Saturday, 26 April 2008

Kashan’s Mansions from the Qajar Period

Kashan at the border of Iran’s Dasht-e Kavir, is a very relaxed city in Central Iran. It harbors one of Iran’s (and in fact the world’s) oldest settlements at Tappeh-ye Seyalk. There are tree alleys which invite for extended walks through the city. Fin garden is one of Irans finest parks, a real imagination of paradise (a Persian word).

Main activities of business and communication are done, as usual in Iran, in the bazaar. Its beautiful domed roof is rather famous and was built in the Qajar period. Here, ancient caravanserais and mosques, old and new goods, and the famous Kashan carpets can be discovered. The old Sultan Mir Ahmed Hamam is now a relaxing tea house.

Kashan’s main attractions are a number of renovated mansions from the Qajar period in the 19th century. These traditional houses are hidden behind high mud-brick walls and not visible from the streets at all. They were the home of wealthy merchants and carpet dealers. Iran seems to spend a lot of money and effort to preserve these jewels of architecture and interior design. Rumors tell that some of them are planned to house fancy hotels in the near future.

The Khan-e Borujeri mansion is famous. It has a beautiful courtyard representing a typical small Persian garden. The stucco on the domed ceiling in the guest house is marvelous.

The Khan-e Abbasin is most probably the most amazing mansion in Kashan with a bewildering complex of buildings spread over several levels. The stained glass windows with its elaborate floral motives are stunning. The mirror work in the living rooms resembles that of Emamzadehs. Definitely, living in Persia was easy in the old days provided you belonged to the rich.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Friday, 18 April 2008

The Guernica Tapestry

When I recently watched again the BBC production Around the World in 80 Treasures, I stumbled over the remark by Dan Cruickshank about the tapestry copy of Pablo Picasso's Guernica in the United Nations building in New York City. When Collin Powell and John Negroponte delivered (now it is clear to everyone) their lies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction in a press conference on February 5, 2003, the picture was veiled with a large blue curtain. Guernica from 1937, which is an epoch-making reminder of the horrors of war (we recall that German and Italian fascists, in what was called Operation Rügen, killed, in several raids, hundreds of innocents), should not interfere with media coverage when war had been declared on the Iraqi people.

A Little Bit Different

Sunday, 13 April 2008


The "Most Wanted Man" in Iran, Abdol Malik Rigi, had temporarily been mentioned in Iran's PRESSTV news network as possibly being involved in the Shiraz blast yesterday. The explosion, which killed at least eleven, might in fact be an accident.

In a rare interview broadcast in July last year, the outlaw, drug trafficker and leader of the terrorist organization Jundullah confirms that he is not supported by CIA but by Balochis living in Sweden. Interesting in any case.

Ancient Civilizations

When writing about my visit at Kashan’s Tappeh-ye Seyalk in 2005, I have to stress that most of the treasures excavated there in the 1930s found their way to The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The British Museum. Sadly, some even went to private collections.

Some years ago, a similar looting took place in Shahr-e-Sookhte near Jiroft, well before scientific excavations could start at the site in 2001. When visiting Tehran’s National Museum in November last year, I saw only a replica of the stele with Hammurabi’s (1728-1686 BC) Code. The original is on display at The Louvre. I am afraid that most of the treasures of the Cradle of Civilization, i.e., Iran, Iraq, can be seen in the museums of the West nowadays.

These days the fall of Baghdad marks its 5th Anniversary. Among some very negative impressions was the looting of Iraq’s National Museum while US troops didn‘t do too much to prevent it. According to Gen Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it was about priorities: “After all, people were being wounded, even killed.” It is, however, also about how treasures belonging to the World's cultural heritage are being respected by a people lacking more or less any sense for ancient civilizations not talking about peculiarities of foreign cultures.

When living in Kuwait, I was an eager listener of VOA, not because of the propaganda but because of some good talk shows, even good Rock and Jazz music. What attracted my attention most, however, was “The Making of a Nation”. It is produced in Special English, making sure that even the common man with limited practice and skills in English would be able to follow. And it addresses primarily, of course, the people in the Middle East. It is, however, in a way a strange assumption that America’s bloody history of a couple of centuries only would be a good example, in any way, for teaching the World what is really meant by Democracy.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Central Iran

Before I traveled to Abyaneh and Natanz, and then further to Esfahan, I visited, for a couple of days, Kashan, another 100 kilometers south of Qom. It is the first oasis along the old Qom-Kerman road, a small desert city at the border to the Great Desert. It has been home of ancient settlements since at least the 5th Millennium BC. Legend has it that the Three Wise Men, who were in fact Zoroastrian Magis, set out from here to follow a star announcing the birth of the New King of the Jews, the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. (But how did the bones arrive in Cologne’s Dome then?) Kashan is very famous for rose water which is made here from the beautiful flowers blooming at the fringes of Dasht-e Kavir.

On the southern outskirts of the city an amazing ziggurat is located which might be older than those in Mesopotamia. It is what is now called Tappeh-ye Seyalk, a famous destination for archaeologists, and tourists, as well. It might well have been the starting point of any Persian civilization, and even religion at large.

The Tappeh-ye Seyalk ziggurat, built in 2900 BC, is one of four Elamite religious structures located in what is now modern Iran. The other three are the Susa zigurrat, about 4000 years old, the Haft Tappeh and the enormous Choqa Zanbil, both from the 13th and 14th Century BC. Those are located in the Khuzestan province at the western border. Another important ziggurat is, of course, that one in Babylon, the famous Tower of Babel in the Holy Bible.

The word Paradise has its origin in Farsi, and Fin Garden, not far away from Tappeh-ye Seyalk, is a wonderful example for the idea of a Persian garden resembling paradise. Close by is the Shahzadeh-ye Ibrahim shrine with its conical, tilted roof, which is so typical for this part of the country, its two colorful minarets and a quiet courtyard.

Not far from the city center, Kashan’s finest Islamic complex and its largest mosque and madraseh, Masjed-e Agha Bozorg, is a pretty humble building with a simple dome and marvelous minarets. When entering the beautiful portal, the sunken courtyard is noticed.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

One Year Ago

We have not forgotten that presidential candidate Senator John McCain "was just trying to add a little humor to the event", as his spokesman Kevin McLaughlin told news agencies later. It was about one year ago at Murrels Inlet VFW Hall in South Carolina, and McCain was asked when he thought the US Military might "send an air mail message to Tehran." In view of the recent mix-up by the Senator of Al-Qaeda and Iran, when touring the Middle East showing his competencies and when responding to General David Petraeus' testimony about the current situation in Iraq to the Congress, we are still rather concerned about his further actions once the American people have elected him their next President.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Old and New Towers

When I posted my pictures from Yemen last month, I got a new understanding for the importance of towers in human culture and civilization. The ancient, multi-storey buildings in even the smallest villages in Yemen, nestling in hillsides of the harsh, mountainous landscape, are a perfect example of how human civilization mingles with Nature.

But now let's have a look on the new developments in the oil-rich countries of the 21st century.

The tallest building in the world is, for some time already, the construction site of Dubai’s Burj. So far, the site looks a bit chaotic and the Burj itself can best be overlooked from the air. The Burj has definitely been ugly but is now beautifying quickly. Computer-generated rendering of the final building shows a metallically glistening needle. It is said that its antenna will peak 818 meters, when finished. That will be at some time during next year. But there are also rumors that it will reach 950 meters!

While the gulf emirates, and Dubai always ahead, are craving for achieving one world record after the other, Kuwait has sported so far only modest attempts of building something similar as a skyline.

But ther is another interesting project. Kuwait's Silk City in Subiya, at the most-northern corner of the Bay of Kuwait will be the location of another miracle in Middle East quite soon. Its Burj Mubarak al-Kabir will be more than a kilometer high. It will be a very impressive contrast to the skyline of Kuwait City so far, on the other side of the Bay.

Subiya, and in its vicinity the extensions of Jal Azzor with Kuwait’s National Reserve and, further east its rare sand dunes; and small chalets close to the large Bubiyan island. This land has, so far at least, been a friendly destination for weekend trips with the 4WD, picnics and times of meditation and relaxation. In spring, the desert there is a green grassland, and the spine-tailed agamid, or Dhub, can be seen everywhere. Subiya is also the site of a Stone Age settlement and archaeologically excavated for several years now. In summer (that is between late April and mid October), temperatures are soaring to above 50 centigrades (122 F), but springtime is lovely with flowers such as the desert hyazinthes and daisies everywhere. Maybe in the near future this lovely part of the State of Kuwait will disappear in favor of a new business and tourist hub in the Middle East.

When approaching the site, Kuwait’s so far modest skyline looks best, but only when air is clear and no dust has risen in the strong northwestern winds from the nearby Iraqi desert.

Towers in the Middle East may exert a special beauty because they are not really expected in these traditional societies. The Kingdom Tower and its counterpart, the Al Faisaliyah Center in Riyadh are especially charming examples. Both about 300 meters tall and in sharp contrast to the abayya- and thobe-wearing inhabitants of this new metropolis.

When I visited Riyadh in 2004 on the occasion of a scientific meeting, the beautiful Kingdom Tower with its large and elegant triangular free space it its upper third (similar like a beer-bottle opener), was about 3 years old only. When I entertained my Egyptian colleagues in the bus taking us to the conference hotel by mentioning my first impression when I saw it (“How do islamists would build towers”) they laughed and told me, honestly, that it was actually taken into consideration to fly an airplane through it during the opening ceremony. The plan was cancelled after September 11, 2001.