Tag Archives: Iran

iran: textiles

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

While in Tehran, we visited the national carpet museum which houses the largest collection of Persian carpets found in Iran and possibly the world. The building was designed by the last queen of Iran, Farah Diba Pahlavi, and its flanked facade not only resembles a carpet loom but also creates shade in summer, helping to regulate the internal temperature to protect the carpets.

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Carpet museum, Tehran, designed to resemble a carpet loom

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Carpet loom

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Traditional dyestuffs

It was wonderful to see samples of the dyestuffs traditionally used to dye yarns used in Persian carpets. Some of them were familiar, such as indigo, madder and cochineal, although I would have given a lot to learn the secrets of the incredibly sophisticated Iranian dyers responsible for extracting such a wide range of colours and shades from them. There were others, such as black curd or mud and unripe grapes, that I’m keen to try when the opportunity presents itself…

I learned a little about the history and tradition of Persian carpets; there are two major types, the tribal carpet and the city carpet. Tribal carpets are those woven by nomads and inhabitants of small rural villages. They are made of medium-to-coarse wool on a cotton or wool base and some, such as kilims, have a flat surface, rather than a pile formed by knots. Tribal carpets are generally considered inferior in quality to the ones made in the cities, but the materials, such as the wool and dyes used, are often of excellent quality and can result in a beautiful carpet. Because they’re often made in fairly primitive conditions, tribal carpets are not always perfectly symmetrical and often display subtle colour variations that give them a wonderful depth. The dyes used in tribal rugs are still mainly natural vegetable dyes, which adds value for the producer.

City carpets are made in workshops in towns and cities across Iran and are made from fine wool and silk on a wool or cotton base. They may contain up to 160 knots per cm2, creating a super fine pile with incredible texture and luminosity. Even excellent-quality city carpets include intentional imperfections- the old Persian proverb that says “a Persian rug is perfectly imperfect, and precisely imprecise” stems from the religious belief that God is the only perfect being and that attempting absolute perfection would be claiming the position of the Almighty. These imperfections are what give these carpets their character and authenticity.

Tribal carpets tend to have geometric designs with little detail and a limited palette of a few bright colors, while city carpets usually have more detailed, curvilinear or pictorial designs and more variation and subtlety of color. Designs are very regional, so an expert can can usually determine the origin of a rug  by analyzing the design.

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Early Tree of Life silk carpet

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Wool floral silk city carpet from Kerman, 1792

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Detail, pictorial carpet

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Detail, pictorial carpet

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Stunning city rug

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Geometric patterning resembling the fruit from a maple

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Detail of wool carpet with beautiful naive animals and plants

Despite the finesse and sophistication of the city carpets, my very favourite carpet in the museum was this incredible tribal carpet… it depicts the Persian pairi-daeza or garden, built around the central water channels and acting as an oasis for plants and birds, life of all kinds. The shades from madder and indigo are beautiful and the delicacy of the patternwork is completely captivating…

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Stunning tribal rug reflecting the Persian garden or paradise

It is said that Iranians are born on carpets, live on carpets and die on carpets. I would have loved to be invited into some homes to see carpets in a domestic setting but we witnessed their central role in many other aspects of Iranian life during our travels…

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Carpet in the Shah’s summer palace, northern Tehran

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Tribal rugs airing, Golestan Palce, Tehran

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A good use for a carpet!

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Carpets left upside-down on garden seats, awaiting evening visitors

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Carpets in the Pink Mosque, Shiraz

As a knitter, I always hope to see some evidence of a local knitting culture wherever I go… on this trip, however, I wasn’t expecting to see much- and indeed I didn’t! This must have been partly to do with the time of year but really, knitting is not part of the Iranian textile culture. Communities that raise sheep and other fibre-producing animals tend to develop either weaving, knitting or felting as a way of using that fibre to keep warm, and Iran took the weaving path… However, on our last day in Iran, we visited Jolfa, the Armenian quarter of Esfahan and, there, my prayers were answered! Over 150,000 Armenians fleeing persecution from the Ottoman Empire were moved here by force by Shah Abbasi in 1606; they were famous for being skillful craftsmen and it was hoped that they would further add to the beauty of the Persian empire. In the Armenian Vank cathedral, I saw this beautiful crocheted alter cloth…

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Fine crocheted altar cloth

And then in the museum, very fine colourwork knitted socks! Just when I really needed another knitters’ arm to squeeze in excitement, I realized that Mum (who incidentally knits beautiful socks and, it turned out later, had missed these beauties!) had already left the building. So I soaked up the beauty on my own…

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Fine silk knitted socks, 19th century Armenia

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Very fine, knitted socks, Armenia

I found the museum a very moving place. It holds relics of a time past and a people hugely changed since this earlier group of Armenians fled their homelands. Amongst its treasures are a historic printing press and the first book printed in Iran, Christian vestments, prayer books, chalices and other sacramental artifacts, tapestries, embroidery and carpets and an extensive display of photographs, maps, and Turkish documents related to the 1915 Armenian Genocide in Turkey.

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Fine woven silk

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Armenian knotted wool carpet

I hoped that I’d find some fabric to bring home as a memento of our trip but it wasn’t until Esfahan, where our guide took us to a block-printing workshop, that I found my treasured piece. It is an old and very fine piece of cotton that has been block-printed and hand-painted in the kalamkari style that fused Indian and Persian techniques and design and used indigo, madder and other natural dyes.

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Block-printed cotton

I pored over many beautiful pieces but this one really spoke to me… it wasn’t as perfectly printed as some of the others and there’s quite a lot going on in it- almost too much… but I think that’s what I like about it. Perhaps the person who made it was still learning to balance design elements- or perhaps was just very enthusiastic! But I mostly chose it because it encompasses so many of the symbols and imagery that I saw in the Persian art that we saw (whether tilework, carpet-weaving, painting or other) and so acts as a lovely reminder of our trip.

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Pomegranate, representing fertility

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Peacock, symbolizing royalty

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Tiger and gazelle, perhaps symbolizing the victory of spring over winter- and look at the tigers lush eyelashes!

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Mountain, reminds me of our travels alongside the Zagros

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Twirling vines, representing nature and growth

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Cypress, representing immortality

It’s such a joy to look at it as I work in my room- so many happy memories!

iran: landscapes

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

After flying into Tehran, we spent our first day wandering the streets surrounding our hotel, which encompassed the wonderful Abgineh Museum of glassware and ceramics.

Valley, mountains

Verdant valley, Zagros mountains

Abyaneh houses

Abyaneh street and houses

Wherever you turn, there are mountains…

Mountains and poplars, Abyaneh

Mountains and poplars, Abyaneh

Dusk, Abyaneh

Dusk

View onto the mountains at dusk

Moonrise

Early morning view from our room

Early morning view from our room

The inhabitants of Abyaneh are almost all elderly… which makes you think about what will happen here when they are all gone. For the most part, they appear to survive on tourism but also produce dried fruit and fruit leather (which you can see drying on sheets on the roofs of many houses- see them in the photo taken at dusk?) which was tangy and sweet. A magical place.

Back on the plateau, the landscape was arid and very exposed but incredibly beautiful. A large area of this plateau makes up Iran’s main nuclear facility.

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Zagros

Quranic inscriptions

Land inscriptions

Caravanserai

Abandoned caravanserai

For many centuries, caravanserai or large roadside inns were refuges for travellers who made their way across this exposed landscape, offering shelter from the extreme heat of summer or freezing winter for both humans and animals. It was said that there were 999 of them across Iran, a incredible network that must have been essential to trade and movement of people. These days, with fuel so cheap, the relatively large distances are covered pretty quickly and so this network has become redundant. For all my environmental principles, I had to be grateful that I, and the many travelers on the road, had an easier way to travel!

Highway

Highway

Clouds

Clouds

Cyprus trees and mountains

Cypress trees

Truck and clouds

Truck

Jagged peaks and clouds

Jagged peaks

Towards Shiraz, the food bowl of Iran, the landscape softened and took on a bit of a greenish hue… which made it look like parts of central Australia to me.

Limestone peaks

Limestone peaks

Food production, Shiraz

Food production, Shiraz

Which then made me reflect that, even though parts of Australia are incredibly dry, as a whole it’s got nothing on Iran- we get twice as much amount of average annual rainfall and much less extreme weather… and yet many of Iran’s cities are found in far dryer regions than ours are. Luckily for them, the sophistication of ancient Persian hydrology allowed them to capture and move water via underground qanats and to sustain ten times more permanent cropland than we can. Most (or all?) of the qanat system has now been replaced with piped irrigation and Iran recycles far more water than we do, so it’d be interesting to know more about how those desert cities fare in summer and how they manage their water.

Next time, I’d love to visit the cooler, forested regions to the north of Tehran towards the Caspian Sea. I think that, in many ways, it would feel like a very different Iran…

iran: glass and ceramics

One of a series of photo-based posts documenting a trip that my mum and I recently took to Iran. My excitement at being in that beautiful country meant that I sometimes missed the details in our guides talks, so apologies for any incorrect info or mislabeling of photos! Also, I took my old Pentax K100d with me but was unable to get more memory for it so had to use a low-quality format- I hope that doesn’t stop you from seeing the beauty that I saw everywhere…

After flying into Tehran, we spent our first day wandering the streets surrounding our hotel, which encompassed the wonderful Abgineh Museum of glassware and ceramics.

Glass and ceramics museum, Tehran

Approaching the Abgineh glass and ceramics museum, Tehran

With little idea of what to expect of Iranian museums, we were astonished by the beautiful curation and display of the collection… the lower rooms housed objects, both ceremonial and everyday, from up to 3000BC to the Mongol invasion in the 11th century AD.

Glass amulets

Glass talismans, 4-6th century BC, northern Iran

Glass seals- or were they coins?

Glass stamps

Glass and gold necklace

Moulded glass and gold necklace, 4th century BC, Tehran area

Glass jug
Glass flask, 2-4th century AD, eastern Iran
Ceremonial vessel

Rhyton or ceremonial vessel, 1st millenium BC, Markil

Many objects showed an overwhelming sophistication of both functional and aesthetic design…

Beak-spouted tea-pot, 2nd century BC, Tehran area

Beak-spouted tea-pot, 2nd century BC, Tehran area

Cut-glass bowl, 3rd century AD, Gilan, northwest Iran

Cut-glass drinking vessel, 3rd century AD, Gilan, northwest Iran

Cut-glass bowl, 3rd century AD, Gilan, northwest Iran

Cut-glass drinking vessel, 3rd century AD, Gilan, northwest Iran

as well as great finesse in decoration.

Detail of glass vase, Uzbekistan?

Detail of glass vase, Uzbekistan

I particularly loved this four-sided glass display unit with its many little “rooms”! It housed hundreds of small glass objects from a variety of styles and periods.

Glassware display

Glassware display

Glassware display

Glassware display

And I was surprised at how familiar the shapes and motifs were…

Chevron glass bowl

Chevron glass bowl, possibly 3rd century AD

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Stippled glass bowl, possibly 3rd century AD

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Ridged glass bowl, possibly 3rd century AD

How sweet are these little perfume bottles?! They are only about 2cm tall!

Tiny perfume oil bottles

Tiny perfume oil bottles

Upstairs were diverse pieces from the 11th century onwards- some were beautifully simple and functional…

Blown glass bottle

Blown glass bottle

others were whimsical and fantastical….

Childs ceramic whistle

Child’s earthenware whistle

Painted ceramic vessel, unknown

Detail of ceramic vessel decorated with fascinating human/ bird figures

Tile

Cobalt star tile depicting animals, 13th century AD, Kashan

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Bowl with birds and figure

or dramatic, filled with symbols and meaning…

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Bowl with red edging pattern

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Bowl with arabesque decoration, Islamic period, Neyshabour

Earthenware bowl inscribed with blessings in Mandaic, 11-13th century AD, Shooshtar

Earthenware bowl inscribed with blessings in Mandaic, 11-13th century AD, Shooshtar

Bowl with Islamic calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

Bowl with Islamic calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

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Plate with calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

Bowl with Islamic calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

Bowl with Islamic calligraphy, 13th century AD, Neyshabour

But all were so incredibly beautiful that we knew this trip into Iran was going to be more than we could have anticipated! Back tomorrow with Iran’s food… or landscape… There’s so much to show you that I can’t decide what to post next!