Many things made and still make Persia famous today. Going along the line of Persian inventions, today we find the Towers of Wind 🙂 AKA the mother of air conditioning devices.
The towers of wind are found all over Iran. And they have to be! Desert weather, unbearable temperatures and the inhospitable heat has always made it imperious to find a solution since ancient times.
How did ancient Persians survive the torrid heat?
The Tower of Wind is basically a ‘wind catcher’, a building designed to refrigerate hot air. These towers, normally connected to water channels, are capable of storing water so efficiently that even during summer water can feel nearly freezing.
The invention proved so effective that it rapidly spread out in many Middle-eastern and Asian countries.
Their invention is certainly credited to the Persian Empire but we are still not sure today if the first Tower was actually built in Iran. What we know is that one of the oldest of these magnificent towers is about 3,000 years old and located in the city of Yazd.
Yazd is a desert city which has been able to maintain its ancient architecture, and as such, it represents today a beautiful example of Iranian planning engineering.
The Towers of Wind may come in different designs. The ones you find in Iran all come with a qanat, meaning underground water flows, which aggregates an even better cooling effect.
These Towers made it possible for very hostile environments to become fit for residential use. Inhabitable.
Its invention was widely applauded in the region, becoming an integral part of sacred temples and palaces.
Let’s continue our long and incredible adventure in Iran. We said it before, Iran is a land of contrast and probably defies what most people think of it. And even more to this, women in Iran strongly belong to this notion. In fact, it is because of Iranian women that I truly believe that contrasts are a vital cog of any Iranian experience and those same contrasts are leading the ladies and others to keep quiete no more.
Women’s movement in is peaceful yet powerful. Historically, women have lived in a relative progressive society and enjoyed more freedom and equality than any of their neighbours. Women were workers, owners, sellers and tax payers.
With the arrival of Islam, women rapidly saw a decline in their position at every level.
Then things changed again. In the 1930’s, Reza Shah started legislating for women by granting them the right to seek divorce. He also encouraged them to work outside their homes and abolished the veil, a move that polarised opinion among progressive and conservative women. Finally, women gained the right to vote in the 1960’s.
But when in 1979 Iran became an Islamic Republic following the fierce Revolution, the adoption of the Sharia Law affected women enormously. Legal age for women plummeted from 18 years old to 9 years old (for boys is 15). Women were obligated by law to wear the headscarf (‘rusari’ in Farsi) and were not allowed to appear in public with a man to whom they were not related to.
Many things changed for women, freedom of travel, expression, family law fell under religious jurisdiction which means that for a woman to seek a divorce became almost impossible.
What do women dress and look like today in Iran?
Nowadays, and given the diverse background, it is safe to say that most women have had a taste of what emancipation is. Still, under the law women who venture outdoors must wear a headscarf, known as the “rusari”, and a long overcoat, known as the “manteau”; alternatively, they can wear a black cloak known as the “chador”. These are legal requirements, punishable by fines or imprisonment for repeat offenders.
Traveling through Iran, from north to deep south, I noticed that the strictness of this law depends on many factors. Number one is where you happen to be. I noticed that in Tehran women tend to be more rebel. They push back their rusaris, wear heavy make up and like to reveal their hair in abundance.
How strictly the law is enforced depends on many factors. Partly, it is down to where you happen to live: in affluent north Tehran, women tend to push back their rusaris to reveal an abundance of hair. Their “manteaus” are multi-coloured and stylishly nipped in at the waist.
As soon as I left Tehran towards south, everything became more conservative. In conservative rural Iran, women tend to abide by the rule significantly more. They wear drab black “chadors” and wear little make up to avoid standing out.
Foreign women are not required to wear it, however, there have been few are very few circumstances where I had to wear a chador and it normally happened at a few holy shrines, such as the Imam Shrine in the outskirts of Tehran.
Everywhere you go, though, I could simply wear any headscarf I had.
How women are allowed to dress also depends on which political faction it’s in power at the moment. If hardliners are in the ascendancy, it might be wise to conceal every lock of hair on the streets of Tehran; if reformers are in office, like it was when I was in Iran, you might try wearing your rusari so far back as to render it almost invisible.
These women have pushed a silent rebellion against the laid back government with such power that it has reached international recognition almost everywhere. From the rich Iranian teenagers of Tehran (known as The Rich Kids of Tehran) to the more women-oriented My Stealthy Freedom.
Then finally, a different faction of women that are neither reformers nor conservative. The nomad women. These beautiful women have a complete different mindset, background and even religion, being true holders of the Persian Zoroastrian belief. We will talk about them in my next post so stay tuned to continue our discovery of more incredible women…
One of the best benefits of traveling in company is that casually your travel buddies are excellent photographers. My friend Lichix took this photo of me in Esfahan while visiting the stunning Masjed-e Jameh Mosque, the biggest mosque in Iran and the pioneer of Islamic architecture.
With this post I’m opening a thread of How-To posts dedicated on how to take beautiful pictures in places where the camera is not very welcome. Stay tuned! 🙂
there are more cities in Europe that deserve your attention aside from the typical already too-beaten capitals and fancy sparkling towns.
So, in an effort of continuing our off the beaten path philosophy, forget for a moment about Paris, London, Rome and Madrid and let’s move towards east and land in the heart of Former Yugoslavia. The beautiful and laid-back Belgrade.
I decided to join my friend Riccio and visit this vibrant city as it is the home town of my mother’s family and I ended up discovering a true artsy and unpredictable beauty.
In spite of its set backs and destruction derived from recent conflict, Belgrade brazenly holds a classical and artistic look worthy of any European capital without being too glossy and chic.
It is one of those places that I dearly love visiting as it fights to prove any misconception people may have towards Serbians.
Even though post-war lingers on, Belgrade has an underlying confidence and artistic cloak to it.
Belgrade’s history is long and and with many layers. Destroyed and tarnished many many times, Belgrade holds a strategic position in trade roads and it is the joining point of two rivers: the Sava and the Danube.
Former capital of Yugoslavia from its inception as a kingdom in 1918, throughout the post World War II socialist era, right up until Serbia was the last man standing in 2006. Serbs are known for being warriors and proud of their heritage, however, many Belgraders still express a ‘yugonostalgic’ longing for the multiculturalism and porous borders of the socialist era due to their shared origins and languages. Together with its neighbours, Serbia shares the same spoken language while only the writing is different as Serbia is the only one that uses the Cyrillic alphabet).
Yugoslavia was first a kingdom and then, after World War II, a socialist regime headed by the still much-loved Marshal Josip Broz Tito who attempted to reinstate a pan-Slavic identity and bring the religious disparities under one roof.
Belgrade, with its rich culture, is the city the breaks the Balkans backwardness and veiled progress. In spite of being a European capital, Belgrade has a harder time to prove its attractiveness and worth. While still recovering from war and bombing, Belgrade’s modern side twists into an interesting artistic side.
Stanito and Karađorđe, the Serbian hero who led the people towards independence from the Turkish
St. Sava church
Belgrade have lived through many traumatic Yugoslav wars until 2001, which ended in a sort of pan-Slavic experiment. The violence perpetrated by Serbian forces led the socialist republic into a whirlpool of international banishment while internally struggling under repression for many years.
Just take a walk down Nemanjina St. to realise how Belgrade’s recent past lingers on people’s minds. Here you will see the Yugoslav Ministry of Defence building harshly bombed during the NATO attack in 1999 and such view dominates the entire landscape.
However, Belgrade prevails. Its gastronomy is simply delightful and night life make it one of the most hip-happening cities in the eastern side.
Despite the long lasting tumult, people in Belgrade know how to have a good time. Cafés and bars are heaving day and night, and their terraces are a simple reminder of European elegance. In few words, Belgrade enjoys the Mediterranean lifestyle of Greece, Croatia, Italy without really having a coastline. Bars are fancy and beautiful, filled with people from all over the region.
Do you want to have fun in the Balkans? Come to Belgrade 🙂
Discovering origins can really surprise us, just like when the Romans invented the bikini or else they took and made it famous (we Italians are known for taking existing inventions and improve them, like coffee, pizza and pasta, no argument on this 🙂 ). This is another new segment I dedicate to the Persian contribution to modern languages.
Pijama comes from the Persian pai jameh (پايجامه), which means ‘Leg Clothing’.
Originally only used by men who did not wish to go to bed naked, usually composed by two pieces: a top part and a bottom part, looking very much like loose trousers. Higher ranking men also used a one-piece pai jameh.
It must have been very comfortable and chic. By the 18th century the use of pijamas was already widespread, making the ‘Persian loose pants’ a unique trade mark. It quickly displaced the old fashioned night-garment, a one-piece of heavy wool or velvet that stretched to the feet, prompting the use of linen instead.
if you enjoy my adventures and follow my blog, it is probably because you and I share the same travel style. We don’t behave like common “tourists” but rather like “travellers” who walk a lot and enjoy a place like locals do. For this post I’m using the photos I took in Iran as it depicts what an off the beaten track destination is.
Being a tourist is perfectly fine when you are a person who is more comfortable around other foreigners and want to document every sight and corners with your camera but, even then, with very little effort you can make of your journey something special if you pack accordingly and merely use your guidebook as a generic reference and no more. When you travel, curiosity will always be your best friend. Off the beaten tracks are always so much better than the regular trails because they’re cheaper, more interesting, and most likely you will not feel oppressed by sellers and beggars.
Look around you. What are locals doing? Where are they eating, drinking and shopping? The more observant you are the more real the experience will be.
Start by finding locals who speak English and ask for advice on what untapped sights you should see.
Eat what locals eat. It sounds obvious but it bears repeating. If you want to feel like a local eat and drink like one. Ask around what are the local typical dishes, the ones that are low key and far from being posh. In case you can’t find anybody to ask, have a look around markets and bazaars and look for those spots where you see locals lining up for food.
Walk on foot as much as you can and use local transportation to get to really know a town like locals do. This is how you find about the best places, personal experience speaking here 🙂
Unless you go to sporty countries, conflicted places or nations that are hard to access, I suggest forget about bus or guided tours.
Try to immerse yourself in the local culture rather than standing out everywhere.
Explore the less-beaten areas and explore locations where tourism simply doesn’t drive the economy and people. You’ll interact with locals. This way your objective will turn into learning and experiencing new things, rather than to take a relaxing break from everyday life filled with selfies. A traveler may consider a trip a journey rather than a vacation.
If you already consider yourself a traveler, it’s likely that you are already surrounding yourself with locals. And even then, you can still improve your trip 🙂 try getting more involved with them.
Find a spot in town where locals seem to gather, like a town square or popular restaurant, and spend the day there. Strike up conversations with people of all ages. Ask questions about the local culture and talk about common interests; at the very least, you’ll leave with a broadened worldview. Don’t turn your nose up at tourists, and don’t avoid popular attractions simply because they’re packed with foreigners. This because ok, the Colosseo is constantly packed with tourists, but then, how can you go to Rome and not see this wonder?
could you believe that so many words came from old Persian language?
This time I will enlighten you about the word Assassin.
Commonly mistaken as an Arabic word, Assassin as we know it comes from old Persian hashashin (حشاشین), originated in the Alamut region of Iran. It has nothing to do with modern ‘hashish’.
The Assassins were a much-feared fighting group in the late 11th century. But what was their origin? And what did their name mean?
An assassin was a ‘person who was energised to kill’ on the account of the king.
When a king or high hierarchy old man wished to kill someone, he would enlist a young man and promise him a return to Paradise if he entered his service and followed his instructions or even died in his service. The first man to ever do so was Hassan-i Sabbah, founder of Alamut. He trained men to become highly deathly weapons to use against his enemies. Some modern Muslims believed he would drug these young men in order to subject them, but let’s see what happened…
If you read Hassan-i’s accounts and the many tales of Marco Polo, you can easily understand that Hashash was not a substance used to drug people. Here is why:
The word hashashin was phonetically very close to the Muslim hash-ishiyun, which means “hashish-smokers”; some scholars thought that this was the origin of the word “assassin”, which later became a terrifying word in most European languages…
However, dear Reader, the truth is quite another. According to texts that have come down to us from Alamut, Hassan-i Sabbah liked to call his disciples Asasiyun, which in Persian means ‘people who are faithful to the Asās’, meaning “foundation” of the faith.
This is the word that so often is misunderstood by many foreign travellers as its sound is so similar to “hashish”, the substance that many people enjoy consuming.
Paradise is Persian. An old Persian word that comes from an Old Iranian *pardis- “walled enclosure”.
By around the sixth century though, Persians started to associate the idea of Paradise with cooling and refreshing gardens due to the obvious high summer temperatures, so Paradise quickly found a beautiful graphic association.
And truly, Persian gardens are something unique. These are mostly royal parks where rulers (mostly kings and shahs) spent their time escaping hot summer (and Paradise could not be more appropriate due to the intense Iranian summers), entertaining foreign guests or simply spending family time away from political duties.
Because of the desert predominance in the country, it was vital to find a way to preserve water and create oasis of fresh air. In fact, dear Reader, Iranians (or Persians) are famous for pioneering a number of engineering projects in the world and one of these is precisely the invention of ventilation towers, else known as wind catchers.
The invention proved to be highly efficient in terms of sustainability and economic costs, so it comes to no surprise that the method was soon adopted and implemented in many other countries in the Middle-East.
Wind towers or wind catchers are traditional Iranian architectural invention built to provide natural ventilation for buildings that are located in dry arid regions. The structure normally looks like the picture above, where the structure conducts the outside air into the building to provide cooling. Wind or no wind, the airflow is generated with the temperature difference between outside and inside the building
The interior of the pavilion is superb, with intricate latticework and exquisite stained-glass windows.