The Towers of Wind

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.

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(c) wikipedia. This is a very simple scheme of how a tower of wind with qanat works. Basically, hot air, thanks to wind pressure, is pushed down the tunnel where the contact with water cools it down and then pushed inside the building through its basement. Always due to pressure, hot air is naturally expelled out of the high tower. There is never dust in these towers because the sand is carried outside by the underground water flow.

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.

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The Dolat Abat Garden in Yazd. The tallest tower of wind in Iran.

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.

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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.

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Always because of the arid conditions, gardens in Persia were extremely important and taken care of.

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Hampton Court

Dear Reader,

This is Hampton Court Palace, a palace fit for a king, someone once said… With its unique red-brick style, Hampton Court was once the envy of most sovereigns in Europe, especially France and its rival palace of Versailles.

Originally built in 1514 for Cardinal Wolsey, his failure to secure an annulment for Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon led the Cardinal and royal chancellor to cede this residence to his king.

Here are some curious things to know about this royal palace:

1- You can pray where Henry VIII for his Chapel Royal is still there and intact.

2- the kings’tennis court is still there and functioning as an actual sports club for tennis and squash.

3- It’s haunted. England is full of ghosts stories and Hampton Court is not exempted. There are whispers of strange chills and ghostly sightings. Someone even told me to have witnessed a beheaded woman wondering in the halls…

4- Hampton Court has the largest surviving 16th century kitchens in the world. 200 cooks worked slavishly from sunrise to sunset to feed 800 guests (sometimes even more) when Henry’s entourage was staying at the palace.

Canneto di Caronia: a Poltergeist town

Dear Reader,
Remember Sicilians and superstitions saga on this blog?
Well, mystery and curiosity struck again and Stanito & staff are right there on spot.

It all happened one day, when I receive this piece of news via e-mail:

The mystery of Caronia’s fires, a 10 year long-lasting nightmare. 
A trip to Canneto di Caronia, in the province of Messina, through people and houses burnt down by mysterious fires that have stricken the area since 2004. 
TVs, fridges, washing machines and even couches and sofas catch fire seemingly without an explanation… 

And then the video:

As part of my Sicily plan, Canneto di Caronia was set towards the end of the trip.

What Happened?

First incidents are dated back to 2004 so it’s been going on for about 13 years now. This bizarre phenomenon revolves around spontaneous combustion of mattresses, beds, cars, and devices like fridges and mobile phones, even when these are switched off. Quite obviously, the events couldn’t but attract the attention of physicists, geologist who gave all sort of explanations. Villagers were not convinced though…

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Theories:

Grounded theories vary. It could have been simply arson or old devices and poor electrical cables simply gave up.
Well, arson was ruled out when the devices that caught fire were unplugged. Then something happened: in 2007 an Italian newspaper published a leaked report from Civil Protection, concluding that aliens were the only plausible explanation as the result of the two investigation led to ” 15 gigawatts high power electromagnetic emissions that were not man-made”. Investigation remained open attributing the causes to simply “unknown electromagnetic radiation”.

And then something even more incredible happened! The Vatican’s chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, backed the villagers true fears by saying the following: “these fires are caused by the Devil. I have seen incidents like these before. Demons occupy houses and appear in electrical devices”. The interview in Italian is right here.

Another report also detailed a possible UFO landing close to the village, citing “burnt
imprints which have not been explained were found in a field.”

What’s Canneto di Caronia like today?

Years have gone by and eventually the town emptied considerably. Don’t forget that this is the region where superstitions have a big role in people’s lives (read my post on Sicilian superstitions for more on the subject). The episodes have attracted the attention of geologists, physicists and volcanologists, NASA experts without providing an accurate scientific explanation so far or a logical real conclusion to the case. Naturally, the villagers are blaming supernatural entities like UFOs, poltergeists, or other demonic forces, prompting them to evacuate the town.

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Some of the villagers came back but the town still remain in ghost state…

 

 

Inter-caste Marriage

Dear Reader,

Traditionally, the caste system in India forbids marriage outside the same caste. However, in the past few years inter-caste marriages have gradually gained acceptance due to increasing education, employment, middle-class economic background, and urbanisation, mostly provided by the central government in light of the increasing number of such marriages and in an effort of integrating the dalits or untouchables in government job positions.

However there are advances on this matter mostly in the capital, inter-caste marriage remains particularly frowned upon  in the countryside where these unions primarily take place on the traditional grounds of jatis (higher-caste) and up-jati (sub-caste), forcing the spouse of the higher caste to be alienated from his family and community.

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Deepak and Meene are couple married outside of their castes in Jaisalmer. I met them in their little store where they sell beautiful embroidery and patchwork made by underprivileged or divorced women from the region. 

How to Enjoy Mexico: understand its background first!

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost three since I moved to Mexico and I don’t feel I have fully explained this wonderful country. I wrote several posts on it and it will probably take several chapters to even slightly envision what Mexico is and it’s worth doing so. I want you to feel it as if you were here with me exploring this remarkable land.

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The beautiful and shining Guanajuato town.

It sounds so basic and futile when you think about it, as if by reading the title the imminent thought would be “oh come on, no need for guidelines”. But believe me, there is a science behind the enjoyment of a new city or even country, especially one you hope to survive without stress and melancholy. You might also think that all it takes is to join a tour or simply read about it on a travel guide.

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Learn how to make tacos. It’s fundamental in order to understand how delicious they can be…

Let’s take Mexico as an example. Mexico is a huge country full of colours, culture and above all contradictions. They say that here in Mexico you will find four stories: the one the Government wants you to believe, the one academic institutions want to teach, one that foreigners want to explain. And the last one, the one you have to discover yourself. And this is mine.

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Cute little restaurant in Mexcaltitán, the Venice of Mexico

Certain beliefs and conceptions of reality characterise some populations more than others, and Mexico recalls images of ancient civilisations, plundering Spanish conquistadores and moustachioed revolucionarios. The many contradictions of this vibrant country lie in its unique history and are deeply reflected in the character and personality of the people. The expansive friendliness of norteños (Mexicans from the northern states) compared to the more defensive and rebellious southern Chiapanecos (people from Chiapas state). Mexicans can be intensely fatalistic, resigned even. And when the mood takes in, they are hedonistic and carefree. A reserved poker face will suddenly give way to astonishing warmth and familiarity.

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Indigenous children from the sort of forgotten state Chiapas

We know Mexico’s first hundred years were bloody while the last eighty-five years have been at peace; it shares a long land border with the United states and yet they couldn’t be more different.
When the Spanish brought Catholicism, the missionaries took a very pragmatic approach to it and incorporated many beliefs from earlier religions. That’s why there are so many religious festivals here like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Muxis (gay/transgender divinity festival), the Guelaguetza and many others that blend Catholic celebrations with indigenous rituals.

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Mexico is dual.

It emerged from its bloody history and claimed its place in the modern world. And now globalisation and free trade is altering Mexican society once again.

 

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.

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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.

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Young people I met at the Sad’ Abad Complex.
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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.

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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.

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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…