Saturday, 31 January 2009


Hand-printed cloth can be seen everywhere in Iran (and you will also find them in Kuwait in the Iranian Market in Ray or downtown, in the Souq Mubarakia). They are used as bedspreads, tablecloths, or simply for wall decoration. Wooden blocks, or models, are used to print colored patterns onto beige cotton cloth in several design steps.

The finest ghalamkar may later be painted. Old and antique pieces are highly sought after. They are not cheap at all. Although the (natural) colors have been fastened by washing already, I wouldn’t dare to remove the slight stain from these two pieces I recently bought in Iran. One has the design of a prayer mat and was surely used for that purpose. As you can see, the calligraphy on top interestingly mentions Muhammad after ’Ali!

Friday, 30 January 2009

Buyid Architecture in Esfahan

Older than what is now visible in Esfahan’s Great Mosque (although the first mosque there was built in the 7th century) is what has remained of the Jurjir Mosque. The fragmentary façade of the Jurjir Mosque had been discovered during restoration work at Masjed-e Hakim in 1955. The fragment had been hidden for centuries behind a mud wall. The beautiful Hakim mosque itself is a Safavid mosque from the 17th century.

The Jurjir façade is the only remains of a 10th century mosque which was commissioned by the Buyid (Buwayhid) vizier Al-Sahib ibn Abbad (d. 995), a Mutazilite scholar. The Buyid Dynasty, who ruled in Iraq and Iran, effectively brought the Abbasids era in Baghdad to an end. Although the Abbasids retained the caliphate, they were deprived of all secular power. Buyids were originally Zaydi, or Fiver Shi'as. They later began to lean closer to the nowadays dominating Twelver Shi'a branch of Islam. In general tolerant in religious matters, the Buyid rulers in Baghdad even employed Christians for administrative tasks. Science once again culminated during the late 10th and early 11th centuries under the Buyid rule. Eminent mathematicians were, for example, Abūl Wafā' Būzjānī (d. 998) and Omar Khayyám (d. 1122) who conveyed, in so-called conversazioni, their knowledge to architects and artisans committed to building and decorating the religious and secular buildings.

Similar as on the court façade of the congregational mosque in Na’in (I will report on that later), the typical Buyid decorative technique can be seen on the portal. Small bricks are used to form a geometric relief of lozenges, diamonds and other geometric shapes. The entrance had been enlarged into a monumental portal. In the eastern Islamic world, the Jurjir is the first example of such a monumental portal on a mosque.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Pir Bakran

Si-o-Seh Pol at night in Esfahan is really a beauty. But if Venus, the crescent of the moon, and mercury are illuminating the scenery, it's just amazing. You have to click on the picture and carefully examine the inflated image to see Mercury in the center of the right side in the sky. I could watch the rapidly moving innermost planet on several evenings when recently visiting Iran.

One obligation of my trip was to visit again the Jewish cemetery in Esfahan's vicinity. The 2000 years old site is difficult to find. At least on my map of Iran Linjan is not explicitly mentioned. Go to the southwest, the taxi driver will most probably know. In Linjan, which is a larger town, you should ask for the Jewish cemetery. We called a local by mobile phone who immediately showed and turned out to be a Muslim (!) guide of the site. He was a friend of the Jews in the town, he told us. I remembered last year's visit. The narrow room again showed recently burnt candles.

Our guide immediately mentioned the tomb of Sarah, daughter of Asher, son of the Patriarch Jacob (Genesis 46: 17; Numbers 26: 46; I Chronicles 7:30). The shrine was a major pilgrimage site for Iranian Jews. According to a midrash, Sarah never died. A popular tradition among Iranian Jews held that she arrived in Esfahan with the exiled Jews from the tribe of Judah. Miraculous stories and pious legends surrounding this figure were common in Jewish circles. See more information here. The same dog as last year was keeping watch in the courtyard of the small synagoge. Jews have not an easy life in Iran. I met many Muslims this time who consider them as good people. In Esfahan, they have some shops in Khiaban Chahar Bagh and close to the Meydan-e Shah. They themselves see their situation more critical. There seems to be a constant suspicion of Zionism. Jews (not more than 25'000 have stayed), who are said to have built Esfahan after having been freed from the Babylonian Captivity by Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE, live a secret life in Iran. I have not made serious attempts to visit the main, rather hidden, synagoge in Esfahan, which is close to the Enqelab-e Eslami Square (the point, where the first picture was taken).

The cemetery in Linjan itself was quite breathtaking. It is said that inscriptions on tomb stones are from the second century CE. Some of the ruined buildings look really old. When in Esfahan, try to find the place. It's really worth a visit.

A significant mausoleum in Lanjan is that of Sufi Pir Bakran. The 14th century building was closed (as it was last year), but some internal decorations could be seen from the outside's windows.