Sunday, September 18, 2016

Uzbekistan | Bukhara Oasis | Khwajagan | Seven Saints of Bukhara | Ali ar-Ramitani

Wandered by the mausoleum of Ali ar-Ramitani (d.1315/1321?), the fourth of the Seven Khwajagan of the Bukhara Oasis, located twelve miles northwest of Bukhara.
Entrance to the Ali ar-Ramitani Mausoleum Complex (click on photos for enlargement) . . . For more see Seven Saints of Bukhara: The Khwajagan, or Masters of Wisdom.

 (click on photo for enlargement)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hungary | India | Shambhala | Eccentric Hungarian Wanderer-Scholar Csoma de Körös

Csoma de Köros was a full-blown eccentric who devoted his entire life to the pursuit of arcane knowledge. As the Russian theosophist and New Age Fairy God Mother Madame Helena Blavatsky noted, “a poor Hungarian, Csoma de Körös, not only without means, but a veritable beggar, set out on foot for Tibet, through unknown and dangerous countries, urged only by the love of learning and the eager wish to shed light on the historical origin of his nation. The result was that inexhaustible mines of literary treasures were discovered.” Among the written works unearthed were the first descriptions of the legendary Buddhist Realm of Shambhala to reach the West.
See Eccentric Hungarian Wanderer-Scholar Csoma de Körös and the Legend of Shambhala.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Turkey | Hasankeyf | Update

The NYTimes has an disturbing story about Hasankeyf, which I visited back in June of 2014. See Dam Project Threatens to Submerge Thousands of Years of Turkish History. Sound like the town itself could be submerged. The fate of the ancient ruins above the town is uncertain. Glad I got there when I did.
The town of Hasankeyf, on the banks for the Tigris River, from the ruins of the ancient city (click on photo for enlargement)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Iran | Esfahan | Khaju Bridge

While in Esfahan I wandered by the 436-foot long Khaju Bridge, built by the Safavid king Shah Abbas II in the 1650s.
The Khaju  Bridge (click on photos for enlargements)
The Khaju  Bridge
The Khaju  Bridge
The Khaju  Bridge
The Khaju  Bridge
The Khaju  Bridge
The Khaju  Bridge
The Khaju  Bridge
The 25 foot wide roadway across the top of the bridge

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Iran | Tabriz | Covered Bazaar

The morning after my trip to the Church of St. Stephanos the breakfast hall of my hotel in Tabriz is occupied by two tour groups from Germany, each with maybe fifteen people. These are not adventure tourism types. All appear to be in their seventies or older, retirees checking Iran off their  list while they are still able to ambulate without walkers or motorized carts. They dutifully line up for cold cereal and bowls of prunes. All the women are wearing head scarves. I tuck into comb honey, clotted cream, dates, and flat bread while reviewing the day’s itinerary. Today will be devoted to Tabriz itself. As mentioned, Tabriz was the Il-Khanate capital from 1265 to around 1305, when Ölziit Khan moved the government to Sultaniyya. Even after the capital was transferred to Sulṭaniyya Tabriz remained probably the most prominent city in the Il-Khanate. Unfortunately, there are few if any physical remains of the Il-Khanate period left in Tabriz. Devastating earthquakes that periodically leveled the city, destruction wrought by invasions, wars, and revolutions, and urban renewal and expansion have all taken their toll.The cataclysmic earthquake of 1780, in particular, leveled most of Tabriz. and as  a result, according to one historian, “the city now contains very few structures of historical interest.” On the way back from the Armenian church yesterday I asked Hamid if he knew of any Il-Khanate-era monuments and anxious as he was to please he finally had to admit that he also did not know of any. I am not saying, I should make clear, that there are no Il-Khanate monuments in the city; I am simply stating that if there are any I was unable to locate them. However, the current-day Tabriz Covered Bazaar, dating from after the disastrous 1780 quake, is apparently a continuation of an earlier covered bazaar founded by the Il-Khan Ghazan in the 1290s and thus deserves our attention.

The current version is said to be the largest covered bazaar in the world. It covers 66.7 acres, with 3.41 miles of passageways and 5500 shops. The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, while ranking as the biggest single tourist attraction in the world, with over 91,000,000 visitors a year, has between three and four thousand shops. The largest mall is the United States, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota covers more space than the Tabriz Bazaar—96.4 acres total with 56.8 acres devoted to 530-some shops—but many would argue that it is not really a covered bazaar in the classic sense of the term but rather a New World mutation.

I am on my fourth cup of Nescafe (no filter coffee or lattes here, and the only tea is in bags;  a Tea Cognoscente myself, I would of course not be caught dead using tea bags) when Hamid and Masud appear. Earlier in my room I had binged the covered bazaar and discovered that it always closes for the first ten days of the month of Muharram. I mentioned this to Hamid and he replied, “Don’t worry, yesterday was Ashura, the tenth day of the Muharram. The bazaar will be open today.” The bazaar is close to the center of the city, about a fifteen minute driver from our hotel. “I like Tabriz”, enthused Hamid, a native of Tehran, as we drove toward downtown. “The streets and sidewalk are very clean and you don’t see any of the beggars and street people you see in some districts of Tehran. And the pollution here is nothing like Tehran.”

Tabriz is situated on the western edge of the Iranian Plateau at an altitude of 4430 feet. About twenty-five south of the city looms 12,163-foot Sahand Mountain, the cone of a now-extinct volcano. The earliest history of the city is extremely hazy. Legends that the city was the original Garden of Eden and/or the birthplace of Zoroaster, founder of the Zoroastrian religion, while persistent (tour guides dredge them up to this day), are no doubt apocryphal. A Tarui or Tauris mentioned in an epigraph of the Assyrian King Sargon (r. 722–705)   dated to 714 b.c. may refer to an early version of the city; if so, this may be the first mention of the settlement or town in the historical record. Clearly some sort of town existed here during the time of the  Sassanian Empire (224 a.d. to 651 a.d.). Arabic Muslims invaded the region in 642, after the fall of the Sassanian Empire, and an Arabic tribe from Yemen settled in the town of Tabriz. Zubaida, the wife of Abbasid Calif Harun al-Rashid, he of One Thousand Night and One Arabian Nights fame, is often credited with founding the city, but of course it already existed by her time. Zubaida (d. 831) was famous for providing wells, water reservoirs, and other amenities for Muslim pilgrims traveling from Baghdad to Medina and Mecca. Although she did not found Tabriz, she apparently rebuilt the city after it was destroyed by a devastating earthquake.   

Due to its location close to the unstable suture between the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates earthquakes have been a recurring theme in the history of Tabriz.  “Earthquakes have occurred with greater frequency in Tabriz than in any other major city in Iran,” states one historian who had studied the subject in detail. Although ephemeral sources cite numerous earthquakes affecting Tabriz—the years 634, 694, 746, 838, 949, and 1020 are mentioned—the first quake for which there is firm historical evidence occurred in 858. The 858 quake leveled the city restored by Zubaida. In turn it was rebuilt by Abbasid Caliph Mutawakkil (822–861). Despite the attentions of the illustrious Zubaida, Tabriz was “scarcely little more than a village until at least the mid-ninth century.” It was not until after the city was rebuilt by Mutawakkil that it became a flourishing trade center, but even then it was just one bead on a necklace of cities stretching between the Orient and Occident. It was not until the Mongols made it their capital that Tabriz became what one historian calls a “striking example of a world historical city in both its cosmopolitan intellectual culture and its central role in the thirteenth-century global economy.”

The streets leading to the Covered Bazaar were certainly clean, but they were also suspiciously quiet. We parked a block away from the bazaar and proceeded on foot to one of its many entryways. The portal was open but when we entered we found the long corridor empty.  All the doors leading off to passageways on the the left and right was closed and locked. Proceeding down the dark corridor we finally encountered a janitor with a broom. He announced that the bazaar is closed for the Ashura ceremonies until further notice. “That’s crazy!” said Hamid. “Ashura was yesterday. Why is the bazaar closed today? The man said he wasn’t even sure if it would be open tomorrow.”
 Deserted corridors of the Covered Bazaar
Not only was I eager to tour the bazaar because of its historical significance, I was also interested in its famous carpet shops. Tabriz has been an important carpet manufacturing center for centuries and Tabrizi carpets have assumed a certain cachet among collectors. I had no intention of buying any—some rooms of my Hovel In Zaisan Tolgoi are already three deep in carpets from Bukhara, Samarkand, Khotan, and other historic carpets centers—but I do have a passing interest in the history of carpets and was anticipating a few hours of palaver with carpet dealers while examining their merchandise. They can be an excellent source of information, assuming one can separate the chaff of high-pressure salesmanship from whatever grains of actual information they may have to offer.

Actually I may have seen Tabrizi carpets before. Back in Istanbul I had mentioned to a carpet dealer near the Grand Bazaar that I was going to Tabriz and he quickly produced a dozen or more carpets he said were from Tabriz. His father, he claimed, had recently been in Tabriz and had surreptitiously bought up a stock of better quality antique Tabrizi carpets, most of them dating to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.  These he shipped to near the border with Turkey, which is a little over a hundred miles west of Tabriz, and then had them smuggled via horseback into Turkey to avoid customs restrictions and taxes. Kurdish people on both sides other border facilitated the transfer. 

I had intended on spending most of the day here at the bazaar. As Hamid and I were discussing a new course of action a white turbaned mullah walked by and then knocked on a door leading off the right. The door opened momentarily and he slipped in. Hamid went over and knocked on the door and had a brief discussion with the man who opened it. “I told him that you were from America and that you wanted to see the inside of some galleries. He said we can come in.” As luck would have it, the long gallery we entered was one that specialized in carpets. As luck would also have it, the shops that lined the gallery were all closed. The man who had opened the door invited us into his spacious tea shop just to the left of the entrance to the gallery. Five men who had shops in the galleria were already having tea on what for them was a day off. We were served strong black tea in tall glasses and a plate of fat, luscious dates. The other men just stared at me, their faces like stone masks, not revealing any opinion about the American who had somehow materialized in the middle of their morning tea. Tell them I am an historian (I find this designation excuses a multitude of sins) and ask them which parts of the bazaar are the oldest, I said to Hamid. Also ask them if they know of any parts of the bazaar which may date back to the Il-Khanate period. They seemed to take this request quite seriously and they had a discussion among themselves lasting over ten minutes.
This gallery specializing in carpets was closed the day I was there.
“They are speaking Azeri, and I can only understand a few words. When they are done talking I’ll ask for a summary in Persian,” said Hamid. Azeri belongs to the Turkish language family. An early variant of the language was spoken by the Oghuz Turks who lived around the Aral Sea in what is now Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Many of these Oghuz Turks migrated westward and by the eleventh century had settled in the Azerbaijan region. Their descendants, Azerbaijanis, are the second largest ethnic group in Iran, after Persians themselves. Azeri remains the dominant language of the East Azerbaijan province of Iran and especially Tabriz to this day. Hamid claims that Azeri is the first language of the majority of people in Tabriz, although almost all speak at least some Persian. It is also spoken by a sizeable Azerbaijani minority in Tehran. Azerbaijanis, claim Hamid, are legendarily astute traders and businessmen and control Tehran”s largest bazaar.

After the confabulation the spokesman for the group talks to Hamid in Persian. Some parts of the bazaar are clearly older than others, but it’s hard to put a date on any particular part. Yes, the Mongols established a bazaar here in Tabriz but none of the men can point to any identifiable Mongol-era structures. This was about what I was expecting to hear but at least it had been worth a try asking. The idea was to get the guys talking. The spokesman says he is sorry he cannot be of more help, but he could open his carpet shop for us if we were were interested. We were interested. Hamid attempts to pay the tea shop man for our tea and dates but he shrugs this off. “It’s free for our American guest.”

The carpet shop is long and narrow, without any space to display carpets on the floor. The walls are lined with coarse wool carpets with generic designs, the cheapest kind of carpets meant for everyday use in the humblest of abodes. The owner leads us to a dusty, ill-lit storeroom in the back with six-foot high piles of carpets but they are all the same cheap variety. It’s clear we have stumbled into a rather lowbrow establishment. I have taken better carpets than these on Extended Camel Trips in the desert. I won’t learn anything new about carpets here. We thank the man and leave.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Greece | Rhodes Island | Rhodes Old Town | Landmarks and Sights

Like most of the Greek islands Rhodes has numerous layers of history dating back several thousand years. The oldest visible layer dates to the pre-Christian Hellenistic period.
Ruins of Temple of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, dating to probably third century B.C. (click on images for enlargements)
Starting around the fifth century the island became part of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. Islamic Arabs and Turks seized the island at various times, but the Byzantines were able to regain control and remained the dominant force on the island until the beginning of the fourteenth century, when the Knights Hospitaller took over. 
 Byzantine ruins 
Ruins of the Byzantine Church of the Archangel Michael
Byzantine Church of Ag. Paraskevi
Byzantine Church of Ag. Spyridon
Detail of Byzantine Church of Ag. Spyridon
 The Knights Hospitaller Period of Rhodes history began in 1308 and lasted to 1522.  
 Knights Hospitaller Era Church of the Holy Trinity. As you probably know, the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—was in large part formulated by Gregory of Nazianzus, a.k.a. Gregory the Theologian (c. 329–390), who once lived in the Cappadocian village of Güzelyurt, which I wandered through not long ago. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. Basil of Kayseri  are also credited with laying the theological foundations of the Greek Orthodox Church.
 Church of the Holy Trinity
 Church of the Holy Trinity
 Knights Hospitaller Era Church of St. Artemios
 Ruins of the Church of Panagia tou Bourgou—Knights Hospitaller Era
Ruins of the Church of Panagia tou Bourgou— Knights Hospitaller Era
In 1522, after a long and protracted siege of the Walled City, the Ottoman Turks conquered Rhodes.  It remained part of the Ottoman Empire until 1912 when it was seized by Italy during the  Italo-Turkish War. Nazi Germany briefly controlled the town during World War II, but after the war, in 1947, the island became part of Greece.
Ottoman Era Suleiman Mosque
Ottoman Era Aga Mosque
 
Fort at the entrance to the harbor of Rhodes
Entrance to the harbor of Rhodes at dawn
Street Scene. No private cars are allowed in the Old Town. Most streets are not wide enough for them anyhow.
Street Scene
Street Scene
Street Scene
Many of the streets are paved with sea pebbles.
You might think the uneven surface of sea-pebble paved streets and walkways would provide firm footing. Actually, centuries of use have worn the pebbles as smooth as glass and in the morning when they are wet with dew or after a rain they are quite treacherous to walk on.
Street Scene
Street Scene
In the summer  Rhodes is one of party capitals of the Eastern Mediterranean, as hinted at by this graffiti on a park bench. 
There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of bars, nightclubs, and discos in Rhodes Old Town, but most of them are closed in wintertime. This place remains open all night for local worshipers of Dionysus, the current God of choice in Rhodes. When I went out for coffee at six in the morning there were still gangs of local women hanging around out front. Most sported multiple body piercings and some were festooned with chains. At the Open/24/7 bakery where I breakfasted on coffee and chocolate croissants the baker on duty often offered me a complimentary shot of Ouzo from his personal bottle he kept behind the counter. He said it was the Greek way to start the day.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Greece | Island of Rhodes | Rhodes Old Town | Old Town Walls

The wall build around the Old Town of Rhodes by the Knights Hospitaller is about 1.8 miles in circumference. There are eleven gates in the wall. 
Old Town Wall (click on image for enlargements)
One of the Gates in the Wall
One of the Gates in the Wall
One of the Gates in the Wall
One of the Gates in the Wall
Detail of the Gate
One of the Gates in the Wall
Detail of the Gate
One of the Gates in the Wall
One of the Gates in the Wall
Detail of the Gate
Wall on the seaward side
Fortification built into the wall
Fortification built into the wall
Fortification built into the wall
The outer wall to right, in from of the higher outer wall
A section of the outer wall
Inner wall on right
The outer wall to right, in front of the higher outer wall
One of the bastions in the wall
Stone cannonballs left from over various sieges of Rhodes by the Ottoman Turks. The city was finally seized by the Ottomans in 1522. 
Turkish cannonballs