Tuesday, August 27, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you've no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.

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

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


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Kolah Farangi Citadel

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 24, 2013


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

It is made up of the following six parts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 7, 2013

Khalil Oghab

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

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

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

He passed away in 2023 at the age of 99.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse

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

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

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

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