November 2, 2002 - Friends of Iran: Reminders of our trip to Iran

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Reminders of our trip to Iran

Reminders of our trip to Iran


(OCTOBER 19 – NOVEMBER 2, 2002)

Jennifer B-C Seaver (RPCV Rasht, Iran ‘66-68)

Participant in the Group of 22

SAT/SUN Oct. 19-20 Depart New York -JFK on Lufthansa Airlines with a connection through Frankfurt, Germany (6-hour layover) followed by flight to Tehran, Iran. Arrive around midnight. Met our tour guide and passed through customs & immigration & boarded bus for Entelab Hotel.

MON Oct. 21 Tehran Tour of Shah’s Palace built 1968 in Shemiran. We also toured the Crown Jewel Museum. The American women purchased manteaus (lightweight raincoats) at a shop near the hotel. That evening, we met with a SAF representative who talked about the NGO’s (non-governmental organization) work in Iran. Then it was a 90 minute flight to Shiraz.

TUESDAY- Oct. 22. Shiraz 2 nights at Parsian Hotel. City tour by bus. Because this was a holiday, there were a lot of couples and families enjoying the warm sun at the Eram Garden. Palaces are surrounded by sacred mountains & placed according to astrological design. There were lights everywhere for this important Shi’a holiday. We visited the Shah-e Cheragh Shrine. Its beautiful silver doors and exquisite mirror work were constructed in the 19th c. After lunch, we visited Hafez’s tomb & a caravansarai converted into a tea house and had a chance to chat with some Iranians, including a Sufi in black turban and white garments. We also visited the Vakil Old Bazaar.

WEDNESDAY Oct. 23 Morning tour of PERSEPOLIS - an hour’s drive outside of Shiraz. This World Heritage Site was established by the Aechamedians 2,500 BCE, a society based on agriculture. Afternoon tour of Parsagad (530 BCE). Cyrus the Great built this palace. Alexander of Macedonia damaged Persepolis in 6th c. BCE, started by Darius. The Jewish people viewed Cyrus as a Messiah after they returned from Babylon. The half fish-half human figures (symbols of civilization) are Assyrian representing Noah who taught the people agriculture & literacy after the flood. The star of Solomon is also a frequent carpet design. "I am Cyrus the Aechamidian King" is inscribed in 3 languages: cuniform elements, Old Persian, & Babylonian script. Ahura Mazda: the Zoroastrian god of Good thought, Good speech, Good action. Afternoon drive across Dasht-e-Kavir (desert) to Yazd.

THURSDAY/ FRIDAY Oct. 24/25 Yazd (2 nights) Morning tour of Towers of Silence (Zoroastrian places for the dead) in the desert hills. These towers were where the faithful placed their dead to be picked over by the vultures to prevent desecration of the earth. Now it lies in ruins. Below the towers was a gathering place for the funeral but only priests were allowed into the sacred space. The original entrance has been blocked, so we entered through a hole cut in the wall. We also visited a Zoroastrian Fire Temple with symbols of Ahura Mazda. The Zoroastrians believed that fire was a source of eternal life. Next we toured the Jomeh (Friday) Mosque, one of the oldest surviving mosques in Iran and heard an explanation of 5 principles of Islam. The doors on either side of merab serve as entrance for the women who came from the women’s quarters to ask questions of the imam. A qanat system of underground irrigation lies 65 meters below mosque. Although the qanats have been replaced by a modern irrigation system, in ancient times, men used to carry water up to the surface in goatskins to sell at the bazaar. . We ate dinner at a restored bazaari’s restored house with interior gardens & hose (fountain). After dinner, we walked through the old interior rooms decorated with wooden latticework & colored glass in windows (about 200 years old) for tea. The traditional room was bare except for rugs & curtains & one modern desk. A SAF Representative talked about placing computers & Internet connections in the high schools with the Ministry of Education’s approval.

FRIDAY Oct. 25 Yazd-Isfahan On our way out of town, we stopped at a 1775 palace & gardens with intact minar (wind tower) being restored over the past 4 years. Basis for word minaret adopted by nomadic Arabs, who had no definitive style of architecture. Traditional mosques had one minaret – tower of light for pilgrims. Brick decoration in mosque with marble – alabaster stones to light the underground prayer rooms used by students 1,800 years ago. The desert heat made it necessary to go underground in the summer heat. Hot dry wind flows down into pool of water, then it is cooled & drawn through rest of building. During sandstorms, there is a way to block off the wind tower.

Brief stop en-route to Isfahan at a village, very famous for its earthenware & pottery. The desert is without trees, sparse vegetation, reminiscent of American southwest with dusty mountains in the distance. Elevation is about 1,500 meters. Outside temperature: 21?/day. 14?/night. We had a tea break at a wayfarer’s rest stop where a young family enjoyed the playground. Arrived in Isfahan after dark.

· SATURDAY-SUNDAY Oct. 26-27 Isfahan Jomeh Mosque from Seljuk Period (1,200 years ago) probably replaced Zoroastrian nar (fire) temple on this site. Capitals decorated with bricks (similar to Yazd) in Razii style. There are 2 domes – interior 42 m., exterior 52 m. The traditional form of the mosque has 4 evans (praying areas) around a central courtyard. In 12th c. A.D. the Mongol invader destroyed everything but when they reached Isfahan, they ‘persianized’ the buildings & converted the ruler to Islam. He took the name Sultan Mohammad. Dates back to 17th c. (Safavid Dynasty).

Mehrab = plasterwork with Persian swastika at top of arch. The names of Ali, Allah and Mohammad are repeated 4 times in cuniform throughout the mosque as well as cones for the Aryan ‘circling sun’ and 6 pointed stars on dome built by a successor to the earlier sultan.

The square in the pool at center of the mosque = base for the Passion Play held during Moharram. It also keeps the water used for ritual cleansing cool. Before the Haj, pilgrims practice the Haj Ceremony here.

Chehel Sotun Palace built in 17th c. by the Safavids who brought in Dutch painters from Europe to decorate the interior rooms. These are perfect examples of miniature banquets & fighting scenes with shah & opposition in center. Shah’s party is on horses, the Afghanis are on elephants. A huge shopping mall is going up across the street.

Note: We went past the office building PCV Alan Turpen designed and built in 1968 and visited the Armenian Vank Cathedral & Museum in New Joffa (southern part of city.) After lunch, we visited a carpet shop with a LARGE inventory of rugs. Our dinner was at the first class Shah Abbas (Abbassi Hotel) followed by tea in the garden. Our bus took us by the 2 old bridges lit up at dusk. The next day began with a visit to a Miniaturist’s shop, where artisans work on paintings under his direction. (Frames are made in another shop.) He demonstrated his techniques for us.

Then it was on to the Imam Square. First stop, Jomeh Mosque. Note: Portico is parallel with square but mosque is set off at 35? angle by carefully constructed portico/entrance in order to face Mecca. There are madressehs on side with central courtyards, filled with trees & niches all around for study-dorm rooms was badly damaged in 1980’s Iran-Iraq war but reconstruction is ongoing although architects have not yet figured out how to reproduce the tile & plaster combination used in original construction. (Bombs were aimed at city hall.) Again, a double-layered dome in main prayer hall. Scaffolding sits between the 2 domes to support structure. Note: wooden lattice windows to allow light inside. Pulpit is 1 piece of marble with 12 steps to top. Mosque holds 6-8,000 people. Main mehrab has a wooden door in the direction of Mecca. Ostod Beyhani was the 17th c. architect. Exterior walls are all blue, green & yellow for meditative state except for 2 panes of red tile to demonstrate that the artisans could create red tiles. Marble floor was quarried near Yazd and transported to Isfahan. There are wooden blocks placed between the lintels to act as shock absorbers in this earthquake prone region. During the summer, canvas tents are placed on scaffolding in the courtyard to accommodate the many people who come to pray. In ancient times, the prayer halls were sufficient to hold the people. The Chinese presented a pagoda to top one of the walls.

"Cheshme shemah gashange meberan" = Your eyes behold the beauty.

Shekh Lotfallah Mosque, also on Imam Square, was built for a famous cleric & used only by the royal family, and therefore does not require a minaret. There was an underground tunnel across the square for the women to travel to the mosque from the palace. Note the single piece of turquoise tiles spiraling around the archway. Also peacock designs signifying royal presence. Very intricate work with light blue, white, & deep blue cuniform.

Ali Qapu Palace, a 6 story building = administrative center during the Sayafid Dynasty. The cedar beams are now reinforced with iron rods. On the sixth floor, the ceiling of the music room & bedroom is intricate latticework decorated with goblets & wine jars & small balconies above the room for the musicians. There is also a secret bedroom between the 5th & 6th floors. Balcony on the fourth floor allowed the royal family to watch the polo field, which is the basis for many miniature paintings. Now there is a pool in the center of the square, "very useful for games of water polo." Lunch at the bazaar and afternoon free for shopping although most of the bazaar was shut. When the group reconvened at the hotel, we had a light supper and drove to airport for 30-minute flight back to Tehran, while our driver drove the bus back to Tehran.

· MONDAY Oct. 28 Tehran After a late night in Tehran, drove Tehran – Karaj – Qazvin – Rudbar – Manjil – Rasht Highway (past the Sefid Rud River basin & dam). The Sefid Rud Dam is officially named Sad Amir Kabir Dam. 30,000 residents of Manjil were killed in an earthquake 12 years ago. Now there is a large wind power farm on the hillsides but the dam held. This is an area famous for its olive groves (we stopped to shop on the return).

On the way, we heard a lecture on Iranian education. The University of Shiraz is the only Iranian university in which all courses are taught in English. The institution was founded by a successful bazaari who recruited the original faculty from Stanford, Johns Hopkins & UC Berkeley. As well there are ties to the University of Pennsylvania. Public education is free but parents must pay for books, clothes & transportation. School leaving age is after elementary or guidance (middle) school. Students start at age 7. Elementary is 5 years, guidance, 3 & high school 4. Students begin their study of Arabic in grade 5. Islamic traditions are also introduced in elementary school. After guidance school, students stream into various high school tracks. There are many private high schools, which are highly regarded; about 30 % attend these. Average yearly tuition is about $600 USD. University classes are mixed. University entrance exams are still administered but there are now both state & open universities.

Daneshgah = state university. 1 million take the entrance exam; 10% are accepted based on exam placement with city & discipline determined by exam placement. Students receive room, board & a stipend. The biggest domestic problem is that college grads are unemployed or underemployed, leading to a brain drain to Canada, Australia, & Europe. Men serve mandatory military service of 1-2 years after graduation. Open universities also require entrance exams. 10% accepted and students pay tuition 10-12,000 USD. Families often have to sell carpets & work 2 jobs in order to pay for their first generation college students. 30% of spaces are reserved for war veterans, martyrs & their families. Similar teacher literacy programs in remote areas have replaced the Literary Corps. 60% of university students are women because there are 300,000 more women under the age of 25 than men. (Currently, 20 million Iranian people are under the age of 25.)All schools (starting from elementary) are separated by gender.

Madresseh: (Islamic theological schools) Men who graduate from high school may take 4 years of basic training & 6-8 years of continued student to rise to ayatollah status (although this is not automatic). There is no entrance exam & religious students receive free education. There are a few madressehs for women. From a lecture on religion: 4,000 years ago, the nomadic tribes who first populated Persia contributed to the intimacy of Shi’ite Islam & politics including the tradition of fatwah.

Rasht now has a population of 600-750,000! Our lunch at a famous restaurant outside of Fuman featured fesenjan with duck & lots of other goodies, including lots of olives & hot peppers. The bus had to creep down the driveway almost to river’s edge. There is a ring road around this provincial capital now. We saw see several billboards honoring basajii = volunteers who served in the Iran-Iraq war. They also featured a leader of the "jangalis" who fought Papa Shah, the British, & Russians in the 1920s. These guerrilla fighters vowed never to cut their hair or shave until the Shah was defeated.

In Bandar-e-Ansali we had a special treat at dusk: a speedboat thrill ride through the salt marshes adjacent to the Caspian Sea. Lots of fun! Midway, we stopped for tea at a water restaurant. After dinner, we had an excellent presentation from a Rasht Open University representative who is working on introducing computer labs & Internet connections into regional high schools. Then we strolled along the Caspian seashore to pick up shells for souvenirs.

· TUESDAY Oct. 29 Anzali - Rasht – Hamadan Early rise: breakfast at 7 am & bags out for 8 am departure. It was a long ride back to Qazvin & southwest of Teheran to Hamadan. On our way south to Rudbar, we passed the Imamzadeh Hadeh Shrine, a holy place for Shi’ite Muslims. We also saw fields of rice, now mainly straw, although there were a few winter plantings, and made a brief stop to buy olives & other souvenirs. We ate lunch at the Shater (baker) Abbas Restaurant, which features bread made on the spot. We had a brief rain shower as we passed the Zanjan exit. Our travels took us through another mountain range, with terraced farms & many herds of sheep, goats, and a few donkeys. On the eastern edge of the Province of Hamadan there was a very bad earthquake in 2001. The communities are still recovering & lots of Red Crescent tents & rebuilding are in evidence as the winter weather approaches. Arriving at our destination well after dark, we went directly to the Alisadr Water Cave (the longest water cave in the world) where we toured by artificial colored lights in paddleboats. The guide pointed to one column in the dark & reminded us that it was "better seen in daylight."

On the way back to Hamadan, we were serenaded with a special tape of western music featuring "oldies but goodies" like Ella Fitzgerald. A real sing-along – moving kareoke that put us all in the mood for the next day’s lecture.

· WEDNESDAY Oct. 30 Hamadan Note: the Parsis, Parthians & Medes all immigrated south from the steppes of Russia. Hamadan (Ecbatana, the capital of ancient Media) dates back to 700BCE. ’ This was the summer palace of the Shah because of the pleasant climate. This was a very prosperous area in ancient times. The city had 7 walls around it with gold & silver on the inner walls & the place was frequently invaded in search of precious jewels & metals. The Aryan nomads knew herbal medicines & metal work. Medes = source of the word ‘medical’. Mt. Avand is at 3,580 meters. The population is about 500,000. This is the oldest Jewish community after Jerusalem & Iran has the highest Jewish population in a Muslim country. 6 avenues radiate from the main square. We toured the Mausoleum of Esther and her uncle Mordekhai, "a just man." She was consort to Xerxes & encouraged him to give the Jews more freedom. Note: Shus (Suza in SW Iran) is the site of Prophet Daniel’s mausoleum.

We also visited the mausoleum of Abu Ali Sina, 850 AD. Saint, philosopher & court physician. A French architect designed the monument, which is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Iris in bloom! The library contains some of his books, which were used up until the 12th c. He is known for establishing the practice of Grand Rounds for medical students. An unscheduled stop in Hamadan at a wood-making shop gave us an opportunity to clean the artisan out! Lunch at the hotel featured a special Kermanshah khoresh: rice, lamb in a thin sauce with barberries & slivered almonds.

Our final stop in the rain was to see the writings of Darius and Xerxes. The road back to Tehran passed again through the earthquake region. Our driver carefully drove the bus on the slippery highway. Note: sprinkles, followed by heavy rain, temperature in the low 60 degrees! You could see your breath. Instead of a/c, we asked to have the heat turned on! We had a final lecture on Iranian love & marriage. There are 3 types of marriage: traditional – arranged; modern & modified. We were greeted with snow on the mountaintops of the Elborz Mts. on our final morning in Tehran.

· THURSDAY/FRIDAY Oct. 31/Nov. 1 Tehran & 3 AM departure for Frankfort, Germany, The long day began with a morning tour of the Archeological Museum (Islamic addition built after 1970). Images of mountain goats and ripples are symbols of water – very precious in this part of the world. Bull with cuniform writing on back = symbol of friendship. Mitra religion followed Zoroastrianism. We saw many animal vessels that held intoxicating drinks. Several treasures from Persepolis have been moved to this museum for safekeeping. The Seleucid Dynasty (Greek) after the death of Alexander of Macedonia produced some artifacts. Greeks were defeated in 80 years by the Partians who ruled Iran for 400 yrs. But in the first 200 years, they fought the Greeks, and then the Romans. We spent almost 3 hours at this museum. Everyone was tired after 2 long rides. First lunch was back at the first restaurant. Ab Gusht – a special lamb, chickpea & potato stew cooked for 5-6 hrs in special clay pots. Next day’s lunch held at a special restaurant in Shemiran, across from the S. African Embassy. Spotless & first class service. After lunch, some of us went to see the Carpet Museum, built about 30 years ago by Empress Farah Diba to display antique carpets by geographical region. Presentations are in Farsi &English. On the second floor is a special display of carpets commissioned to illustrate stories of the Shahnameh.

Friday afternoon was free for shopping. A wonderful Farewell party, complete with birthday cake! Excellent live music completed the festivities. Then it was on to Mehrabad Airport for the 3 am departure. Tears welled up as we said goodbye to our wonderful Iranian hosts.


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Story Source: Friends of Iran

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