Designed for Shah Abbas I in the 16th century, this delightful garden with its symmetrical proportions, old cedars, spring-fed pools and fountains is renowned as being the very epitome of the Persian garden and its evocation of heaven. Given its influence in the planning of gardens as far afield as India and Spain, Fin Garden, which lies in the suburb of Fin, 9km southwest of central Kashan, has justly earned a place on the Unesco World Heritage list.
In contrast to the arid location, the garden flows with crystal-clear warm water channelled from a natural spring through a series of turquoise-tiled pools and fountains and continuing along the main road in jubs (canals, pronounced ‘joobs’). The evergreen trees inside the garden are up to 500 years old, and the profusion of complementary deciduous trees contributes to a garden that works to please year-round.
The highlights of the garden are two pavilions: the shotor gelou, a two-storey pool house with water running through the middle of the ground floor, and a recreational pavilion at the rear of the garden. Built in the later Qajar period, this delightful building sports an elaborate painted dome of outdoor vignettes (including a semi-naked beauty being surprised in the act of bathing). In the adjoining rooms, stalactite ceilings and coloured glass windows play a role in keeping visitors content with blue, white and green glass chosen to be cool and soothing and to make the room look bigger; in contrast, red, orange and yellow glass has the opposite effect, making the room seem warmer in winter. Interestingly, red and blue combined apparently confuses insects and wards off mosquitoes.
Many Iranians head to the hammam complex along one side of the garden, famous as the place where the nationalist Mirza Taqi Khan, more commonly known as Amir Kabir, was murdered. Amir Kabir served as prime minister under Nasir od-Din Shah from 1848 to 1851. He was a moderniser who instituted significant change, especially in the fields of education and administration, but his popularity was not appreciated in the royal court and the shah’s mother eventually persuaded her son that he had to go. Amir Kabir was imprisoned in Fin Garden and eventually murdered in the bathhouse, though some say he slashed his own wrists. Inside, mannequins posed in scenes from the drama form the backdrop of many a selfie taken by those coming to pay homage to a hero.
With extra time to spare, the modest Kashani National Museum, which occupies a small pavilion in the grounds, is worth a quick visit. It showcases some fine examples of Kashani velvet and brocade, and has some ceramics and calligraphy. A scale model of the garden helps to show its perfect proportions from an aerial perspective.
Don’t leave the garden without pausing at the Fin Garden teahouse, which is set within its own enchanted little garden. Located near the source of the spring, the current is thick with warm-water-loving fish and shaded with aged trees. The teahouse speciality is Kashan barley soup (IR50,000) in winter and rose-water ice cream in summer.
Fin Garden is at the end of Amir Kabir Rd, which can be reached by shuttle taxi (IR60,000) from Kamal al-Molk Sq or by taxi dar bast(closed door; IR180,000). Alternatively, you can hop on the green bus that travels from the corner of Ayatollah Kashani and Baba Afzal Sts in central Kashan with a pre-purchased card (IR60,000) from the bus terminal. During the journey, keep an eye open for the elaborate modern Italianate houses that line the road near the garden, evidence that the location continues to attract fashionable Kashanis.
Kashan’s historic bazaar is one of the best in Iran. Busy but not manic, traditional but with a nod at modern goods, large enough to surprise but not to get lost in, it’s a great place to wander for a couple of hours, especially in the late afternoon when the lanes are full of shoppers. The multi-domed roof of the bazaar dates from the 19th century, but the site has been the centre of trade in Kashan for almost 800 years.
Two main alleys lead through the bazaar, one known as the ‘Main Line’, and the other as the ‘Copper Line’, which lives up to its name for at least part of its length. Step off either of these two thoroughfares, and there’s a wealth of caravanserais, mosques, madrasehs and hammams (public bathhouses) to explore. Chief among the attractions is the fine Amin al-Dowleh Timche, a caravanserai with a soaring, beautifully decorated dome. Dating from 1868, the caravanserai has recently been restored by the Kashani Culture & Heritage Office and is home to carpet sellers and the odd curiosity shop. There’s a tea stand at one of its entrances where you can sit and watch a steady stream of shoppers pass by. An equally popular tea stop is the cosy 19th-century Hammam-e Khan, where three generations of hammami tend to the well-being of their customers – replacing the tea and towels of former times with the tea and talk of today.
Other notable features of the bazaar include the Seljuk-era Masjed-e Soltani (Soltani Mosque), located on the Main Line and open only to men, and the 800-year-old Mir Emad Mosque, along the Copper Line.
Of course, a bazaar ought to be shopped in. If the hardware shops hold little attraction and the textiles fail to bring out your inner seamstress, there is at least rose water of the highest quality midway along Main Line or boxes of Kashani biscuits from one of the bazaar’s many patisseries – the nargili (coconut macaroons) are particularly delicious.
This 500-year-old hammam is a superb example of an Iranian bathhouse. A recent restoration has stripped away 17 layers of plaster (note the wall inside the second room) to reveal the original sarough, a type of plaster made of milk, egg white, soy flour and lime that is said to be stronger than cement. Richly coloured tiles and delicate painting feature throughout, and a further highlight is the panorama of the town’s minarets and badgirs viewed from the roof.
Twisting corridors is a feature of Kashani architecture, designed to maximise the privacy of the household; here in the bathhouse, the purpose was to keep in the steam. Visitors would have used the antechamber to disrobe and store their shoes (in the lit alcoves at floor level) and would have proceeded to the inner rooms for a scrub down. Bowls made of copper, used for its conductive properties, were used for heating the water and pipes channelled the water underground heating the floors. Hammams were never just about ablutions, though; they primarily functioned as a meeting place where politics would be discussed and marriages made and where men and women, assigned access at different times, could relax in their own company. Importantly, then, the glazed glass in the domes allowed light to filter in while keeping peeping toms out.
Legend has it that when Sayyed Jafar Natanzi, a samovar merchant known as Boroujerdi, met with carpet merchant Sayyed Jafar Tabatabaei to discuss taking his daughter’s hand in marriage, Mr Tabatabaei set one condition: his daughter must be able to live in a home at least as lovely as his own. The result – finished some 18 years later – was the Khan-e Boroujerdi. Made distinctive by its six-sided, domed badgirs, the house boasts frescoes painted by Kamal al-Molk, the foremost Iranian artist of the time.
The home originally consisted of two sections, an andaruni (private part of a traditional home, where only immediate family are welcome) and a biruni (outer part of a traditional home, where guests are entertained), but today only the latter is open to the public. Ornately decorated, the courtyard is laid out around a central fountain pool, that sits well below ground level to help reduce the ambient temperature. At its far end is a two-storey iwan (open reception hall opening onto the courtyard) that is sumptuously decorated with splendid motifs above the entrance, intricate muqarnas (stalactite-type stone carving used to decorate doorways and window recesses), and fine glass and mirror work.
Among the many delightful details to look out for is a samovar enshrined in the plaster work in honour of the owner, a medallion carpet of stucco in one of the adjoining rooms, and a man appearing to leap above a bridge following his two donkeys in an alcove painting. Finding exactly where each of these treasures is located is part of the fun of enjoying this wonderful building.
To get here, follow the signs from Alavi St up a small incline opposite Saraye Ameriha Boutique Hotel.
Built around 1880, Seyyed Jafar Tabatabei’s house is renowned for its intricate stone reliefs, including finely carved cypress trees, delicate stucco, and striking mirror and glass work. The seven elaborate windows of the main courtyard (most houses sport only three or five) are a particular wonder, designed to illustrate the high social status of the owner. The house is arranged around four courtyards, the largest of which boasts a large pond with fountains, helping to keep the courtyard cool. From mid-afternoon (depending on the month), sunlight and stained glass combine to bathe some rooms in brilliant colour.
To find this house, walk south past the Khan-e Borujerdi towards a distinctive blue conical tower. The tower belongs to a shrine that neighbours the Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad. Turn right after the tower and the entrance to the khan is on the left.
Hiding behind the town’s high mud-brick walls are hundreds of large traditional houses built by wealthy merchants, monuments to the importance of Kashan as a Qajar-era commercial hub. Built during the 19th century, most have long since been divided into smaller homes and many are literally turning to dust. A few, however, have been restored and are open to the public as museums or as Kashan’s most desirable places to stay.
While each house has its own distinct features (the tallest wind catcher, the best plaster work, the most courtyards), they all share a common principle of design. The house is arranged around a series of interlinked courtyards, each with a separate function: the andaruni served as the internal area where family members lived; the biruni acted as an external area used for entertaining and housing guests and conducting business; and the khadameh (servants’ quarters). Designed to be plain and modest from the outside, with no house exceeding the height of any other, the doorways show little hint of the wonders within. Even the receiving area is concealed from the courtyard by angled corridors, perhaps to ensure privacy, or perhaps to increase the impact of stepping into the first courtyard. High thresholds and low door frames into each room were built partly to keep scorpions at bay, and partly to enforce a bow on entry.
Each courtyard is arranged around a central garden with a water feature (usually a rectangular pool with fountains) and includes a warm south-facing seating area that catches the winter sun, and an opposing north-facing area for warmer months. Lofty badgirs channel the prevailing winds into a basement used for escaping the summer heat. The houses are full of aesthetic wonders, including elaborate stucco work, stalactite ceilings, painted murals, and gorgeous coloured glass and wood panelling. They make a refreshing place simply to sit and enjoy the garden or watch as others pause to catch their reflection in the glass work or stoop to scoop up coloured sunbeams.
This remarkable complex of tunnels, 8km north of Kashan, originally grew up around a freshwater spring, credited with supplying delicious, crystal-clear water. Only part of the tunnel system is open to visitors today, and those parts are often subject to flooding (note the two-colour tone of the walls showing the flood level), but even a quick descent to the first level gives an idea of the complexity of this ancient engineering project.
The original purpose of the tunnels and chambers that were dug around the original well may have been to provide a respite from the desert’s summer heat but they also appear to have had a further function in allowing inhabitants to move from one part of their town to another without having to encounter potential enemies. Considered a masterpiece of Sassanian architecture, they were constructed on three levels between 4m and 18m below ground level and included a number of ingenious devices to trap and ambush hostile intruders, such as curving corridors and disguised pits covered with stones. The tunnels, which were put to good use during the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, worked particularly well as an emergency shelter because there were several entrances to the underground chambers, some of which surfaced within the town’s houses. Ventilation shafts allowed for prolonged residence underground and fresh water was assured by the spring. The tunnels were eventually abandoned in the 1920s and found by accident when someone dug a well in their house and stumbled through to the labyrinth of chambers below.
Built by a wealthy glass merchant, this handsome set of six buildings (signposted from the hammam) is spread over several levels. The numerous courtyards, which are subterranean – excavated from the soil, not built on top of it – are designed to enhance the sense of space by increasing in size and depth as the complex unfolds. As a result and despite illusion, the multistorey buildings are no higher than neighbouring properties in the old district.
The high porticos and reception halls are decorated with plaster reliefs and fine mirror work, but most of note are the exceptionally beautiful and detailed stained-glass windows, befitting of the house’s original owner.
The house’s khadameh (servants’ quarters) have been converted into a teahouse and restaurant selling delicious Iranian cuisine. For those interested in herbal remedies, there is a small shop in the gallery above the teahouse selling a range of infusions.
Even those with minimal interest in textiles will find this working museum a fascinating place to visit. Opened to ensure that the traditional craft of producing Kashani textiles is kept alive, masters work at elaborate hand looms to create intricate wonders of weaving, such as embossed velvet and zarbaft (silk brocade).
Given the quality of the silks and the intense labour involved (it takes weeks just to set up the threads on a loom), the textiles are very costly and are reserved as museum-quality pieces for display in the workshop or for gifts to visiting dignitaries.
Comprising four storeys, including a large sunken courtyard with ablutions pool, an austere dome, tiled minarets and unusually lofty badgirs (windtowers), this decommissioned 19th-century mosque complex is famous for the symmetry of its design. The wooden front door is said to have as many studs as there are verses in the Quran, and the mud-brick walls are covered with Quranic inscriptions and mosaics. A fine portal and mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca) at the rear is particularly noteworthy.
While the mosque has been decommissioned, the madraseh (school) in the sunken courtyard is still in use and women should avoid this area. Entrance is usually free; the only exception is during April and No Ruz, when a charge of IR20,000 per person is levied.
To the left of the mosque’s entrance is the Khajeh Taj ad-Din, the tomb of Ghotbs Kashani, a famous mystic of the Qajar period.
One of the oldest and richest archaeological sites in central Iran, the Tappeh-ye Seyalk (seyalk means mound), halfway between Kashan and Fin, has yielded interesting pottery pieces, metal tools and domestic implements made from stone, clay and bone that date from as early as the 4th millennium BC. More significant, perhaps, is the structure itself – what is emerging from the dust is clearly a ziggurat (stepped pyramidal temple), and some Iranians are claiming that it predates those of the Mesopotamians.
This is still a seasonal working dig and, while visitors are welcomed, there are few facilities. Most finds have been moved to museums, including the small museum at Bagh-e Fin, the National Museum of Iran in Tehran and the Louvre in Paris. Local potters sell a few convincing replicas on-site.
Seyalk is 4.5km along the main road connecting Kashan with Fin – on the north side of the road.
It you haven’t been to Maybod, near Yazd, it is worth strolling down Alavi St to inspect a large mud dome by the old city wall. This remarkable brick and mud construction, tapering to a tiny aperture at the top, is a yakhchal (ice house), used for storing ice. The shallow pools shaded from the sun by the dome freeze over in winter and, in the days before refrigerators, the precious harvest of ice was broken into blocks and stored under the dome.
Layers of straw between each block were used to prevent heat transmission and to avoid the blocks sticking together. In a hot, arid climate the availability of ice year-round allowed for the storage of food in mid-summer and for cooling drinks and preparing ice cream and sherbets that are not obvious desert delicacies.
Built in 1894, this shrine, set in a pretty courtyard of evergreens, boasts a delightful European-style painted dome with vignettes of religious scenes. The colourful tiled minarets and conical tiled roof is distinctive to this area and is clearly visible from the main road to Fin. The access isn’t wholly obvious from the road but there is a signpost and it is easy to spot the shrine roof from the road. A donation is appreciated in return for tea.
This beautifully restored old house, with a courtyard cut deep into the basement, houses the work of a popular Iranian painter, Manuchehr Sheibani. Credited as being a pioneer of the contemporary arts revolution in Iran, this 20th-century painter was also a poet. Aside from the exhibition of his work, the house encompasses a cosy coffee shop and a small library, and makes a pleasantly cultured spot to engage with Kashan’s literati.
This beautiful building, next to the Masjed-e Agha Borzog, houses the tomb of Ghotbs Kashani, a famous mystic of the Qajar period, and survived the earthquake of 1778 that devastated much of Kashan. The plaster work on the interior of the dome is particularly graceful. At the time of writing, the roof was undergoing repair and the opening hours were at the discretion of the caretaker.
The modest Kashani National Museum, which occupies a small pavilion in the grounds of Bagh-e Fin (Fin Garden) showcases some fine examples of Kashani velvet and brocade, and has some ceramics and calligraphy on display. A scale model of the garden helps to show its perfect proportions from an aerial perspective.
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Persiansurfing as full-service travel holding located in Isfahan, Iran, offering a variety of travel packages and services. Our team consists of a group of young Iranians, who have educated in tourism as well as tourism management . We are aiming to present Iran in a different light and promote the country’s rich culture heritage and architecture to the world.
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