rooms built in different architectural styles and represents a condensed history of the Iranian Architecture. Spanning more than 20,000 square feet, it is one of the oldest mosques still standing in Iran, and it was built in the four-prayer hall architectural style, placing four gates face to face.

Responding to functional needs of the space, political ambition, religious developments, and changes in taste, further additions and modifications took place incorporating elements from the Mongols, Muzzafarids, Timurids and Safavids. Of note is the elaborately carved stucco altar commissioned in 1310 by Mongol ruler Oljaytu, located in a side prayer hall built within the western arcade. Safavid intervention was largely decorative, with the addition of niche-like cells, glazed tilework, and minarets flanking the south prayer hall. The harmony of the brickwork, the tile work added later, as well as the plaster moldings, inscriptions, and other decorations in a setting of glorious simplicity, engulf the beholder in an almost spiritual aura.

The Mosque has 8 entrances, each of them built in a different period and the oldest of them on its northeastern side now blocked. Its current main entrance is located on its southeastern side. All the buildings are set round a fine rectangular central courtyard leading to a prayer hall on each side of it. The main courtyard spans 60 by 70 meters which contains two pools, one of them partially covered by a platform raised on top of four columns which in the past had been used as a lectern.

Construction under the Seljuqs included the addition of two brick domed chambers, for which the Mosque is renowned. Its double-shelled ribbed domes represent an architectural innovation that inspired builders throughout the region. The south dome was built in 1086–87 and was larger than any dome known at its time. Inside the dome has been adored with Mongol-era stalactite mouldings and two minerats. The north dome was constructed a year later as a direct riposte to the earlier south dome, and successfully so, claiming its place as a masterpiece in Persian architecture for its structural clarity and geometric balance. Inside it is filled with massive cursive Quranic inscriptions. Prayer halls were also added in stages under the Seljuqs, giving the Mosque its current four-prayer hall form, a type which subsequently became prevalent in Iran and Central Asia. The prayer hall facing Mecca on the southern side of the Mosque was vaulted with niche-like cells during the 1300s.

The Mosque contains alabaster lighting systems for prayer rooms below ground along with a wooden carved minbar and is built on grounds that used to be a Zoroastrian Fire Temple. In 2012 the Jameh Mosque in Isfahan was approved as a World Heritage site in the 36th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Amir Kabir

Amir Kabir (امیر کبیر) (9 January 1807 – 10 January 1852), also known as Mirza Taghi Khan Amir Nezam, Atabak and Amir’e Nezam; was chief minister to Nasereddin Shah Qajar for the first three years of his reign. He served as Prime Minister of Iran and was one of the most capable and innovative figures to appear in the whole Qajar period. He is considered by some to be "widely respected by liberal nationalist Iranians" as "Iran's first reformer", a modernizer who was "unjustly struck down" attempted to bring "gradual reform" to Iran.

Amir Kabir was born into a lowly household at Hezaveh in Markazi province. His father, Karbalai Ghorban, entered the service of Mirza Abol Ghasem Farahani as a cook, and when Mirza Bozorg was appointed chief minister to Abbas Mirza, the crown prince in Tabriz, Karbalai Ghorban accompanied him there, taking his son with him. Amir Kabir first assisted his father in performing domestic duties in the household of Mirza Bozorg, who saw signs of unusual talent in him and had him study with his own children. After he had learned reading, writing, and some mathematics, Amir Kabir, still an adolescent, was appointed by Mirza Bozorg to supervise his stables. After Mirza Bozorg’s death in 1822, he was succeeded in the post of minister to the crown prince by his son, Mirza Abol Ghasem Qaeem Magham. Under his aegis Amir Kabir entered government service, being appointed first to the post of military registrar for the army of Azerbaijan. In 1835 he became responsible for supervising the finances of the army of Azerbaijan. Several years later he was put in charge of the same army’s provisions, financing, and organization.

During his tenure, Amir Kabir participated in many missions abroad, he spent almost four years in Erzurum, participating in the work of a commission to delineate the Ottoman-Iranian frontier and settling certain other differences between the two states. Acting almost independently, he resisted attempts to exclude Khorramshahr from Iranian sovereignty and to make Iran pay compensation for its military incursions into the area of Solaymaniyeh. During his tenure in Ottoman Turkey he studied their progress toward modernization.
Amir Kabir returned to Tabriz in 1847. A year later he was appointed chief tutor to the crown prince Nasereddin, who was still only fifteen years old. Soon after, Mohammad Shah died, and Naserredin had to proceed to Tehran and assume the throne. Naserredin Shah awarded Amir Kabir with full responsibility for the whole Iranian army. After arriving in Tehran, he also appointed him chief minister. His appointment as the chief minister aroused resentment in various individuals who thought themselves more deserving and resented Amir Kabir’s proud and self-confident bearing and his clamp down on their excess spending and allowances.
In 1846 Hasan Khan Salar, with the help of some local chieftains, had rebelled against the central government. Amir Kabir sent two armies against Hasan Khan, defeated his forces and captured him. Amir Kabir had him executed in 1850, together with one of his sons and one of his brothers, a clear sign of Amir Kabir’s intention to assert the prerogatives of the state. With order reestablished in the provinces, Amir Kabir turned to a wide variety of administrative, cultural, and economic reforms that were the major achievement of his brief ministry. His most immediate success was the vaccination of Iranians against smallpox.

Faced with an empty treasury, he first set about balancing the state budget by setting up a budgetary committee and attempting to increase the sources of revenue and to decrease state expenditure. He decided to drastically reduce the salaries of the civil service, often by half, and to eliminate a large number of stipends paid to pensioners who did little or no governmental work. This measure increased his unpopularity with many influential figures and thus contributed to his ultimate disgrace and death. At the same time he strove to collect overdue taxes from provincial governors and tribal chieftains by dispatching assessors and collectors to every province of the country. The collection of customs duties, previously farmed out to individuals, was now made the direct responsibility of the central government. The Caspian fisheries, an important source of revenue, were recovered from a Russian monopoly and contracted out to Iranians. Yield and productivity, not area, were established as the basis of tax assessment for other lands, and previously dead lands were brought under cultivation. These various measures for the encouragement of agriculture and industry also benefited the treasury by raising the level of national prosperity and hence taxability.

He introduced the planting of sugarcane to the Khuzestan province, built the Naseri Dam on the Karkheh River and a bridge at Shushtar, and laid plans for the development of Khuzestan. He also took steps to promote the planting of American cotton near Tehran and Urumieh. He is also credited with the foundation of the Darolfonoon in Tehran with possibly the most lasting effects. Decades later, many parts of this establishment were turned into the University of Tehran, with the remaining becoming Darolfonoon Secondary School. The purpose of the institution was to train officers and civil servants to pursue the regeneration of the state that Amir Kabir had begun. Among the subjects taught were medicine, surgery, pharmacology, natural history, mathematics, geology, and natural science. The instructors were for the most part Austrians recruited in Vienna.

Amir Kabir made a second indirect contribution to the elaboration of Persian as a modern medium with his foundation of the newspaper Vaghayeh Ettefaghiyeh, which survived under different titles until the reign of Mozaffareddin Shah. A minimum circulation was ensured by requiring every official earning more than 2,000 rials a year to subscribe. In founding the journal Amir Kabir hoped to give greater effect to government decrees by bringing them to the attention of the public. He also wished to educate its readers in the world’s political and scientific developments. Among the items reported in the first year of publication were the drawing up of the Suez Canal project, the invention of the balloon, and a census of England.

All of the measures enumerated so far had as their purpose the creation of a well ordered and prosperous country, with undisputed authority exercised by the central government. This purpose was in part challenged by the mullas, who throughout the Qajar period disputed the legitimacy of the state and often sought to exercise an independent and rival authority. Amir Kabir took a variety of steps designed to curb or eliminate their influence upon affairs of state. He established indirect control over the sharia courts by giving prominence to one of them that enjoyed his special favor and by establishing the Divan Khaneh. All cases were to be referred to it before being passed on to a sharia court of the state’s choosing and any verdict the sharia court then reached was valid only if endorsed by the Divan Khaneh. In addition, any case involving a member of the non- Muslim minorities belonged exclusively to the jurisdiction of the Divan Khaneh. Amir Kabir took stringent measures against sharia judges found guilty of bribery or dishonesty. Amir Kabir also sought to reduce clerical power by restricting the ability of the clerics to grant refuge, in their residences and the mosques under their control, to criminals and others pursued by the state. Less capable of fulfillment was Amir Kabir’s desire to prohibit the self-flagellation that took place during the mourning season. He obtained the support of several clerics in his attempt to prohibit these rites, but was obliged to relent in the face of strong opposition, particularly from Isfahan and Azerbaijan.

Amir Kabir took a benevolent interest in the non-Muslim minorities of Iran. He exempted the priests of all denominations from taxation, and gave material support to Christian schools in Azerbaijan and Isfahan. In addition, he established a close relationship with the Zoroastrians of Yazd and gave strict orders to the governor of the city that they not be abused or subjected to arbitrary taxes. He also forbade attempts made in Shushtar to convert forcibly the Sabean community to Islam. Amir Kabir regarded the followers of Babism, the predecessor of the Bahai Faith, as a threat and repressed them. He suppressed the Babi upheavals of 1848-51 and personally ordered the execution of many Babis including The Bab, the movement's founder.

The foreign policy of Amir Kabir was as strikingly innovative as his internal policies. He has been credited with originating the policy of negative equilibrium, i.e., refusing concessions to both of the rival powers pressing on Iran, Britain and Russia, and avoiding alignment with either of them. He attempted to put an end to the Russian occupation of Ashuradeh, an island in the southeastern corner of the Caspian Sea, as well as the anchorage rights enjoyed by Russian ships in the lagoon of Anzali. In the south of Iran he made similar efforts to restrict British influence in the Persian Gulf and denied Britain the right to stop Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf on the pretext of looking for slaves. In order to counteract British and Russian influence, he sought to establish relations with powers without direct interests in Iran, notably Austria and the United States.

From the get-go, Amir Kabir’s policies incited animosity within the influential circles of Iranian elite – most notable being the inner circle of the monarchy whose pensions and income were slashed by his financial reforms and policies. He was also later opposed by those who envied him for his numerous posts. They regarded him as a threat to their interests and formed a coalition against him in which the Queen Mother was active, in spite of him being married to her daughter. She convinced the young Shah that Amir Kabir wanted to usurp the throne. In October 1851 the Shah dismissed him and exiled him to Kashan where he was kept in isolation by the Shah's decree. His execution was ordered six weeks later after the Queen mother and his executioner, Ali Khan Farash-bashi, had convinced the King that Amir Kabir would soon be granted immunity by the Russians – possibly allowing him to make an attempt to regain control of the government with force. In the end, Amir Kabir was murdered in Fin Garden in Kashan on January 10, 1852. With him, many believe, died the prospect of an independent Iran lead by meritocracy rather than nepotism.

Following his death, Amir Kabir received praise from several poets of the age, but his services to Iran remained generally unappreciated in the Qajar period. Modern Iranian historiography has done him more justice, depicting him as one of the few capable and honest statesmen to emerge in the Qajar period and the progenitor of various political and social changes that came about half a century later. Tehran Polytechnic University, established during the Pahlavi dynasty in 1958, was renamed Amir Kabir University of Technology after him in 1979. Amir Kabir Dam was constructed on the Karaj River and was the first multi-purpose dam in Iran. In 2010 a bronze sculpture of Amir Kabir, created by Abolhasan Seddighi in Italy was flown to Iran and found its final home at Tehran’s Mellat Park.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Ganjnameh (گنج نامه) is an ancient inscription, 5 kilometers southwest of Hamedan, into a rockface on the side of Alvand Mountain in Hamedan province. It sits along the ancient Imperial Road, connecting the Achaemenid capital Ecbatana to Babylonia. It was thus a safe and frequently traveled road and had much visibility during the Achaemeniad period. The inscriptions were first studied in detail by the French painter and archaeologist Eugene Flandin during the 19th century. Subsequently Sir Henry Rawlinson, a British explorer, used the inscriptions to decipher the cuneiform characters of the era. This ancient site is in the vicinity of a natural waterfall, adding to the beauty of the scene.

 The inscription, which has been carved in granite, is composed of two sections which describe the conquests of two Achaemenid Kings, Darius (521-485 BC) on the left and his son Xerxes (485-65 BC) on the right. Both sections have been carved in three ancient languages of Old Persian, Neo-Babylonian and Neo-Elamite and consist of three columns of twenty lines. They start with praise of Ahura Mazda and describe the lineage and deeds of the mentioned Kings.

The two inscriptions are almost identical other than the fact that the name of Xerxes has replaced that of Darius and some other slight revisions. The left plate, attributed to Darius, is positioned slightly higher than the right plate and measures 290 centimeters across and 190 centimeters tall. The right plate is just as tall but slightly shorter in width, spanning 270 centimeters. Its translation reads:

"The Great God [is] Ahuramazda, greatest of all the gods, who created the earth and the sky and the people; who made Xerxes king, and outstanding king as outstanding ruler among innumerable rulers; I [am] the great king Xerxes, king of kings, king of lands with numerous inhabitants, king of this vast kingdom with far-away territories, son of the Achaemenid monarch Darius."

 The later generations who could not read the Cuneiform alphabets of the ancient Persian assumed that they contained the guide to an uncovered treasure; hence they called it Ganjnameh which literally means "treasure book", but it has also been called Jangnameh meaning "war book", possibly due to the wrong assumption that the inscriptions described ancient wars of the Achaemenid era. Surrounding the inscriptions are small holes, possibly indicating that there used to be some form of covering to protect the inscriptions from natural elements such as wind and rain. Today two new carved tablets have been placed in the site's parking lot with Persian explanation and its English translation.

Unfortunately, this archeological site is in danger while no protection is sought. Today restaurants and entertainment centers constructed in the vicinity of Ganjnameh have changed the historic atmosphere of this ancient site and endangered the cultural and natural landscape of the area. Adding to these existing problems is the construction of a cable car nearby.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Amir Nezam House

The Amir Nezam House (خانه امیر نظام), also known as The Qajar Museum of Tabriz, is a historical building in the Sheshghelan district, one of the oldest quarters of Tabriz in East Azerbaijan province. The House was built during the reign of Nasereddin Shah by Amir Nezam Garrousi who was the King’s chief of staff. Amir Nezam Garrousi was among the affluent and renowned dignitaries of his time and held important political and military posts. He was appointed Iran’s ambassador to London and also supervised and protected Iranian students studying in European cities. This important figure made moves that paved the way for bringing about fundamental social changes in Iran. Amir Nezam House was renovated during his time and in subsequent periods, the house was employed as the official residence of the provincial governors of Azerbaijan.

The building is a split-level façade and is hidden between a school and a children’s hospital. Today only parts of this building remain as other parts have been destroyed throughout history. The House has two stories and covers an area of 3,000 square meters with a built-in area of 1,500 square meters. Like other historical and important buildings of Tabriz, the House has two courtyards that are decorated with small gardens and large pools. The balcony of the building has 16 pillars, embellished with plasterworks similar to other regional historical buildings. Its adorned multicolored windows with adds to the beauty of the collection. Plaster and mirror works in its halls enhance the beauty of this building. There is also a large pool in the basement.

Because of persistent neglect over a long period of time, this building had come to be in such a bad state of disrepair that for a time it was seriously being considered to have it demolished with a school built in its place. Due to its historical precedence and value, the house was purchased by East Azerbaijan’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Department in 2001. Between 1993-2006 it had been subject to an extensive renovation process and since the completion of this undertaking it has been granted National Heritage status.

In 2006 Amir Nezam House was transformed into a specialized museum of Qajar period. Due to its historical importance, the museum hosts a large number of admirers of art, culture and history. The museum has 11 halls for displaying different artistic endeavors in various categories such as metal, stone, coins, music, weapons and architecture. Among the extraordinary articles in this museum are ceremonial clothing items of Haj Mohammad Hossein Haj Alilou (a nomadic tribe leader), a women’s jacket decorated with needlework and velvet decorated with patterns. Given the growth of music during Qajar period and presence of towering musicians in Tabriz, the Music Hall of the museum showcases the traditional Iranian and Azeri music of the time. The Stone Hall has a very exquisite marble inscription made in memory of the reconstruction of Tabriz after a devastating earthquake destroyed the city in 1193 AH and a stone engraved in memory of the coronation of Mozaffareddin Shah. Coin Hall showcases Qajar era coins belonging to the eras of Mohammad Ali Shah, Mozaffareddin Shah and Ahmad Shah.