Magi and Murder: Kashan, Part 2

Wise men, called the three magi from the East, came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” The word “magus” is of Persian origin.

Legends and tradition assigned the meaning of the “kings of the Orient’ to the Zoroastrians, men versed in a prophecy of Zoroaster (emissary of Ahura Mazda). According to A.V. Williams Jackson, Columbia University, a majority of the Church Fathers regard Persia as the native country of the wise men, without expressly locating their place of origin. Marco Polo, however, mentions three places in Persia from which these ‘kings’ were supposed to have come, with special emphasis on the “castle of the fire-worshippers.” Jackson believes the reference Marco makes to Cassan (Kashan) establishes the location of these learned people in the region of Kashan, or perhaps 20 miles south on the Kashan-Isfahan road-- now a deserted place where a settlement of fire-worshippers gathered adjacent to the ruins of a magnificent caravanserai. (A. V. Williams Jackson, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 26 (1905), pp. 79-83, Published by: American Oriental Society). (More on the Zoroastrians, in later blogs).

Kashan bazaar ceiling

It is far from certain whether Kashan figured in the biblical account of the discovery of Jesus but its candidacy reflects the ancient mystique of this city, an oasis on a desert (the Maranjab) strewn with mounds dating back several millennia BC. Kashan’s antiquity is attested by the mud-brick backstreets and a cluster of palatial homes. Kashan was a leisure vacation spot for Safavi Kings.

Timcheh-e Amin o Dowleh -bazaar hub

Among the highlights of any visit to this city is the virtually undiminished historical Kashan Bazaar with its central Timcheh-e Amin o Dowleh – a structure designed to naturally regulate temperature and sunlight, and ventilate the interior. Wandering within the cavern-like market I discovered what I dubbed the “green mosque”, presiding over a back alley courtyard that was nearly deserted but bathed in emerald-colored lights – I learned that green is a popular color in Iran and symbolizes, according to one account, "gardens, nature, heaven, and sanctity." Green also purportedly was the favorite color of the prophet Muhammad. In the 12th century, green was chosen as dynastic color by the (Shiite) Fatimids, in contrast to the black used by the (Sunnite) Abbasids.

A towering ceiling dominates the hub of the Kashan bazaar

My "green mosque" of Kashan

No ruler of this nation could ever be entirely comfortable with the verse that reads:

"The Sultan's crown, with priceless jewels set Encircles fear of death and constant dread It is a head-dress much desired — and yet [Are you sure it's] worth the danger to the head?" by the poet known as Hafez

Kashan's central gardens, the Bagh-e Fin (or Fin Garden, featured in last week’s blog), were designed for Shah Abbas I as a classical Persian “vision of paradise.” It was in a small enclave adjacent to the gardens where Mirza Taghi Khan known as Amir Kabir, chancellor of Iran's king, in 1852 was assassinated. Before the murder, Mirza had drastically undercut the financial prospects of the royalty. Apparently a power struggle in Tehran, flavored by contesting intrigues of British and Russian parties, led to his arrest and expulsion from the capital. Amir Kabir was sent to Kashan under restraints and was held in isolation pursuant to the Shah's decree, until he was executed six weeks later. The Queen Mother and his executioner, Ali Khan Farash-bashi, had convinced the King that a Russian plot to protect Amir Kabir was afoot. Amir Kabir was murdered in Kashan on January 10, 1852.

A Queen Mother (faceless) amidst flowers and birds

This manhandling and elimination of the man by the ruling powers is sordid, but I cannot vouch for Amir Kabirs’ populist sentimentality either. Notably, he had regarded the followers of Bábism, the predecessor of the Bahá'í Faith, as a threat, and personally ordered the execution of the Seven Martyrs of Tehran and the execution of The Báb, himself, the movement's founder. The "martyrs" were seven prominent Bábis (merchants and clerics) who were publicly executed by beheading in February 1850. Abdu'l-Bahá, leader of the successor Baha’i faith, referred to Amir Kabir as the greatest of that religion's oppressors.

Kashan today has a brooding nature, perhaps remembering past upheavals and intrigues. During my brief stop in Kashan in 2017, I resided in Saraye Ameriha Boutique Hotel and restored Tabatabaei House, recently renovated and repurposed to become one of the luxury hotels in the city. It consists of courtyards, wall paintings and mirrors with elegant stained glass windows. Tabatabaei was designed by Ustad Ali Maryam, architect of the nearby Borujerdis House and the bazaar's Timcheh Amin od-Dowleh, the bazaar hub downtown. Short stairways lead in every which direction. Even now I am uncertain whether I was being entertained in Tabatabaei or Ameriha House, as these classic homes with many courtyards are clustered in one corner of the city.

More than once I had to pause and backtrack in search of my assigned room within the walled labyrinth. In one random ascent of some steps I reach a rooftop, and experienced there an eerie silence and vague nostalgic sensation as though I had regressed in time. A soft partially unveiled September moon, and a cooler desert breeze, that night was ushering in Ashura in Muharram, the second most sacred celebration for Muslims after the Ramadan.

Tabatabaei House

The Tabatabaei property (40 rooms, 3 wind towers, 4 yards) is one of several elaborate merchant-owned mansions in Ishfahan province, many having been originally financed on the backs of travellers paying tolls along the Silk Road. The property has secret rooms and passageways, including one (leading to a darkness above) positioned in the wall of my lavishly tiled bathroom, featuring two showers and a deep Jacuzzi-capacity traditional tub.

My bathroom with hidden entrance behind the cross-hatched wooden grating on the right. Ah, but might there be my dream lover awaiting a rendez-vous at the end of the dark passage.

Intricate masonry and brick patterns are characteristics of venerable historical homes throughout Iran

Many rooms are still undergoing renovation

By hand

Hand restoration of a palatial home, my hotel, in Kashan

As my fellow travellers can attest, the woodwork, paintings, carvings and decorative art, much of which are still now being delicately retouched and updated, conspire with fragrant gardens, hammams (Turkish baths) and pools to offer a visitor a moment of timeless relaxation.

Kashan is the edge of contemporary history. Travelling southeast and west from here amidst the Karkas mountain range, a traveller confronts the more ancient and complicated origins of the empire, couched in the annals collected from Biblical times. (Kashan to Yazd, the Zoroastrians, Persepolis, etc.) to be continued.

Additional Gallery:

Tabatabaei House

The tree amidst leaves

Bazaar and Nightlife

It is party time under the other major color (red, the blood of martyrs) in Iran, besides green and black

Which black to choose?

Face in Time

My designated Green Mosque, Kashan

Remove shoes, everyone seems welcome

Women here are dressed warmly for the evening. Desert heat turns cool at night.

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