Kashan; One Jam-Packed Sightseeing Adventure.
A story about everyday travel struggles, new friends on the road and a day full of history, architecture and beauty in Kashan.
11-12-2017, 10 minute read.
Traveling like a local doesn’t always come easy. Living in the suburbs of cities is a great way to observe local life, but transportation can be hard to find. I happened to be in Kashan, a city approximately 200 kilometers southwest of Tehran, when the day started with an unexpected challenge.
I had an appointment with two ladies to go sightseeing in the old city center, too far to go by foot from here. I reckoned I’d take a taxi, but Hamid, my host for the night told me there are no taxi’s driving around in this area. Public transportation was also absent in this corner of the city. ‘Your best chance is to call the operator, and to order a taxi’ Hamid suggested. ‘but it will be challenging as they most likely won’t speak English’ Just before he left for work he marked a point on the map. ‘call a taxi from this point, it will be easier’ Confident with this instruction I got myself ready. Whilst eating breakfast Hamed called me ‘I informed the operator about your ride. They expect your phone call and will pick you up from the home when you call them. They know the address’ He spoke to me in English. How wonderful when things are made easy in life! Now that I didn’t have to walk to the point on the map, I had a ton of time left to relax, eat and write. Caught up in my stories time was already on the short side when I finally called the operator. A repetitive, short tone reached my ear. The line was busy. A second attempt followed. But again no luck. Also the third and fourth time the line was busy. Fifteen minutes passed by when I finally got an answer from the operator. ‘Salam…something in Farsi’ ‘Hello sir, my friend sai…’ As soon as I addressed him in English he cut the line. That didn’t work well! I made another attempt, but of course, the line was busy. Time kept passing and this was clearly not working. I decided to leave the house and to search for a taxi while calling. The only person around, a kind, middle aged man, directed me to one end of the street to increase my chances. Whilst on my way I got connected to the operator again. With my best ‘Salam’ I greeted the man, and continued in a clear, slow, voice. He seemed to understand English a little better and tried to help me as much as he could. The struggle to explain that his company already knew the address was real. In simplified English, and as clear as I could I kept repeating ‘my friend called you, you know the address’ but I couldn’t get through. How lucky was I, that, at that point the middle aged man stopped his car right beside me, asked where I needed to go and offered me a ride! Whoehoe! The victory feels great! After nearly 30 minutes I was finally on the way to my Iranian friends for a good day of sightseeing :D! I got dropped at the old heart of the city, in in walking distance of the Tabatabaei House. The first of many places to visit.
Shirin and her friend were already waiting for me. And ready to start exploring. Although they study in this city, they’ve never actually been sightseeing in Kashan. Given that all places were new to all of us added a lot of extra fun to the exploration. The first visit of the day is in the Tabatabaei house; a historical family house that should not be missed during a trip to Kashan. Build for the Tabatabaei family in the 1880’s, the house covers nearly 5000 (!) square meters, has 40 rooms, four courtyards and three amazing wind ward’s. The architecture and design of the house are at least to be called impressive! The tall wind wards, designed to keep designated rooms cool during the burning hot summer by catching wind from the sky, are an architectural miracle and great example of stunning, intelligent, Persian design. Classical interior and beautiful handwoven carpets await us inside, as do wood crafted windows and doors and symmetrical, red, blue, orange and green glass windows with traditional floral design. Even more amazing is the exterior of the complex; numerous plaster designs decorate the walls in a variety of patterns. Flowers in vases, floral motives and geometrical shapes alternate with beautiful symbols such as long stretched cedar trees, lion-like suns, and birds with feathered tails. Shirin explains me that cedar trees have a special place in the hearts of Iranians. And that it is believed that the soldiers who died for their country, as well as good people, heroes, are given eternal life by turning into trees. The sun remains from the Zoroastrian religion, one of the oldest, if not oldest religion in Iran. It symbolizes divinity and light and can be found widely throughout Iran. And the bird is a mythological creature that arises from fire. It’s such a pleasure to walk around with two very knowledgeable girls!
From one piece of architecture we continued to another; the Hamman of Sultan Amir Ahmad; a 16th century traditional bathhouse that used to be open to public. A narrow passage leads us to a large octal shaped chamber, that used to be the dressing room and a place for relaxation and socialization. Turquoise and yellow tiles in geometrical shapes and patterns, as well as beautiful plaster work in soft, green and red tones decorate the walls and ceiling. I can already imagine people gathering here, getting ready for the washing ritual. Their voices echoing softly under the arched roof.
I follow their footsteps into the maze-like corridor that is designed to reduce temperature and humidity exchange between the dressing and bathing room. And enter a second octal shaped chamber. This one used for bathing, providing visitors multiple private baths with hot water. The embellishments equally beautiful, but less colorful with the plasterworks’ grey tint.
If only the bathhouse was still operating! After experiencing hot springs and bathhouses in South-Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China mainland, Nepal and India it would’ve been interesting to experience such a place in Iran as well. But who knows, maybe another day in another place.
On our way to the exit the ticket seller suggested us to visit the rooftop of the hammam, where I gazed at the surrealistic domed architecture of the roof. The shape of the domes, together with multiple circular glass windows, allow natural daylight to enter the hammam, so that no electricity is needed. Another interesting example of Persian design!
Given that Kashan is famed for its many historical houses, we wanted to visit another well recommended home; the Abbasi house. This place, truly enormous, was built by a wealthy family in the late 18th century. Similar to the Tabatabaei house the place is full of wall carvings, decorations, mosaic mirrors and traditional doors with colorful stained glass. Although the home is mostly empty, it’s still nice to walk around. The courtyards are many, and the rooms even more. It’s not hard to get amazed by the size of this complex.
The fun really started when we allowed ourselves to get lost in the place; following a tangle of stairs up and down, leading us to interesting places such as hidden treasury rooms, small rooms with very low ceilings, rooftops, outside spaces on the second floor and an old kitchen space and dark rooms in the basement. As we explore through so many rooms, stairs, halls and courtyards I get the feeling that we are walking in a small settlement. Like a small village within a city. With space for trade, relaxation, eating and living. But only for the wealthy Abbasi family.
We actually managed to get lost in the passages of this maze-like structure. And struggled to find to find a way out. Luckily Shirin found a sign in Farsi, leading us back to the old city center.
Now that we’d seen enough historical houses it was time for some nature; a visit to the Fin Garden. This 16th century designed garden is loved by people for its symmetrical design, the beautiful tall cedar trees, pools and fountains. It is said to be the oldest extant garden in Iran. Listed as Unesco’s heritage for its great historical importance. It was in this garden, where Mr. Amir Kabir, the beloved prime minister in the Qajar era, was murdered at the order of the Shah! A story full of conspiracy and personal interests lead to the tragic death of this man, who is known to be one of the first reformers of Iran.
Although the violent history, the garden breathes peace and serves as a good place for a stopover or a stroll and to learn about the history through English information panels. One critical note is the entrance fee. To me, 200.000 Rial is a bit steep compared to the other beautiful and interesting places in Kashan.
With only little daylight left we took the bus to the last stop of the day; the Kashan bazaar, located in the city center. During the drive I notice all ladies are sitting in the back of the bus, most of them wearing chadors. I didn’t thought more of it than a coincidence, until my friend told me that around 80 percent of the bus is reserved for ladies, while the 20 percent in front of the bus is reserved for males. It sounds like a strange reality to me. By the time we reached the bazaar the sun had already set, and the December cold and darkness came in. Yet I was still happy to visit Kashan’s bazar, which has been a place of trade for the past 800 years! We pass ostentatious silver works, kitsch dressing tables, fancy chandeliers and gold ornamented clocks. If there’s one thing to say about Iranian home style is that they generally love extravagant and showy items. Where any of these things would be completely outplaced in my home in The Netherlands, they do extremely well in a fancy Persian home.
A little further in the bazaar we see what it is among famed for; the 19th century grand light well at the old Aminoddole caravanserai. A beautiful dome that allows daylight to light up the tile-work mosaic in front of your eyes, making you dazzle under the blue and yellow design of a giant flower, spreading it’s decorated diamond shaped leaves around the chamber’s walls. The site should surely be visited during the daytime, when the place comes alive by the play of light. I unfortunately missed this spectacular effect, although it was still pretty to watch. Other things that can be seen in the bazaar are mosques, tombs, baths, water reservoirs and skilled art work, represented in one of the many (carpet) shops.
For us the day was finished. We were treated on wonderful, intelligent Persian architecture and design, learned about the history of Mr. Amir Kabir in the Fin Garden and dazzled under the flower-like dome in the Kashan Bazar. All in the great company of two fun Iranian ladies, who happened to know a lot about their country and history. What a joy to have ran into them 🙂
Interested in visiting the beautiful village of Kashan yourself? Be sure to check out this unbelievably complete Kashan city guide with all the practical information you need to plan a trip to this overlooked gem.
If you like to keep updated about my adventures, subscribe to the newsletter and follow me on Instagram. You can find me here or through the button & text box below 👇