Bazaar of Isfahan
The life of Eastern societies has been concentrated around the bazaar since ancient times. The name "bazaar" has its roots in the Old Persian language. This Persian word followed the trade routes and was borrowed by many European and Asian languages. In Iran, the earliest reference to the bazaar dates from the 8th millennium B.C. The legend of Jamshid that appears in the Avesta, the Zoroastrian sacred book, tells of the bazaar already in existence.
An archaeological survey in the Sialk Mounds (pp 194-195) has revealed that the residents of Sialk traded with the countries of the Persian Gulf in about the 5th millennium B.C., and that they could purchase necessities at a permanent marketplace. The records of the Achaemenid period include the costs of goods in the markets and the amounts of taxes levied on the merchants. During the Parthian period, the economy of the country was mainly based on agriculture and trade. Moreover, the Parthians, who actively traded with the countries of both East and West along the Silk Road, even had a monopoly over some specific goods such as spices and fabrics. The map of the Parthian town of Dura-Europos from 165-256 A.D. shows the exact place of the main bazaar of the town. During the Sasanid period, the traders and artisans were already organized into guilds, and each guild had a leader who usually worked as a mediator between the common people and the government officials. Starting from the early Islamic period, the bazaar has not been only the place where trade is concentrated; in fact, it has constituted the focal point of most city activities. People gathered in the bazaar not only to purchase, but also to communicate, to listen to the decrees announced by royal heralds, and to participate in festivities and other ceremonies. On religious mourning occasions, the bazaar was usually closed. Since the Safavid period, the Esfahan Bazaar has been the place of the most splendid ceremonies, particularly connected with the Moharram mourning rituals.
|Bazar Cloth Shop|
The bazaar has always had an important social power. The cancellation of a tobacco concession in 1890, the Constitutional Revolution of 1906, the nationalization of oil in 1951, and finally the Islamic Revolution of 1979, spurred on the closing of the bazaar. The merchants and artisans staged a walkout in objection to the governmental deeds, and all the life in the country came to a stop. In virtually all towns, the bazaar is a covered street, or series of streets and alleyways, lined with small shops grouped by service or product. In small towns, the bazaar might be the equivalent of a narrow, block-long street; in larger cities, the bazaar is a warren of streets that contains ware houses, restaurants, baths, mosques, and madresehs, in addition to hundreds and hundreds of shops.
A bazaar usually consists of raste-ye asli, a main street that, in its simplest form, is a road lined on either side by shops. In large bazaars, raste-ye fari, the auxiliary lanes, branch off the main road. The intersection of two major bazaar lanes is called chahar-su. Usually the richest shops surround this point. Meydan, the square, most often precedes the entrance to any bazaar. The Esfahan Bazaar is confined between Naqsh-e Jahan Square 1, at its southern end and Old Square 13, at its northern end. Jelokhnn is an area usually enclosed on three sides and fronting the main portal of a bazaar. Hojreh is a small shop specializing in particular goods. If the shop is two stories high, its ground floor is likely to be the shop itself, while the upper floor may serve as an office or a workshop. Caravanserai is usually the most decorated area inside any bazaar.
It consists of an open courtyard surrounded on its four sides by rooms for travelers and warehouses for goods. In caravansemis outside the city proper, a large area was also reserved for stables. Timcheh was originally a small caravanserai. Today it is instead a roofed area surrounded by shops, mainly trading in carpets and other valuable goods.
Esfahan boasts one of the richest bazaars in Iran. The first record of Esfahan's bazaar comes from the accounts of Naser Khosrow, who visited it in the early 12th century and described in enthusiastic terms. Although it had thrived throughout the Buyid and Seljuk periods, the bazaar of Esfahan was given new life during the Safavid rule. The grandiose plans of Shah Abbas's redecoration of the capital were first and foremost aimed at securing its economic growth.
At this time, the original bazaar, which had been concentrated in the vicinity of the Congregational Mosque (pp112-120) 151, was extended by building a new and larger com-mercial area to the north of Naqsh-e Jahan Square.
|Bazaar of Isfahan|
The entrance to the bazaar, fronting on the central square and in perfect keeping with its dimensions, was built in 1619andis called Qeysariyeh 21. 8, The name "Qeysariyeh" literally means "Caesarian" and is used to identify the Royal Bazaar. Deeply recessed from the surrounding shops and very high, this majestic gateway is ornamented with Thes and exquisite mural paintings, now perfectly restored. The tiles above the door depict Saggitarius; Oriental writers maintained that Esfahan was under the influence of this sign.
The frescos attributed to Reza Abbasi show scenes referring to Shah Abbas's war with the Uzbeks, along scenes of hunting and feasting. The entrance to the bazaar was once topped by a large clock, which had been made for Shah Abbas by an Englishman named Festy. After Festy's death, the clock stopped, and no one could repair it. Above the clock hung a big bronze bell, looted from a Portuguese nunnery at Hormoz. It was never sounded, and in about the year 1800 was melted down for cannon. At roughly the same period the clock also disappeared. At the time of the Safavids, orchestras in the Drum House on the upper galleries of the Qeysariyeh Portal used to drum and trumpet the sunrise and sunset, and they are also reported to have saluted Shah Abbas's victories in polo games. The Drum House was demolished during the Qajar period.
The Esfahan Bazaar has sections from perhaps every period of the city's history. Its most important parts date from the Buyid, Seljuk, Mozaffarid, and Safavid periods. During the Qajar and Pahlavi rules, about two-thirds of the bazaar disappeared.
It happened primarily because of the erroneous governmental policy that allowed the import of foreign goods to the extent that it harmed and sometimes destroyed local producers. For example, English textiles, often sold at dumping prices, completely replaced the fabrics of Kashan and ruined Kashans textile industry to the point that it has never fully recovered. The sale of local tobacco in Esfahan is said to have decreased from 300,000 pouches in the mid-19th century to 5,000 pouches by the late 19th century, while the rest was provided by foreign merchants. Secondly, during the 20th century, the majority of Iranian cities were replanned, and modern, straight streets were laid out. Very often this happened at the cost of ancient lanes and trade streets. Thirdly, modern factories tended to be built on the city outskirts, while modern trade centers were constructed along the new streets. All these factors have diminished the role of the bazaar as the main center of the city's manufacture and trade. However, although the Esfahan Bazaar has not remained unaffected by these events, it is still a very important center of Esfahans commerce. It is a labyrinth of arcades, squares, courtyards, depots, and caravanserais. The one-third that is left still occupies an entire district of the city.
Esfahan bazaar merits at least a half-day stroll, not necessarily for buying, but for the oriental atmosphere of haphazard activity. Light streams down into the bazaar's alleys from apertures and windows so high that one could think one were in a Gothic cathedral if not for the insistent bargaining and animated conversations.
Those who seek picturesque sights may be slightly disappointed, but here it is daily events rather than objects which are picturesque.