Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Qazvin...A Legendary Land

7th C Jame' Atiq mosque, Qazvin city

The age-old city of Qazvin is established in a wide land with a background of ten millennia of dwelling place and contained in itself a great deal of eminent works that belong to the far millennium. This city enjoyed a special place in the Safavid era and was the capital of the empire of Safavid Shi’ite. A former capital and a prosperous town, Qazvin was a flourishing center of civilization during the Sassanid era that lasted five centuries.

On Sunday, 15 April 2007, the ASEAN Ladies Circle (ALC) of Tehran organized a one-day trip to the city of Qazvin. The city is located about 120 km west of Tehran, and it took us about two hour’s bus ride to arrive there at 9.00 in the morning.

Qazvin is regarded an important historical site. In addition to the relics of Sassanid era, it boasts of Safavid buildings made a century before the development of Isfahan as the capital of Iran.

Upon arrival, we first had our Iranian breakfast at Alborz Hotel Restaurant in the city center. After greeting, welcoming and a short briefing by our local guide who also accompanied us from Tehran, we began our tour of the city with a visit to the Chehelsotoon Palace.

Chehelsotoon Palace, also called Kolah Farangi, is one of the significant Safavid monuments of Qazvin, located in the center of a large garden, and now serving as the city’s museum. It was the model for the Hasht-Behesht edifice in Isfahan. Chehelsotoon is a two-storey building in whose chambers some relics belonging to different period, including the Safavid epoch are on exhibition.
From Chehelsotoon, the group then walked to the covered Bazaar Qazvin. The numerous caravanserais and corridors of the traditional bazaar of Qazvin are among the most spectacular sites of the city, with its interesting old architectural designs. In different parts of the bazaar, there were some mosques, bath houses and Qeisarieh.
Like many other cities in Iran, the mosques of Qazvin are among the most valuable and spectacular buildings. These include the Jame’ Atiq mosque built at the order of Haroun, the Abbasid caliph, in the 7th century AD, and Sardar Mosque and seminary school built during the Qajar era in the 19th century.
The stately domes, minarets, portals, doors, windows and exquisite tile works of Haidaiyyeh, Al-Nabi, Sanjideh and Salehiyyeh mosques and seminary school really attracted our attention.
For lunch, we were served with a local food of Qazvin called “Qaymeh Nesa” at one of the traditional restaurants in the city.
The next itinerary in our program was a visit to Sardar Cistern on the eastern side of Rah Ahan (railroad) street. Qazvin has some of Iran’s best-preserved and most impressive domed cistern. More than a hundred underground water reservoirs were built in Qazvin during frequent bouts of draught. The structure of the reservoirs and materials used in them make every visitor wonder about the mastery of its architects. The founder of this cistern was two brothers and great warriors of Fath Ali Shah of qajar dynasty.
Apart from the few sites we managed to visit above, there were many other fascinating and historical places in and around Qazvin. However due to the time constraint, we had to return back to Tehran according to the time schedule.
One of them is the shattered remnants of over 50 mountain fortresses or castles, most notably of which is the Alamut castle. It’s another world from the city but just about 30 to 80 km away, situated at the foot of the central Alborz mountain range. In the 11th century the Ismaelite movement known as the Assassins controlled the area under the legendary leadership of Hassan Sabbah, popularly known as “the Old Man of the Mountain.” They were finally overcome during the Mongol invasion in 1256 AD.
Insya Allah, when time opportune, we hope to return back to this legendary lands…the land of all seasons.

breakfast at Alborz hotel restaurant

beautiful wood-framed colored glass windows of Chehelsotoon

spacious park and garden at Chehelsotoon

Chehelsotoon edifice

strolling to the old bazaar

with friends from Oman, Korea and Georgia

entrance to Qazvin bazaar

inside the bazaar

old artifact...wooden door

bazaar interior

exterior of bazaar

smaller yards leading to Saray-e Sadolsaltaneh

inside main yard of Saray-e Sadolsaltaneh

going down to Sardar cistern

sculptures inside the complex

on the way up...

greatest domed cistern in Iran

one of the main city landmarks

lunch break

tile work inside Imamzadeh Hossein shrine

shrine of Imamzadeh Hossein

spectacular tourists attraction

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ashura and Arba'een

Ashura...religious symbolism

Ashura is a major religious festival commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hossien, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad Salallahu Alaihi Wasallam at Karbala in 680 AD.

Ashura, which falls on the 10th day of Muharram, is a day of great mourning in Iran when strong emotions are expressed in the many rituals and activities connected to this day.

In Iran, the commemoration has become a national holiday and all ethnic and religious communities participate in it. The day is of particular significance to the Iranian Shi’a Muslims. It is a time for sorrow and respect for Imam Hussein, and it is also a time for self-reflection, when one commits oneself to the mourning of their third Imam completely.

In Tehran, as in other cities and towns in Iran, the people express their mourning by crying and listening to poems about the tragedy and sermons on how Hussein and his family were martyred. This is intended to connect them with Hussein’s suffering and martyrdom, and the sacrifices he made to keep Islam alive. Hussein’s martyrdom is widely interpreted here as a symbol of the struggle against injustice, tyranny and oppression.

During most of the Ashura processions that we have observed in Tehran, certain rituals like the traditional flagellation ritual called zanjeer zani or zanjeer matam (chest beating), involving the use of a zanjeer (chain) are usually performed. These are not religious customs but are popularly done for the sake of Imam Hussein and his family.

Commemoration of Ashura, in essence, is not a festival, but rather a sad event. Ta’zieh and passion plays are also performed reenacting the battle of Karbala. Many of the male participants in the procession congregate together in public for ceremonial chest beating as a display of their devotion to Imam Hussein and in remembrance to his suffering.

Forty days after the day of Ashura, there is another religious observation known here as Arbaeen. Arbaeen which means forty in Arabic falls on the 20th day of the Muslim month of Safar. It marks an important turning point in the movement of Karbala. The day is no less important to the day of Ashura. According to the tradition here, it is primarily the day when the Ahlul Bayt reached the land of Karbala and performed the visitation to Sayyid ash-Shuhada al-Hussien (as) and the loyal family and friends who gave their life for the cause of Islam.

During the forty days from Ashura to Arbaeen, usually the people refrain from any kind of entertainment such as music and singing in public which are considered impolite. It is supposed to be a period of intense grief and mourning.

At the end of every Ashura processions (and sometime after the Arbaeen procession), it is customary for some people to donate free meals, food and drink (Niazz) to all people. Lambs and cows are usually slaughtered and cooked at various locations throughout the city to cater for all participants and the general public.

At last year’s Ashura procession, we were kindly invited to observe the ritual at a makeshift camp in the city where foods were cooked and prepared. In fact throughout the day, one can always find rows of people queuing up along the main streets, to receive their free meals of rice and beef or lamb. Even when you are staying home, there will always be kind-hearted neighbors around to surprise you with packs of traditional rice dishes, sufficient for the day’s lunch!

Images of Ashura 1430 Hijrah (2009)....
images depicting epic of Karbala

hot tea kiosk for all...

Ashura procession begins...

chest beating ritual

us...among the crowds

assalamualaika ya hussein...

women among the faithful worshippers

an episode of Karbala...

main procession

reciting the poems...

chilly winter morning

chanting of ya...Hossein
Images of Ashura 1429 Hijrah (2008)...

drum beating...

chest beating ritual

lunch for all...

sacrificial lambs...

preparing food for everyone...

saffron rice
Images of Ashura 1428 Hijrah (2007)...
young devotee...

colorful banners

Images of Arba'een 1430 Hijrah (2009)...
leading the procession

re-enacting movement to Karbala

veiled woman on camelback

woman in caravan


end of Arbaeen procession

(Photography by hamsare-mosafer, Nikon D80, Canon Ixus 50)