Iran: Veiling and Unveiling Women

Dear Reader,

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.

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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.

On 8 March 1979, more than 100,000 women gathered on the streets of the Iranian capital to protest against the new Islamic government’s compulsory hijab ruling, which meant a compulsory use of a headscarf when away from home. The protest was held on International Women’s Day. Photo source: @ Rare Historical Photos

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.

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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.

Young people I met at the Sad’ Abad Complex.
Girl I met at a shisha bar in Tehran.

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.

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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.

My friend Alicia is wearing the white chador as required to enter the Imam shrine.

Everywhere you go, though, I could simply wear any headscarf I had.

My friend Marina on the left and myself are wearing headscarves of varied colours and length.

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…





Rebellious and Fashionable Iranian ladies

Dear Reader,

time to break the backward image most people get from just hearing the name “Iran”.
There are many things to say on this regard but this time I will start with a small preview on women fashion…

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Too modern and too conservative at the same time. Fashion in Iran is more than The Rich Kids of Tehran and highly linked to a strong feeling of rebellion. Stay tuned for my story.


Photo of the Day: Stanito in Esfahan

Dear Reader,
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! 🙂

Did you know…

that Pijama is a Persian word?

Dear Reader,
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’.

A muslim girl wearing a pijama. 1844. (c) Didactalia

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.

Did you know…

Assassin is a Persian word?

Dear Reader,
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.

Did you know…

… Paradise is a Persian word?

Dear Reader,
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.

One of these gardens is the Dolat Abad Garden, located in the city of Yazd.

In Dolat Abad Garden you can chill out on the grass to enjoy the sun, the breeze, or the ice-cold dry weather of winter, you can sip an Iranian black tea at the local cafe.

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.

This is the wind tower at Dolat Abad, in Persian is called بادگیر‎‎ bâdgir (bâd “wind” and gir means”catcher”)

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.

Vitró window
This is the tallest badgir of the Dolat Abad garden



Persian Peacock Domes

Dear Reader,

This picture portrays what I found to be the most beautiful mosque dome I have ever seen: the peacock dome of the Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, in Esfahan, Iran.


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So beautiful and wonderfully coloured, I think is one of the domes I spent more time staring at… Notice the peacock-themed patterns in blue and yellow motifs?

In the millennial Persian culture, symbols have endured and carried on their legacy in present times even when Persia underwent major and different political and religious regimes. Throughout history, the ancient Persian symbols have always been magnificent, mystic and ever present.  The fact that these symbols are used all over the country signifies the importance of these over time…

The peacockpeacock is one of the most culturally significant birds in Iranian culture; it appears in art and poetry from the Medieval period onwards with great regularity.

Most literature regards the blue peacock being of Indian origins, others link it to the Greeks, however, in Persepolis I also found that blue peacock images might have been originated in the area in Achaemenid time.
Either way, for all them the blue peacock was a symbol of immortality because the ancients believed that the peacock had flesh that did not decay after death.
Since the bird changes and replaces its feathers every year, it also came to be a symbol of renewal and resurrection. For the Imams, this was meant to represent the ever presence of their prophet Alí. And finally, with the Qajar era, the peacock also symbolised royalty and power.


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