Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy) Bird.

Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) online

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which are within the city walls without being reminded
of a man in shabby clothes preposterously too big for him.

The population is variously estimated at from 60,000
to 160,000 souls. It varies considerably with the
presence or absence of the Court. The streets and
bazars are usually well filled with people, and I did not
see many beggars or evidences of extreme poverty, even
in the Jewish quarter. On the whole it impressed me
as a bustling place, but the bustle is not picturesque. It
is framed in mean surroundings, and there is little variety
in costume, and much sober if not sad colouring.

In " old " Tihran the alleys are crooked, dirty, and
narrow, and the bazars chiefly frequented by the poor are
very mean and untidy ; but the better bazars, whether
built as some are, round small domed open spaces, or in
alleys roofed with low brick domes, are decidedly handsome,
and are light, wide, clean, and in every way adapted for
the purposes of buying and selling. European women,


even though unattended, can walk through them quite
freely without being mobbed or stared at.

The best bazars are piled with foreign merchandise, to
the apparent exclusion of native goods, which, if they are
of the better quality, must be searched for in out-of-the-way
corners. Indeed, if people want fine carpets, curios, rich
embroideries, inlaid arms, and Kerman stuffs, they must
resort to the itinerant dealers, who gauge the tastes and
purchasing powers of every European resident and visitor,
and who may be seen at all hours gliding in a sort of
surreptitious fashion round the Legation compounds,
conveying their beautiful temptations on donkeys' backs.

It is chiefly in the fine lofty saddlery bazar and some
small bazars that native manufactures are en Evidence.
All travelling is on horseback, and the Persian, though
sober in the colours of his costly clothing, loves crimson
and gold in leather and cloth, embroidered housings and
headstalls, and gorgeous saddle-covers for his horse. The
usual saddle is of plain wood, very high before and behind,
and without stuffing. A thick soft namad or piece of
felt covers the horse's back, and over this are placed two
or more saddle-cloths covered with a very showy and
often highly ornamental cover, with tasselled ends,
embroidered in gold and silks and occasionally with real
gems. The saddle itself is smoothly covered with a soft
ornamental cover made to fit it, and the crupper, breast-
plate, and headstall are frequently of crimson leather
embroidered in gold, or stitched ingeniously with turquoise

The mule, whether the pacing saddle -mule worth
from 60 to 80, much affected by rich Persians in
Tihran, or the humbler beast of burden, is not forgotten by
the traders in the great saddlery bazar. Eich charvadars
take great pride in the " outfit " of their mules, and do
not grudge twenty tumans upon it. Hence are to be seen


elaborate headstalls, breastplates, and straps for bells, of
showy embroidery, and leather stitched completely over
with turquoise beads and cowries the latter a favourite
adornment while cowried headstalls are also ornamented
with rows of woollen tassels dyed with beautiful vegetable
dyes. In this bazar too are found khurjins the great
leather or carpet saddle-bags without which it is incon-
venient to travel small leather portmanteaus for strap-
ping behind the saddles of those who travel chapar, i.e. post,
cylindrical cases over two feet long which are attached
in front of the saddle decorated holsters, the multifarious
gear required for the travelling pipe-bearers, the deep leather
belts which are worn by chapar riders, the leathern water-
bottles which are slung on the saddles, the courier bags,
and a number of other articles of necessity or luxury
which are regarded as essential by the Persian traveller.

In most of the bazars the shops are packed to the
ceiling with foreign goods. It looks as if there were
cottons and woollen cloth for the clothing of all Persia.
I saw scarcely any rough woollen goods or shoddy. The
Persian wears superfine, smooth, costly cloth, chiefly black
and fawn, stiff in texture, and with a dull shine upon
it. The best comes exclusively from Austria, a slightly
inferior quality from Germany, and such cloth fabrics
as are worn by Europeans from England and Eussia.

The European cottons, which are slowly but surely
displacing the heavy durable native goods, either undyed,
or dyed at Isfahan with madder, saffron, and indigo, are
of colours and patterns suited to native taste, white and
canary yellow designs on a red ground predominating, and
are both of Eussian and English make, and the rivalry
which extends from the Indian frontier, through Central
Asia, is at fever-heat in the cotton bazars of Tihran. It
does not appear that at present either side can claim the


In a search for writing paper, thread, tapes, and what
are known as " small wares," I never saw anything that
was not Russian. The cheap things, such as oil lamps,
samovars, coarse coloured prints of the Eussian Imperial
family in tawdry frames, lacquered tin boxes, fitted work-
boxes, glass teacups, china tea-pots, tawdry lacquered
trays, glass brooches, bead necklaces, looking-glasses, and
a number of other things which are coming into use at
least in the south-west and the western portions of the
Empire, are almost exclusively Eussian, as is natural, for
the low price at which they are sold would leave no mar-
gin of profit on such imports from a more distant country.

A stroll through the Tihran bazars shows the observer
something of the extent and rapidity with which Europe
is ruining the artistic taste of Asia. Masses of rubbish,
atrocious in colouring and hideous in form, the principle
of shoddy carried into all articles along with the quint-
essence of vulgarity which is pretence, goods of nominal
utility which will not stand a week's wear, the refuse of
European markets in art Philistinism, in most else
" Brummagem," without a quality of beauty or solidity to
recommend them are training the tastes and changing
the habits of the people.

One squarish bazar, much resorted to for glass and
hardware and what the Americans call " assorted notions,"
is crammed with Austrian glass, kerosene lamps of all
sizes in hundreds, chandeliers, etc. The amount of glass
exhibited there for sale is extraordinary, and not less
remarkable is the glut of cheap hardware and worthless
bijouterie. It is the Lowther Arcade put down in Tihran.

Kerosene and candles may be called a Eussian mono-
poly, and Eussia has completely driven French sugar from
the markets. In the foreign town, as it may be called,
there are two or three French shops, an American shop
for " notions," and a German chemist.


The European quarter is in the northern part of Tihran,
and is close to vacant and airy spaces. There are
the Turkish Embassy, and the Legations of England,
France, Germany, Russia, Italy, Belgium, Austria, and
America, and a Dutch Consulate-General, each with its
Persian gholams who perform escort duty. Their large
and shady compounds, brightened by their national flags,
and the stir and circumstance which surround them, are
among the features of the city. The finest of all the
Legation enclosures is that of England, which is beautifully
wooded and watered. The reception-rooms and hall of the
Minister's residence are very handsome, and a Byzantine
clock tower gives the building a striking air of distinction.
The grounds contain several detached houses, occupied by
the secretaries and others.

A very distinct part of the foreign quarter is that
occupied by the large and handsome buildings of the
American Presbyterian Mission, which consist of a church
occupied at stated hours by a congregation of the Eeformed
Armenian Church, and in which in the afternoons of
Sundays Dr. Potter, the senior missionary, reads the
English Liturgy and preaches an English sermon for the
benefit of the English-speaking residents, very fine board-
ing-schools for Armenian girls and boys, and the houses of
the missionaries three clerical, one medical, and several
ladies, one of whom is an M.D.

Outside this fine enclosure is a Medical Missionary
Dispensary, and last year, in a good situation at a con-
siderable distance, a very fine medical missionary hospital
was completed. The boys' and girls' schools are of a very
high class. To my thinking the pupils are too much
Europeanised in dress and habits ; but I understand that
this is at the desire of the Armenian parents. The
missionaries are not allowed to receive Moslem pupils ;
but besides Armenians they educate Jewish youths, some


of whom have become Christians, and a few Guebres or

I do not think that the capital is a hopeful place for
missionary work. The presence of Europeans of various
creeds and nationalities complicates matters, and the fine,
perhaps too fine, mission buildings in proximity to the
houses of wealthy foreigners are at so great a distance
from the Moslem and Jewish quarters, that persons who
might desire to make inquiries concerning the Christian
faith must be deterred both by the space to be traversed
and the conspicuousness of visiting a mission compound
in such a position. The members of the mission church
last year were altogether Armenians. The education and
training given in the schools are admirable.

Indications of the changes which we consider improve-
ments abound in Tihran. There are many roads accessible
to wheeled vehicles. There are hackney carriages. A
tramway carrying thousands of passengers weekly has
been laid down from the Maidan or central square to one
of the southern gates. There are real streets paved with
cobble stones, and bordered with definite sidewalks, young
trees, and shops. There is a railroad about four miles
long, from the city to the village of Sheikh Abdul Azim.
There are lamp-posts and fittings, though the light is
somewhat of a failure. There is an organised city police,
in smart black uniforms with violet facings, under the
command of Count Monteforte, aii Italian. Soldiers
in Europeanised uniforms abound, some of them, the
" Persian Cossacks," in full Eussian uniforms ; and military
bands instructed by a French bandmaster play European
airs, not always easily recognisable, for the pleasure of
the polyglot public.

All ordinary business can be transacted at the
Imperial Bank, which, having acquired the branches and
business of the New Oriental Bank, bids fair to reign


supreme in the commercial world of Persia, the Shah,
who has hitherto kept his hoards under his own eye,
having set an example of confidence by becoming a

European tailors, dressmakers, and milliners render a
resort to Europe unnecessary. There are at least two
hotels where a European may exist. About five hundred
European carriages, many of them Eussian, with showy
Eussian horses harnessed fa la Eusse, dash about the
streets with little regard to pedestrians, though an
accident, if a European were the offender, might lead to a
riot. The carriages of the many Legations are recognis-
able by their outriders, handsomely-dressed gholams.

But even the European quarter and its newish road,
on which are many of the Legations, some of the foreign
shops, and the fine compound and handsome buildings of
the Imperial Bank, has a Persian admixture. Some of
the stately houses of official and rich Persians are there,
easily recognisable by their low closed gateways and
general air of seclusion. Many of these possess exquisite
gardens, with fountains and tanks, and all the arrange-
ments for the out-of-doors life which Persians love. In
the early spring afternoons the great sight of the road
outside the British Legation is the crowd of equestrians,
or rather of the horses they ride. However much the
style of street, furniture, tastes, art, and costume have
been influenced by Europe, fortunately for picturesque
effect the Persian, even in the capital, retains the Persian
saddle and equipments.

From later observation I am inclined to think very
highly of the hardiness and stamina of the Persian horse,
though at the time of my visit to Tib ran I doubted both.
Such showy, magnificent -looking animals, broken to a
carriage which shows them to the best advantage, fine-
legged, though not at the expense of strength, small-eared,


small-mouthed, with flowing wavy manes, " necks clothed
with thunder," dilated nostrils showing the carmine
interior, and a look of scorn and high breeding, I never
saw elsewhere. The tail, which in obedience to fashion
we mutilate and abridge, is allowed in Persia its full
development, and except in the case of the Shah's white
horses, when it is dyed magenta, is perfectly beautiful,
held far from the body like a flag. The arched neck,
haughty bearing, and easy handling which Easterns love
are given by very sharp bits; and a crowd of these
beautiful animals pawing the ground, prancing, caracoling,
walking with a gait as though the earth were too vulgar
for their touch, or flashing past at a gallop, all groomed to
perfection and superbly caparisoned, ridden by men who
know how to ride, and who are in sympathy with their
animals, is one of the fascinations of Tihran.

Creeping along by the side -walk is often seen a
handsome pacing saddle-mule, or large white ass, nearly
always led, carrying a Persian lady attended by servants
a shapeless black bundle, with what one supposes to be
the outline of a hand clutching the enshrouding black
silk sheet tightly over her latticed white mask : so
completely enveloped that only a yellow shoe without a
heel, and a glimpse of a violet trouser can be seen above
the short stirrups.

Another piece of Orientalism unaffected by Western
influence is the music performed daily at sunset in the
upper stories of some of the highly-decorated tiled gateways
which lead into and out of the principal squares.
This is evoked from drums, fifes, cymbals, and huge
horns, and as the latter overpower all the former, the
effect is much like that of the braying of the colossal
silver horns from the roofs of the Tibetan lamaserais.
Many people suppose that this daily homage to the
setting sun is a relic of the ancient fire or sun worship.


Two great squares, one of them with a tank in the
middle with a big gun at each corner, artillery barracks
on three sides, and a number of smooth-bore twenty-four-
pounder guns on the fourth, are among the features of
Tihran. In this great Maidan there are always soldiers
in multifarious uniforms lounging, people waiting for the
tram-cars, and Eoyal footmen, whose grotesque costumes
border on the ridiculous. They are indeed a fitting
accompaniment to the Eoyal horses with their magenta tails
and spots, for they wear red coats with ballet-dancer
skirts and green facings, green knee-breeches, white
stockings, and tall stiff erections resembling a fool's cap
on the head, topped by crests suggestive of nothing but
a cock's comb.

A gateway much ornamented leads from the artillery
square, or Maidan TopTchaneh, by a short road shaded
with trees to the Citadel or Ark, which is an immense
enclosure, rather mangy and unprepossessing in its
exterior, which contains the palace of the Shah, the
arsenal, certain public offices, the royal colleges, etc.
Over the gateway floats rather grandly the Eoyal
standard, bearing the Lion and the Sun in yellow on a
green ground.

The Shah's palace is very magnificent, and the shady
gardens, beautifully kept, with their fountains and tanks
of pale blue tiles, through which clear water constantly
moves, are worthy of a Eoyal residence. From the out-
side above the high wall the chief feature is a very
lofty pavilion, brilliantly and elaborately painted, with
walls inclining inwards, and culminating in two high
towers. This striking structure contains the andarun or
haram of the sovereign and his private apartments.

This hasty sketch exhausts those features of Tihran
which naturally arrest the stranger's attention. There is
no splendour about it externally, but there is splendour


within it, and possibly few European residences can
exceed in taste and magnificence the palaces of the
Minister of Justice (the Muscliir-u-Dowleli), the Naib-es-
Sultan, the Zil-es- Sultan, and a few others, though I
regret that much of the furniture has been imported
from Europe, as it vexes the eye more or less with
its incongruity of form and colouring. The current of
European influence, which is affecting externals in Tihran,
is not likely now to be stemmed. Eastern civilisation is
doomed, and the transition period is not beautiful, what-
ever the outcome may be.

So much for what is within the walls. That which
is outside deserves a passing notice as the environment of
the capital. The sole grandeur of the situation lies in
the near neighbourhood of the Shimran mountains a
huge wall, white or brown according to the season, with
some irrigated planting near its base, which is spotted
with villages and the yailaks not only of the numerous
Legations but of rich Europeans and Persians. Other-
wise the tameless barbarism of a desert, which man has
slashed, tunnelled, delved, and heaped, lies outside the
city walls, deformed by the long lines of kanaats some
choked, others still serviceable by which the city is
supplied with water from the mountains, their shafts
illustrating the Scriptural expression "ruinous heaps."
In the glare of the summer sun, with the mercury
ranging from 95 to 110 in the shade, and with the
heated atmosphere quivering over the burning earth,
these wastes are abandoned to carcasses and the vultures
which fatten on them, and travelling is done at night,
when a breeze from the Shimran range sends the
thermometer down from 10 to 15.

Curving to the south-west of Tihran, the mountains
end in a bare ridge, around the base of which, according
to many archaeologists, lie vestiges of the ancient city of
VOL. i


Rhages, known in later days as Ehei. A tomb of
brick with angular surfaces, sacred to the memory
of an ancient and romantic attachment, remains of forti-
fications, and the Parsee cemetery on a ledge overlook-
ing these remains, break the monotony of the waste in
that direction.

This cemetery, or " Tower of Silence," a white splash
on the brown hillside, is visible from afar. The
truncated cones which in many places mark seats of the
ancient Zoroastrian worship have been mentioned here
and there, but it is only in Tihran and Yezd that the
descendants of the ancient fire-worshippers are found in
such numbers as to be able to give prominence to their
ancient rites of sepulture. Probably throughout Persia
their number does not exceed 8000. Their head resides
in Tihran. They bear a good character for uprightness,
and except in Yezd, where they weave rich stuffs, they
are chiefly agriculturists. They worship firelight and the
sun on the principles symbolised by both, they never use
tobacco, and it is impolite to smoke in their presence
because of the sacredness of fire.

Their belief has been, and is, that to bury the dead in
the earth is to pollute it ; and one among the reasons of
the persecution of the early Christians by the Zoroastrians
was their abhorrence of the desecration of the ground
produced by the modes of Christian burial.

This " Tower of Silence " near Tihran is a large round
edifice of whitewashed mud and stone. On the top of it,
a few feet below the circular parapet, the dead are laid
to be devoured by birds and consumed by exposure to
the elements. The destiny of the spirit is supposed to
be indicated by the eye which is first devoured by the
fowls of the air, the right eye signifying bliss.

In a northern direction, to which the eye always
turns to be refreshed by the purity of the icy cone of


Demavend, or to watch the rosy light deepening into
purple on the heights of Shimran, are palaces and country
seats in numbers, with a mass of irrigated plantations
extending for twenty miles, from Vanek on the east to
Kainaranieh on the west. These are reached by passing
through the Shimran gate, the most beautiful of the outer
gates, tiled all over with yellow, black, blue, and green
tiles in conventional designs, and with an immense
coloured mosaic over the gateway representing Eustem,
Persia's great mythical hero, conquering some of his

On the slopes of the hills are palaces and hunt-
ing seats of the Shah, beginning with the imposing
mass of the Kasr-i-Kajar, on a low height, surrounded by
majestic groves, in which are enormous tanks. Palaces
and hunting seats of ministers and wealthy men succeed
each other rapidly, a perfect seclusion having been
obtained for each by the rapid growth of poplars and
planes, each dwelling carrying out in its very marked
individuality a deference to Persian custom, and each if
possible using running water as a means of decoration.
Many of these palaces are princely, and realise some of
the descriptions in the Arabian Nights, with the beauty
of their decorated architecture, the deep shade of their
large demesnes, the cool plash of falling water, the songs
of nightingales, and the scent of roses sensuous Paradises

o o *

in which the Persian finds the summer all too short.

Beyond this enchanting region, and much higher up
on the mountain slopes, are the hunting grounds of the
Shah and his sons, well stocked with game and rigidly
preserved ; for the Shah is a keen sportsman, and is said
to prefer a free life under canvas and the pleasures of
the chase to the splendid conventionalities of the Court
of Tihran.

The two roads and the many tracks which centre in the


capital after scoring the desert for many miles around it,
are a feature of the landscape not to be overlooked, the
Meshed, Kesht, Bushire, and Tabriz roads being the most
important, except the route from Baghdad by Kirmanshah
and Hamadan, which in summer can be travelled by
caravans in twenty-eight days, and by which many bulky
articles of value, such as pianos, carriages, and valuable
furniture, find their way to Tihran. 1

These are some of the features of the environments
of Tihran. A traveller writing ten years hence may
probably have to tell that the city has extended to its
walls, that Western influence is nearly dominant in
externals, and possibly that the concessionaires who for
years have been hanging about the Palace in alternations
of hope and despondency have made something of their
concessions, and that goods reach the capital in another
way than on the backs of animals.

1 There are only two roads, properly so called, in Persia, though in the
summer wheeled carriages with some assistance can get from place to place
over several of the tracks. These two are the road from Kvim to the
capital, formerly described, and one from Kasvin to the capital, both under
100 miles in length. Goods are everywhere carried on the backs of animals.
The distance between Bushire and Tihran is 698 miles.

The summer freight per ton is 14 1 8

The winter do. 20 2

The distance between Tihran and Resht on the Caspian is 211 miles.

The summer freight per ton is 4 5

The winter do. 8 ll|

From the Caspian to the Persian Gulf the summer

freight per ton is 18 2 3

The winter do. 28 3 4

inclusive of some insignificant charges.

The time taken for the transit of goods between Bushire and Tihran is
forty-two days, and between Resht and Tihran twelve days.

The cost per ton by rail, if taken at Indian rates, between the Gulf and
the Caspian, would be 3 : 11 : 10.

On these figures the promoters of railway enterprise in Persia build
their hopes.




THREE weeks have passed quickly by since that terrible
ride from Husseinabad. The snow is vanishing from the
Shimran hills, the spring has come, and I am about to
leave the unbounded kindness and hospitality of this
house on a long and difficult journey. It is very
pleasant to go away carrying no memories but those
of kindness, received not only from Europeans and
Americans, but from Persians, including the Amin-es-
Sultan and the Muschir-u-Dowleh.

It is impossible to bear away other than pleasant

Online LibraryIsabella L. (Isabella Lucy) BirdJourneys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) → online text (page 15 of 29)