Travelling in Iran – Shiraz

Category: Travel

by Lars N Nygård, Oslo, Norway, President of the Norwegian Art and Antiquedealers Association

Nine men seated on a row in a Jumbo Jet. We are on our way from Tehran, bound for the town of Shiraz in the south of Iran. It is 4.30 AM in the end of April 2003.

Fine old Igder carpet

“Bismilleh-Rahmaneh-Rahim”- in the name of God……we welcome you on board this flight bound for Shiraz, the stewardess messes in the plane which is totally packed. Twelve planes flies every day for Shiraz, and they are fully booked to the very last seat.

Arriving in the city of Roses, we were surprised by black, dense clouds and heavy rain. Mohammad, the agent, had sent his chauffeur to fetch us at the airport, and he took us to our hotel where we rested for a while.

Next morning at nine Mohammad came to take us to the bazaar. He is a good looking guy, his age hard to pinpoint, but probably around 50. He could be the younger brother of Dean Martin with a cigarette constantly in one hand, but lacking the obligatory glass in the other hand.

Arg e Karim Khan

Not far from the bazaar we passed the “Arg-e-Karim Khan”, the old fortress which is under restoration. The Arg is a beautiful sight, covering a square of ca 100 x 100 meters. In every corner there is a tower protruding from the walls, giving an unlimited overlook over the surroundings. The surface of the walls and towers are decorated with brick in simple, geometric relief patterns which instantly makes you think about design elements on the carpets and kilims of the Luri and other nomads of the south of Iran.

The Bazaar
I was very curious to see what we could find in the bazaar. Passing through a very busy part of the bazaar, which fortunately is overbuilt thus protecting us from both rain and shine, we suddenly turn right, and enter a yard as square as the Arg, though much smaller and with a sizzle of water coming from the pool in the middle. It is nice and quiet.

Bazar Gomrok Shiraz

This yard also has arched chambers in two heights, all in the same size, without any kind of ornamentation except the old wooden shutters. The rooms are used as storage-rooms for a variety of articles. This Saray was originally a hotel for the caravans that ran through this area, going east or west, and about 300 years old. Later it was used by the “Gomrok” – the Custom, until about 1920.

In one of the rooms on the ground level, Mohammads porters have brought all the 70 carpets we have selected during the day from a number of dallals in the bazaar.

In the last place we went to look through their stock, we found  a really good collection of carpets, however the conditions in their “Ambar” was close to disaster. The stacks of carpets were placed side by side, leaving no open space between them in a room roughly covering 3 x 7 meters, and almost reaching the ceiling !.

Horse cover

In a mysterious way, which is hard to explain, we managed to select some rugs, and pull them out of the room. To my astonishment, and probably Sadeghs too, he found a beautiful very old “Ru Aspi”- a Quashgai horse cover for his own collection. Where was I when it was offered to me first?

To my comfort I found here 9 carpets of the attractive size which was hard to find in Teheran, a few very sturdy Quashgai Nafar carpets 2 x 3 meters and a beautiful, very robust old Bownat. This carpet is now to be seen in the Norwegian embassy in Mexico City.

I have thought we had seen a overfilled store-room, the next “Ambar” instantly made us forget all that! On opening the entrance door to this room, we were faced with literally a carpet wall. Only a small hole revealed the possibility of entering the room, just big enough for a man to squeeze through. With some trouble, we all managed to enter the room, and it was worth it ! Among a large number of kilims, carpets and nomadic artifact, I found a beautiful Quashgai kilim from the second half of the 19thCentury, although damaged and worn, in a repairable state. Its colours had matured to a wonderful mellow state. This kilim was one of the very few old carpets we had seen in town, so far.

Bazaar Vakil

Bazar Vakil Shiraz

The old carpet bazaar, Bazaar Vakil, is named after Karim Khan. He was an amicable emperor, a humble ruler who loved his people, and called himself Vakil, advocate or spokesman for the people.

The central part of Bazaar Vakil is a straight, overbuilt street approximately 4 meters wide. On each side the “Dallals” have their hole-in-the-wall shops. The floor of these shops are elevated about 70 cm from the street level, leaving a shelf in front of the shops running in all the length of the street. This shelf is about 1 meter wide.

In the right, inner corner of Saray Gomrok, one floor up, Mr Tomani has his “Ambar”. The staircase is dark and narrow. The stairs are carved in stone, each step being very tall and not so deep, almost opposite of a normal stair. Every step has deep marks after hundreds of years of feet struggling with heavy loads.

In Tomanis warehouse there are several rooms, maybe 4 or 5, with quite good space and surprisingly well lit. In every room he has stacks of carpets of separate qualities. We selected about 50 carpets from his interesting collection.

Torki or Arab
When you are buying carpets in Shiraz, the bazaaries ask you if you want “Torki” or “Arab”. This is part of the very special nomenclature in the carpet trade, and Torki meaning carpets made of the Turkish speaking nomads of the Quashgai confederation, and Arab meaning carpets made of the Arabic speaking nomads, the so called Khamseh tribes, consisting of a confederation of 5 tribes. (The Arabic word for five is Khamseh).

Hole in the wall Bazar Vakil

The Torki live in the mountains and on the mountain plains with relatively high elevation, while the Arab, among others the Basseri tribe, inhabit the lowland plains. In the summer, the Torki live in Dasht-e-Bakan, the Bakan plains, and Eqlid Abadeh and Qir, Karsin Kaserun and Lar in the winter.

The Arabs have summer camps in Debit, Bownat and Giun and wintercamps in Fasa, Jarom and Khasemabad. Some of them also near Lar. In 1995, the Quashgai nomads count about 250.000 people and the Arab-Khamseh 70.000. In Firuzabad about 100.000 seminomads, all of them Quashgai.5-6000 people there are “Tadshik”, not in the sense that they are from Tadshikistan. Tadshik is the Turkish denomination for Farsi-speaking people.

The little known Sorqi people of Boyer Ahmad speak a mixture of Lur and Farsi. Khohestani are another commonly unknown group of people, with a language not farsi, arab or torki, but a melange of these three. This people live and dress as the Quashgai, but are of another breed.

See Quashqai and Quashguli photos.

The Elephantbazaar

Elephant bazar

In one of the sidealleys from the Bazaar Vakil, next to the great Mosque, we came into the “Bazaar Fil” – the Elephantbazaar. It was soon revealed that we were once again in Karim Khans track. This place had been the stable for his Indian elephants. On closer sight, this Mosque, was a building with great splendour, on top of which, someone with greatly developed sence for fine architecture, had mounted a tin roof, totally ruining the impression. As if that was not enough, the tin roof was carried by old, rusted, iron-tubes !

In the main street opposite the Bazaar Vakil, and further down, we went to see an urbanized nomad, mr. Qaradje. His shop was not impressive, and neither his carpets. In his more than dirty office, in lack of a woman hand at least for the last decade, I noticed a stack of unwashed new kilims with crude, raw colours. One single kilim on the top of the stack pointed itself out clearly. When asking about this, mr Qaradje reveals to us that all the kilims are of identical quality, but only the top one has been properly finished, i.e. burned and washed.
(Burning here means removing the secondary wool fibres on the kilim surface with a swift sweep with a gas-burner to make it smooth, not as part of an aging process).

Lars with helper

We made an appointment with him, and after a delicious lunch, in the only restaurant in Shiraz that I, up to that point, had visited, we went to his house in the outskirts of Shiraz, in the Electricity Street, funny enough, strongly hoping that this fact had nothing to do with the colours of the kilims that we had come to see. I sought out about 30 kilims from his collection – all of them unwashed. It will be interesting to see them finished.

See more photos from Shiraz

Lars N Nygård, Oslo, Norway – President of the Norwegian Art and Antique Dealers Association

Lars N Nygård Orientalske Tepper

Note: This article is a extract of Lars Nygård’s original article.


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