So the previous post focused exclusively on mosques in Isfahan ... this time I'll focus on places of residence in and near Isfahan. Might as well start at the "top." Top of the money chain and the social class, as well as the top architecturally ... the palace along the perimeter of the Imam Square (Nagsh-e-Jahan Square) is known as Ali Qapu ... a palace of the kings while Isfahan was the capital of the empire during the late 16th/early 17th century. From here they could watch the happenings and entertainment in the square ... the most popular activity in it probably being polo games (you can still see where the goal ends once were), but also things like dramatics and fireworks were staged there. The first two photos are taken outside on the roof-top deck ... looking out over the square toward the Imam Mosque (formerly the King's mosque, which was built about the same time as the palace when the Safavid kings moved the capital to Isfahan). Second photo looks up to the roof covering the deck.
Far and away the most interesting and artistic feature at Ali Qapu is the upper floor where the ceiling is constructed of two layers of wood, and carved into the top layer are myriad shapes that create hollow spaces with the second layer of wood behind. My photos can't exact justice on the craftsmanship or the feel of that 3-D artistic space all around you. But, here are some (actually quite a few) anyway:
Are you tired of pictures of painted walls and nestled arches in Iran? Oh good, I didn't think so. So here's a couple more from the palace ...
A little ways away, still inside the city of Isfahan, is the Chehel Sutun palace, which translates to the 40 Column Palace. In truth there are only half this many columns holding the roof over its front porch ... the other half are seen in the reflection in the enormous reflecting pool. Surprised? A reflecting pool, here in Iran? (if so, you clearly haven't read my other posts! haha) But I like how in this case the necessity of the reflection is acknowledged in the title of the palace. And here's your quiz to see how much you have learned of Iranian architecture: What do you suppose the walls and ceiling of the outdoor entry hall are composed of? If you said mirrors, you get your diploma!
The photo below I'm pretty proud of ... the little red spot is of course me (Waldo!), I'm looking up at the mirror ceiling in the entry hall (space between the columned porch and the interior of the palace) to take the photo ... so it's a pic of the mirrored ceiling and me on the ground. But I had to stand there with my finger on the "trigger" for ages for that magical second when there were no other people on the ground near me. Which was difficult with all the tourists and busloads of schoolkids loitering about. Then Reza wanted to try it again with all three of us musketeers in a photo ... it was a little more challenging aligning all three of us inside one square of mirror.
The inside of the palace has some impressive and brightly colored frescoes. They depict battle scenes and cultural activities such as dancing. In the bottom photo, a woman painstakingly restores the painting, matching colors and staying inside the lines with her tiny brush. It was interesting to watch her work for a little while to get a sense of "scale" of how much progress is made in a typical day. Do you think it's a lot or a little? I would say it's a depressingly small amount ... you would need to have a good sense of large-scale "vision" not to feel deflated at the end of a day.
And here's your obligatory completely random dinosaur picture. Taken at the stately Chehel Sutun palace. We've run into dinosaurs all over the world in the most bizarre places ... for instance, a partially reconstructed ksar in Tunisia, and at a sand park in China.
Now we travel outside of Isfahan to the city of Kashan. We only made a pit stop in this city to see another example of a traditional home of the wealthy and elite before the revolution. Many of these types of homes are being converted into museums and hotels ... for example, like the one we stayed in in Yazd. In truth they make good hotels because of the layout with a central inner courtyard and many rooms lining corridors inside. An interesting thing I was just reading in a book called The Cypress Tree is the concept that traditional Persian architecture puts the outdoor gardens in a courtyard inside the family compound, "away from prying eyes." Over and over the author uses this phrase, "away from prying eyes," or a similar phrase, indicating that the Iranians kept the artistry and beauty of their personal space private ... naturally it must also be tied to the fact that since the establishment of Islam in Iran, the women of any household could not be seen cavorting around their yard in public, and were hidden inside the home. However, homes could also have had exterior gardens or grandiose entrances, but seldom did. In the 1970s when "new modern Iranians" began building houses for themselves, they started to emulate the Western style of the gardens being in front of and around the house -- the complete opposite design, as we are now all too familiar with in America where suburbanites must have their lawns and gardens manicured to perfection for the benefit of the public eye which they actively invite to pry and behold. A clear exception to this "traditional" style is actual royalty, whose palaces were typically surrounded by acres of gardens and long reflecting pools (as in Chehel Sutun, above).
Anyway, behold the beautiful interior courtyard of this home in Kashan, now turned into a "historical house" museum for the public to peer into the world of the wealthy. Notice the wind tower in the background! Which you of course learned about in Yazd. As with many places we visited in Iran, you can find numerous spelling alterations. This is referred at Boroujerdi as well as Borujerdi.
The somewhat unique interior was painted by a famous painter of the time, Kamal-ol-molk. The colors were particularly vibrant and often with more European-type themes in subject. But the white textured ceiling with arched lines was classic Persian.
More gardens we visited as well in Kashan. A couple pics just to reiterate the prevalence of gardens and pools in this arid desert region. By the end of these posts, I hope you will have a consistent vision of this part of Iran, for it is nothing if not consistent. The term "ubiquitous" can be applied to many features here. Some people might find that an attribute of boredom as a tourist ... the same stuff everywhere. I find it appealing ... especially as I am visiting a place particularly foreign to me, it helps solidify an image of the Persian culture, of its persistence and fierce sense of self-identity. This is known as the Fin complex.
And now we travel to a small old village tucked into the mountains between Isfahan and Kashan (on the way to Tehran). Known as the "red village," Abyaneh is a quaint place mostly kept up in parts for tourists and inhabited by a sparse elderly generation, still living in what I imagine is to them the luxury of their old and traditional ways. Meaning those who have stayed are there because they want to be there and haven't been swept away helplessly into a more fast-paced modernity that not all people are ready to accept. There is a hotel and restaurant for tourists, which is where we ate lunch and where Erik had a showdown with the resident parrot, trying to mind-meld him into talking back to him. The bird spoke when you passed by, but if you tried to engage him in conversation, he refused. This frustrated Erik almost beyond tolerance and he got up from the table several times to go pester the bird into submission. The bird, however, stuck by his guns.
For the sake of expediency in regard to my time and for your own benefit of nice information, I'm inserting here a paragraph about the village from a nice website: historicaliran.blogspot.com, as follows: "Abyaneh has a long history which dates back to more than 2,000 years ago and has been registered on Iran’s National Heritage List since 1975. The word Abyaneh has been derived from the word "viona" meaning a willow grove. Abyaneh has been called an entrance to Iranian history as the locals are deeply committed to honoring their traditions. The language spoken by the literate people of Abyaneh is Parthian Pahlavi. The local clothing for example is in a style of great antiquity. The women's traditional costume typically consists of a white long scarf (covering the shoulders and upper trunk) which has a colorful or floralpattern and an under-knee skirt or pleated pants. They have persistently maintained this traditional costume despite pressures from time to time by the government trying to change it." Here are a few snaps of the local dress referenced:
One of the things I worried about, having never traveled with a private guide before, was if he was going to stick to us like glue everywhere we went and everything we did. We did do every thing together, that is to say every meal, every attraction, etc., we obviously would have private time in our hotel room but then would always meet again at a specified time to go out. But Reza, as a perfect guide, did not stick to us like glue and oftentimes after giving us the pertinent information from his vast store of knowledge about a place, let us wander off on our own for awhile (as in Rayen, Persepolis and other places). We greatly enjoyed meandering through this village, Erik and I not even following each other. Here are some snapshots we gathered in our meandering of this picturesque village. I presume you've already determine the source of its nickname, "the red village."
Another unique feature of the village was the sight and sound of running water as if the village was cradled in it. Along the main street, little brick-lined ditches carried clear water swiftly downhill, water ran down this stairway in the photo below. Even when you couldn't see it, you could often hear water trickling around you. The temperature here, by the way, was significantly cooler than anywhere we'd been.
You can probably guess why I like the two photos below ... the bright blue contrasted so pretty with the red-red-everywhere. The first one depicts the dome of the tiny village mosque. Regardless of how old any village might be, how tenaciously any villagers might be in holding fast to their ancient traditions, pretty much every village in the country will have a mosque. There are a few ethnic minorities (very minority) who are allowed to practice their own religion, but as an Islamic republic, everyone else is required to be Muslim. But anyway ... here is some blue for you: (and a garbage can, too!)
And chronicled below is one of my favorite moments of the trip ... nice to have occurred on our last day there. We were driving out of the village when we happened upon this man riding his donkey. As we drove past him, Erik took his camera out to snap a photo from the rolled-down car window. Rather than being offended or annoyed, nor ignoring us, the man smiled devilishly and spurred on his tiny beast to race against us in our car. We were laughing so hard in the car, and the man kept it up for a bit. I love little moments when the locals get fun and silly.
Driving back to Tehran, we actually drove by the nuclear supposed power plant currently in question in the international spotlight. They have the area guarded by a handful of pretty minor-looking anti-aircraft cannons. Like almost comically inadequate to defend against any kind of competent air strike that might come in. Kind of weird to drive by this thing that is causing such a massive disturbance in global politics and security. From the road, you would never guess it. Also weird to see guys actually manning these cannons.
And so, this post actually chronicles our last day in Iran ... visiting Kashan and Abyaneh, and it was a contemplative drive back to Tehran for me. As always, there are mixed feelings about going home. I'm confident I would have been more sad and unwilling to leave were it not for the freedom I yearned to regain as a woman ... ditching my head scarf in particular, but also the long sleeves, and the right to shake a strange man's hand in greeting, and not be perpetually surrounded by reminders of women's inferior rights, progressive as they may be in context of the Muslim world here in Iran.
We arrived back in Tehran only a few hours before we had to get up in the middle of the night for our flight ... at 3:00 a.m. the Tehran airport is completely crowded, it's clearly their rush hour. I don't know why such an inconvenient time table! We waited in line a solid hour to get to the check in counter. We grabbed a quick meal in Tehran and Reza invited us to come with him to meet a friend, but we decided to retire and pack up and grab a couple hours sleep. (I would awake with a stomach ache and subsequently suffer an unpleasant and interminable trip back home with intestinal issues, subsequently lose my appetite for over a month after getting home and lose 15 pounds ... as I write now I've recovered somewhat after a course of both antibiotics and probiotics.)
We said farewell to Reza at the passenger drop-off. He told us his first time as a guide dropping off passengers, he didn't know you can't park a car outside an airport in the drop off zone. He politely accompanied his clients into the airport and had a cup of tea with them at the cafe. And of course came back out to find his car towed away. haha. It was a slightly melancholy farewell ... Reza had been so good to us and we had gotten along so well and shared many experiences with him. Some of which I cannot write about here. But I can't imagine we could have been paired with a guide who would be better suited to us. So the threesome parted.
But my posts are not quite done! Another one from Isfahan is on the way with some final thoughts. Stay tuned!