About 2 ½ hours south of Tehran on the Qom-Kerman road, the smaller conservative oasis of Kashan bakes alongside a parched desert. This city-town, packed at one time with palatial mansions and treated by some of the Qajar shahs as a retreat from the intrigues of the royal suites in the capital, like so many Near East caravansaries, again is rich in historical and religious significance that is still being deciphered. Archeological discoveries nearby indicate this region was one of the primary centers of civilization in prehistoric ages – the so-called Elamite period of Iran. And according to legend, the three wise men (or magi) bearing gifts to Jesus began their journey following the Star of David from this town. Zoroastrian traditions here eventually became submerged under the waves of Arabian Muslims that swept eastward and westward near the end of the 6th Century AD.
Kashan building painting
Iranian with Mature Eyes
The Emamzadeh Ebrahim is one of the smaller Islamic historical structures in Kashan, and with 20th century enhancements the shrine displays Persian sensibilities in mirrors, rugs and tiles. Built in 1894, this mausoleum boasts a conical tiled turquoise roof that is distinctive to this area. I could only marvel at the play of light in a late afternoon sunshine while wandering in stocking feet on rugs and tiles beneath the holy glow of multicolored glitter. Plastic chairs for the caretakers seemed an anomaly and anachronism.
Glitter and Plastic
Then on a much larger scale is a World Heritage site that is commonly referred to as Bagh-e Fin Gardens and bath, one of Central Asia’s grander picnic grounds for royalty and citizens alike. The grounds are quenched by nearby springs and host a variety of flora including a healthy dose of Cyprus trees.
Here, despite the ultra-conservative nature of the population, hospitality shown to Americans was relentless and playful. One woman among a clutch of picnicking women runs over and offers cake. At an intersection, another young lady rolls down her car’s window and hands over small candies with a smile and brief wave of her hand, and drives away. Observing the congeniality among the locals, I relished the seeming normalness of life here and welcomed the peacefulness, broken only at one point by some women who wanted me to take their picture; then by a cry from a young boy who fell into the water sluicing from the palace bath. Mother and son shared this moment with relative poise like any parent and child could anywhere in the world.
All wet after the plunge
Another brave wader in the spring water
The mansion of Bagh-e Fin was under reconstruction and painting while I looked on.
No face royalty. Faces are often left blank in Persian art, but not always.
The details of some reconstructive ceiling painting at the mansion
To be continued in Part II
Additional photos of the mausoleum and of the gardens
Carpets at Emamzadeh Ebrahim
Ceiling of Imamzadeh Ebrahim, Kasha
Elamites (pre Persia)