kashan skyline – windcatchers and water reservoirs competing for attention
By this time, we entered the second half of our trip and continued our way up north. It was time to say goodbye to the amazing city of Esfahan and proceed to a little but popular city in between Esfahan and the capital, Tehran. We took the morning bus to this city which is called Kashan, passing by more desert and arid lands. Of note were the nuclear power plants we passed by near a small town called Natanz. The other passengers on the bus were quite keen on pointing it out to me when we passed by it.
the agha bozorg mosque – what it lacks in color, it makes up for in style
We arrived in Kashan at around noontime. A much smaller city compared to any of the others we stayed in previously, I would say that it’s not as charming or atmospheric as the rest. This is because all the main sights are “hidden” inside brick walls and not in plain view for everyone to see. Our plan was to just stay there for a night and leave for Tehran the next day.
one of the historical mansions in kashan
Once again, we arrived in the city with grumbling stomachs. It did not help that our arrival coincided with noontime prayers and most of the eateries were closed. Amid the hypnotic Islamic chanting that came from the loudspeakers, we finally came about a pizza & sandwiches joint near the bazaar. We ordered a large size pizza for only $5. Once again, we were astounded by the Iranian version of one of the world’s most recognizable dishes — the pizza was great, and eating it while being surrounded by women in black chador certainly makes for a surreal juxtaposition. Needless to say, Kashan looked more conservative than Esfahan and Shiraz and was probably on par with Yazd. Almost all women here wore the full-body black robe — although still, none of them had their faces covered. Again, the people were very curious about us. We had a bunch of teenage kids following us and laughing behind our backs. In other countries, I would be wary about it and think they’d have some devious plans in mind, but in Iran, I knew this was another manifestation of their desire to communicate with us. They tried talking to us in Farsi but as I knew nothing beyond salam (hello) or chand toman? (how much), it was a fruitless attempt in making contact.
We checked in at Ehsan House which was another traditional hotel. While waiting for the room to open up, we hung around in the reception area for a little while. Not long after, those same kids came in — they followed us all the way to the hotel! I could hear them mutter something to the hotel receptionist and then walked away shortly after. The receptionist chuckled, and explained to me that the kids were really insistent to talk to me to practice their English. It was the nth time that a local wanted to practice English with me, but no one had been daring enough so far to follow me all the way into the hotel.
At $60 per night, this was the most expensive hotel we stayed in Iran. But nevertheless, this jacked up room price was reflected in the nicer and more spacious rooms (which can actually sleep up to 3), large courtyard as well as better English proficiency among the staff. This was the best hotel we stayed in our entire Iran trip. The hotel itself is situated in the main drag and right across the Agha Bozorg Moque – an impressive looking place of worship which looked different from the other mosques we’ve seen in Iran. Instead of having highly decorative and colorful tiles, this mosque was made of brick and has a monotone brownish look. Aside from that, it has a courtyard which is underground – something I had not seen before.
From hereon, it was time for the mansion tour. The main reason tourists make a stop in this small city is because of the several majestic historic mansions scattered around town. Well, actually most of them are located in one general area. But nevertheless, exploring these usually take one day and there are four mansions which are popularly visited. We started by going to Ameriha House, a 19th century mansion dating back to the Qajar Dynasty in Persia. This is the most isolated house among the four and also the largest. Consisting of several courtyards — including a special one just for servants, I felt like I was in a maze while navigating the place. Moreover, the house is being renovated so there were lots of construction everywhere and many parts of the mansion were not really suitable for sightseeing.
The other three houses – Boroujerdi, Tabbatabaie and Abbasian appeared smaller compared to the first one but were nonetheless as impressive. I was particularly fascinated by the detailed symmetry in the ceilings of these houses. I had first witnessed this symmetry in the Yazd Bazaar, but the ones in Kashan were definitely much more complex and I could only imagine the kind of mathematical calculations that were necessary in order to build these. All of these houses had a square or rectangular-shaped courtyard with a garden, in keeping with the style of traditional Persian architecture that I had already seen in Yazd and other places in Iran. Some had fine stained glass windows and intricate carvings on the outer walls. No wonder the renovation is taking a lot of time to finish!
… and another, this one’s at abbasian house
Although these houses still carry the family name of the clan that used to stay there, these historic mansions are now being used as museums and are under the care of Iran’s Heritage Board. Like elsewhere in Iran, the admission fees were cheap at less than a dollar each though the admission fees for Tabbatabaie and Abbasian were the costliest we had to pay anywhere in the country (at about $1.70 per site, still cheap!)
the courtyard of tabbatabaie house
Overall, I found Kashan to be compact enough to be covered in a day. Some choose to stay an extra night as there are diverse daytrip opportunities from here – either to small villages (passing by the “secret” nuke facilities once again) or desert trekking via 4×4. Despite staying for only 1 night, I managed to do the former and will cover it in my next post. Stay tuned!