Since ancient times, foreigners have shown avid interest in the life and customs of Iranians. The mysteries of Iranian plateau attracted many researchers and swashbucklers from other lands, especially the West.
Their travel logs can be divided into three major categories: those written by historians and chronologists, those compiled by globetrotters, politicians and businesspeople, and those researched by orientalists as well as institutes of eastern and Iranian studies, IranReview reported.
Herodotus, the great historian, was perhaps the first foreigner to write about Iranian culture and traditions.
His book “Iran-Greek Wars” is perhaps the first book of history and earned him the nickname, “Father of History”.
Other people also wrote on Iranians at that time and most of them were not positive accounts. They included Xenophon, the Athenian historian, who preceded the final fall of Persian Empire by 20 years, a Greek physician who served Iranian king, Xerxes, and a navy commander of Alexander the Great, who has written an account of pearl hunting in the Persian Gulf.
After Alexander conquered Iran, the Greek came to know more about the Iranians. Later, during the reign of Seleucid and Parthian kings, the Silk Road gained importance and was a conduit for information flow into Greece. Then scientific research in Europe became dormant until about 12th and 13th centuries AD.
One of the first European globetrotters to visit Iran in the Middle Ages was the Spanish Benjamin Todlaei who arrived here for trade in about the middle of the 12th century AD.
The great Venetian globetrotter of the 13th century AD, Marco Polo, arrived in Iran in 1271 from the east. He crossed such cities as Tabriz, Soltaniyeh, Saveh, Kashan, Yazd and Kerman, and has written a detailed account of geographical conditions as well as arts of Iran, including the Iranian gardens.
Interestingly, he was the first European to inform the West that Mongols had invaded Iran.
After Marco Polo, many European travelers visited Iran, including Odorico da Pordenone. He arrived in Iran in about 1316-1318 AD and was the first European who has talked about Persepolis.
Another important travel log about Iran was written by Gonzales Clavijo (1403 AD) who headed a delegation sent by Henry III to Tamerlane’s court in Samarkand. He crossed the cities of Khoi, Tabriz, Zanjan, Soltaniyeh, Tehran, Rey, Esfarayen, Neishabour, Mashhad, Tous, Semnan, Varamin, and Qazvin. He has made valuable notes about the people and customs of Iran in his travel log.
The Safavid rule as well as the socioeconomic stability and security created by Shah Abbas I turned the Iranian capital city of Isfahan into a major trade and tourism hub of the world.
During that time, many businesspeople from across the world went to Isfahan and lived there. Shah Abbas had turned the city into an international center for economic and cultural exchanges, and accepted people from different nationalities.
There are many travel logs written at that time because the Iranians kings had close ties with their European counterparts.
Their accounts are in most instances superior to those written by royal secretaries. Major travel logs written at that time belonged to Pietro Della Valle, Thomas Herbert, Jean Chardin, Engelbert Kaempfer, Adam Olearius, Tavernier and other people.
Della Valle Travel Log
Pietro Della Valle (1586 AD) was born in a noble family in Rome and studied law at Umoristi Academy of Rome where he graduated. After learning some eastern languages, including Turkish and Persian, he set out for the east. He called himself a pilgrim and lived for some years in Asia Minor, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Mesopotamia. He married an Assyrian girl in Mesopotamia before setting off to Fars and Kerman.
Della Valle started his journey to Iran in 1617 AD that coincided with the rule of Shah Abbas the Great.
After traveling to Isfahan, he lived in a house given to him by Shah Abbas for three years. In 1621, he left Isfahan for India and in the meantime, lived in Shiraz and Lar for two years.
For the first time, he introduced Europeans to the cuneiform script and took a lot of precious manuscripts of Persian books to Europe, most of which are still being kept at the Vatican Museum. In addition, he has written a small article about Shah Abbas.
Chardin Travel Log
Jean Chardin was born to a wealthy family in Paris. To continue his father’s trade in precious stones, he traveled east for the first time when he was still 20. He arrived in Iran in 1665 AD through Istanbul and Asia Minor, and stayed in Isfahan for 18 months.
After leaving Iran through Bandar Abbas, he returned to Iran two years later and went to Isfahan. In Isfahan, he was known as “royal merchant” or “goldsmith of the king court”.
Chardin visited Iran during different phases of Safavid rule. It was a golden time when many European representatives had gathered in Isfahan, where the wealthiest world merchants met.
In addition to details about Iranian cities, peoples and their traditions, Chardin’s travel log contains valuable pictures, some of which are unique documents about history and culture of this country.
Comparing travel logs written by foreigners who visited Iran with travel logs written by Iranians visiting Europe, and aspects that attracted the attention of the two groups has been largely ignored. This could lead to a deeper understanding of historical interactions between Iran and other countries, and can give rise to positive outcomes.
Armor Weaving Still Alive
More than 600 armors (decorative breastplate and shoulder guards) are woven in Mashhad-e Alkoubeh Village of Arak in Markazi province annually.
Director general of the province’s cultural heritage, handicrafts and tourism department, Mojtaba Rezvani, said 80 families are involved in the production of armors.
He said the village is among the main center producing armor in Markazi province.
The official said thanks to the efforts made by prominent armor weavers of the region, a large number of youths have been acquainted with the traditional art.
He noted that the armors produced in the village have been used in historical TV series, including Imam Ali (AS) and Mokhtarnameh.
Rezvani said the price of each armor is between 1.5 million rials to 20 million rials.
The armors were previously used in traditional religious ceremonies like Ta’zieh.
Sistan-Baluchestan Exports Traditional Garments
Sistan-Baluchestan province exports traditional garments to Persian Gulf littoral states, including Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, said director general of the province’s cultural heritage, handicrafts and tourism department.
Malek Sanjarani also said these countries have many cultural commonalities with Makran, which is a semi-desert coastal strip in the south of Sindh and Baluchestan in Pakistan and Iran respectively, along the coast of the Arabian Sea and Oman Sea.
“Nikshahr is one of the major centers producing traditional garments in the province,” he said, adding that garments are among the most obvious cultural feature of each region.
Sanjarani said garment exports help introduce and promote the local culture of the province.
Iranian handicrafts, with a history of 3,500 years, enjoy unique diversity and potentials.
The revenues earned thorough tourism and handicraft export can replace oil income.
Sanjarani said about 300 million rials of traditional garments were exported from Nikshahr during Sept. 22-Nov. 20.
Washed Should Be The Eyes
By Sohrab Sepehri
I don’t know why it is said:
“Horse is gallant, pigeon is beautiful “.
And why nobody keeps a vulture in a cage?
What is absent in sweet clover that is present in red tulip.
Washed should be the eyes, another vision should be found.
Washed should be the words.
Word itself should be the wind;
word itself should be the rain.
Umbrellas should be closed.
Under the rain, should every one go.
Under the rain, thought and memory should be taken.
With all people of the city,
under the rain, one should go.
Friend, under the rain, should be met,
Love, under the rain, should be sought.
Under the rain, one should play.
Under the rain, one should write, talk, sow lotus.
Life is getting wet time after time.
Life is swimming in the pond of ‘Now’.
Let us taste brightness,
Weigh the night of a village, the sleep of a deer,
Perceive the warmth of the stork’s nest,
Tread not on the law of lawn,
Loosen the knot of taste in vineyard.
And open the mouth, if the Moon comes out,
And cry not that the Night is bad,
And cry not that the glowworm is unaware of the garden’s vision.
And let us bring baskets
And pick up so much red, so much green.
In a wide mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in 3 cups warm water. Add the sugar and set aside for 10 minutes.
Add the salt to the yeast mixture and mix well. Gradually add the flour and stir constantly. When 7 cups flour have been added and you have a sticky dough, add 1 tablespoon oil and mix for 2 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a floured counter and knead for about 15 minutes, adding the rest of the flour if necessary, until the dough is neither sticky not stiff.
Pour 3 tablespoons of oil into another wide bowl and place the dough over it. Cover the bowl entirely with a clean damp towel or plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for 2 hours in a warm, dark place.
Punch the air out of the dough while it is still in the bowl and flip it over. Cover with a clean damp towel and allow to rise for an extra half an hour.
To cook the bread, preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C) for at least 20 minutes.
To Make the Glaze
In a small bowl, mix the baking soda, flour and warm water, and mix well until smooth.
With oily hands, divide the dough into 4 balls. Place each ball on a lightly oiled surface. Use an oiled rolling pin to roll each ball out to an approximately 14x8-inch oval shape. Place loaves on an oiled surface, cover with a towel, and leave at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Dust the baker’s peel with the cornmeal and transfer a loaf to the baker’s peel.
Brush the glaze down the length of the dough. With damp fingers, make dents on top of the loaf and sprinkle the tops with seeds.
Immediately slide the dough in the oven, cornmeal side down, and bake for 8 minutes. Turn over and bake for 2 to 4 minutes longer.
Continue for the remaining loaves.
Remove the bread from the oven and slide it onto cooling rack. Cover with a clean towel and serve hot.
Iran is holding a book fair and displaying Iranian artifacts in Tehran’s National Museum to mark Research Week that started on Dec.15.