Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I’m waiting for my friend outside Hasan Abad metro station in southern Tehran just taking in my surroundings. People are rushing downstairs to catch the train, and every few minutes a large crowd comes hurrying up to exit. A man sitting at the top of the stairs is selling various goodies: HiBye chocolate-filled cookies, Naderi layered snack cakes, strawberry wafers. It’s a scorching hot day in July and I can’t help but wish he had ice cold water instead. I have a 500 toman note in my wallet which is convenient because vendors always ask for change. Then I remember the price of water has been raised to 700 tomans. Where’s Florian?

A new wave of people comes out of the metro, and it’s easy to spot his blonde hair. We immediately attract attention because we’re exchanging hellos in English and I’m carrying a large camera case. But mostly, it’s his blonde hair, the telltale sign of a khâreji (foreigner). They stare at him and then eye me for a couple of seconds before looking down at my camera and eventually walking by. We head out and walk a few blocks down Imam Khomeini Street, dodging motorcycles creeping up behind us on the sidewalk and speaking a few notches louder than normal to be able to hear each other over the traffic. 

“Why did you bring a jacket?” I ask Florian. “Aren’t you hot?”

“I needed something to put my belongings in. I’ve been looking for a small bag of sorts, but I haven’t found the right one yet.” 

We haven’t been walking 5 minutes and I’m already sweating up a storm. I shouldn’t have worn this manteau today. I totally underestimated how hot it was. I bought it at the Jom’e Bazaar from Atefe Naderi whose designs and handprinted textile stamps are always adorable. The one I’m wearing has a tipped-over jug on one side and a fish swimming out on the other. “When you wear it, it looks like the vessel is trying to collect the fish again,” she told me when I was trying it on. Note to self: this manteau is entirely too heavy for this time of year.

I try to focus on the house numbers and not look at Florian’s jacket, which just encourages more beads of sweat on my forehead. “We should be close,” I tell him as we continue down the street. “It’s number 249.”

“I hope they’re open,” he says. “You know I’ve gone to the Holy Defense Museum three times, and each time they’ve been closed!”

“That happened to me too. I went on a Friday during Ramadan, which was the worst possible time. They don’t update their hours. But I called this place, and they said they’re open until 1 today.”

We finally arrive at #249, and I look up at the blue tiles above it: Muze Moghadam (Moghadam Museum), it says in Persian calligraphy.

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
The museum's peaceful garden

We buy tickets and walk in, and I suddenly feel as though everything’s gone quiet and I’ve stepped through a portal into a peaceful zen garden. The sound of trickling water, a small pond with lily pads, stone steps going across it. To the left is a castle-like building with an entrance that looks strangely as if it’s inhabited by a hobbit. To the right, a courtyard and staircase leading to another building. Am I still in Tehran?

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran

Mohsen Moghadam was the son of a mayor during Naser al-Din Shah Qajar’s time, and this was his house. After studying painting in Switzerland, he returned to Iran to study history and archaeology before setting off to travel again. Along with his French wife, they turned their home into a museum with objects and textiles that they collected.

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
The stone bases of the arches are similar to Chehel Sotun in Esfahan

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
The bathhouse

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
A window faces the garden and pool area

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
This side looks like something you'd find in Morocco

We make our way around, starting in the courtyard, the hamâm (bathhouse), museum, garden, pool, “hobbit castle”, and shell room. I love the arches which seem more suited for Morocco than Iran. I especially appreciate the details around the light switches. What a great idea! 

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
Details of the light switches

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
I like the idea of framing light switches

But the greatest part is the tiles. Moghadam Museum is brimming with tiles and mosaics, each one more beautiful than the next, with a different face or pattern bulging out. I find it so inspiring that I’m determined to one day decorate my own home the same way (I don’t know where I’ll get the tiles from, but I have time to figure that out).

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
Tiles of the bathhouse

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
Bench in the courtyard

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
I love the fact that an attempt was made to draw in the rest of this tile

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
Tiles depicting a Qajar family

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
Tiles embedded in the walls

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
Khorshid Khanum (Miss Sunshine) detail on the fireplace

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
To drink or not to drink?

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
Shell room

Florian and I take a seat on the staircase in the shade to catch up with each other about work and our latest adventures, all the while trying to prolong our tranquil little escape into this hidden gem and delay our reentry into the hubbub of the lovable beast that is Tehran.

I’m enjoying the atmosphere (and company) so much that I forget how hot it is or that I desperately need a drink of water. I'm simply basking in contentment and wondering how it is that more people don't visit or know about this museum. Much like Qeshm being overshadowed by Shiraz and Esfahan, Moghadam Museum is dwarfed by the likes of Golestan Palace and Sa'ad Abad Complex. But I figure that's what makes this tucked-away treasure all the more special-the fact that it's somewhat secluded from the masses.

Moghadam Musem | Tehran | Iran
Thanks to Florian for capturing a photo of me that I like :) 

It’s too bad the cafe is closed because it would be the perfect spot for a cool drink, I think to myself. But I’ll be back. Spring would be a nice time…when the trees are full of blossoms and temperatures are milder and more pleasant. 

Yes. I’ll come back in the spring. 


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A hidden gem in Tehran | Moghadam Museum | Tehran | Iran

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

My first encounter with Tehran’s District 12 (my favorite area of the city) was actually on Lâlezâr Street. My mom and I needed a lamp, and we were told that the lamp and chandelier stores were on Lâlezâr. 

“Lâlezâr?” she asked as if surely she had misheard. “You mean the old Lâlezâr? Huh, that’s strange.” 

Tehran of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the Tehran of my parents (and even before that), has always fascinated me. A different regime and smaller population made it a different world, one that I’ve longed to see only because it seems so inconceivable compared to the Tehran I know now. Growing up, my mom always talked about Lâlezâr in particular: the cinemas she and her friends and family would go to, the cafes she and my dad went to on their secret dates, the horse-drawn carriages, the shops where she used to buy sewing supplies and buttons. It was even the place where my khâleh (maternal aunt) met my dad when my parents were still dating. It all seemed so romantic to me. Even the name had a mysterious beauty… Lâlezâr (‘field of tulips’). And I would be lying if I didn’t say that one of my fantasies is to have a Midnight in Paris moment: I’d stand on the corner of Lâlezâr at 12am and wait for one of those horse-drawn carriages to magically appear, pick me up, and transport me back to old Tehran. Well-dressed men in suits and hats, women with their hair done, high heels and skirts cinched at the waist, classic Chryslers and other American cars on the road, no traffic… 

Cafe Pars | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Cafe Pars

Lâlezâr was born after Naser al-Din Shah Qajar visited the Champs-Élysées in Paris in 1873 and wanted to recreate this vast and stylish avenue in Iran. It became the first modern, straight street in Tehran (before that, streets had always been paved as an afterthought, so they would twist and turn around already constructed buildings. This type of construction is still sometimes true today.) It was the site of all the hippest cafes, cabarets, theaters, and cinemas in the capital. Basically, it was Tehran’s center of culture.

When my mom and I arrived to shop for a lamp, all the romantic images that I held in my head of Lâlezâr were shattered. There were no cafes, definitely no cabarets, and only remnants of theaters and cinemas. On the street level, there were lamp stores as far as the eye could see. Above them, abandoned buildings, broken windows, and beautiful balcony doors that made me wonder when the last time was that anyone had opened them. The steady buzz of motorcycles left me entranced as we wove through the parked motorcycles lining the sides of the street. 

“This is not the Lâlezâr I remember,” my mom said in disbelief.

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Architecture of Lalezar

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Architecture of Lalezar

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Mosaics and beautiful details are still on the old buildings

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Once a hotel, this building has seen better days

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Once a hotel, this building has seen better days

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran

It might have been unlike anything I had imagined, but I absolutely loved it. So a while later, I joined a tour on a freezing winter morning to learn about its history.

Now nicknamed “the graveyard of theaters,” Lâlezâr used to house twenty-something cinemas and theaters (the exact number now escapes me), some of the most famous of which were Rex, Cristal, Iran, Metro (which used to be under ground), and Laleh, among others. The challenge now is finding all of them! They're small theaters, many with no signs, so it's easy to miss them. If you go to the movies at Kourosh Cineplex, each of its 14 modern theaters are named after one of the cinemas of Lâlezâr. 

Cinema Cristal | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Cinema Cristal

Cinema Iran | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Cinema Iran

Cinema Laleh | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Cinema Laleh

Cinema Rex | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Cinema Rex

Cinema Sahar | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Cinema Sahar

Cinema | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran

Cinema | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
This Metropole sign reminds me of NYC

Tehran Theater | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
Tehran Theater

Lalezar | Cinema | Tehran | Iran
Cinema Metro was under ground

The home of renowned writer Sadegh Hedayat is just off of Lalezar. Though closed, you can pull yourself up over the door to get a peek in the courtyard. Ettehadieh House, an early 20th-century-style mansion where the popular 1976 TV series My Uncle Napoleon (based on the book by Iraj Pezeshkzad) was filmed is also located here. While on my tour, it was being renovated to become a cafe (at least that’s what I've heard), as many of the old mansions in Tehran have. You’ll also find Grand Hotel (the most important of its time) here and the former cabaret, Moulin Rouge.

Sadegh Hedayat home | Tehran | Lalezar | Iran
Courtyard of Sadegh Hedayat's home

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
This is said to be the building of the former Moulin Rouge

An old sign for 'Rika Tailor'

Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
The famous 'Kucheh Berlan'

But even though present-day Lâlezâr is only a shell of its former self, its charm is undeniable. I make it a point to say hello every so often, almost like a pilgrimage. “You’re going to Lâlezâr?” my friends and family ask me. “Why? There’s nothing to see there.” But I beg to differ. It’s not just another street in Tehran for me. It’s a living entity that has witnessed things I have only dreamed of. It knew my parents back when my siblings and I didn’t yet exist. It knew them as young university students madly in love. There’s no horse and carriage to take me back, but I instead rely on my imagination. As I walk up and down the street, I pause to look at the broken windows and old signs, imagining which of these stores my mom bought buttons from. What was her favorite store on Kucheh Berlan (Berlin Alley)? Which cafe did she and my dad go to on a date? Where did they sit? What did they drink? What did they talk about? 

Cafe Pars | Lalezar | Tehran | Iran
I imagine my parents sitting behind this window of Cafe Pars

When I pass Cafe Pars on the corner of Jomhuri and Lâlezâr, I can see them sitting at a table behind the window, holding hands, gazing into each other’s eyes, and maybe sipping on a café glacé. As for their conversation, that will forever stay in the heart of Lâlezâr. 


Lalezar | Tehran | Iran | Iran A-Z

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Midway between Tehran and Esfahan is the desert city of Kashan. Kashan is best known for two things: its historical houses and its rosewater. Kashanis are stereotyped as being tarsoo (kind of like scaredy-cats), and their accent has lots of "o" and "a" (like apple) sounds. 

I visited Kashan in the spring of 2016 during their annual golâb giri, rosewater festival (and it’s around this time that you want to go. A little bit later, and it’ll be entirely too hot). The fragrant Mohammadi roses grow especially well in dry climates, making Kashan the perfect locale. And only since my trip to Kashan do I realize what pure rosewater is! I used to buy it from the store, but once I went to Kashan, I stocked up on the fresh supply from the distillery. Pure rosewater is slightly bitter and nowhere near as perfume-y as the store-bought kinds (though still quite fragrant). And with pure rosewater, a little goes a long way. (It’s also supposed to be really great for your skin. I spritz some on my face every night after washing. #persianbeautysecrets) 

What to see

You can easily finish seeing Kashan in a day, but you might want to stay the night in one of the historical houses which have been converted into chic boutique hotels and then hit the road the next day. 

Fin Garden

Fin Garden | Kashan | Iran
Fin Garden

Fin Garden (Bâgh-e Fin) is one of the gardens that comprises UNESCO’s listing of Persian Gardens. It’s got lovely towering cypress trees, flowing water, and bubbling fountains, one of which is full of coins because there’s a hole in the center that's impossible to get a coin in, but people keep trying. The buildings are full of stained glass windows and ceiling frescos. To the side is Fin Bath where Amir Kabir, a Qajar-era chancellor, was murdered by an assassin.

Fin Garden | Kashan | Iran
Ceiling at Fin Garden

Fountain | Fin Garden | Kashan | Iran
It's said to be impossible to get a coin in the hole.

The first time I visited Fin Garden, it was just lovely. Not too crowded or hot. But the second time, all I wanted to do was run away. It was a holiday weekend, and the place was swarming with people, making for a quite unpleasant visit. You’re best bet is during the week or early on the weekend.

Historical Houses

Ameriha House | Kashan | Iran
Ameriha Historical House

There are several historical houses in Kashan, and you’ll be delighted by all of them. I walked through the Borujerdi House with its beautiful plasterwork, frescoes, and pomegranate trees just wondering what it must have been like to live there. If you go to the rooftop of Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse, you can get a look at the Borujerdi House dome-roof and windcatchers. The Ameri-ha House is a popular place to grab some lunch, and there are nice stores inside for handicrafts and women’s fashion shopping. 

Borujerdi House | Kashan | Iran
Interior of the Borujerdi House

Borujerdi house | Kashan | Iran
Roof of the Borujerdi House as seen from Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse

Speaking of the bathhouse, I didn’t get a chance to visit inside (and I don’t remember why now because it's supposed to be awesome), but I did climb on the roof which was a lovely surprise. It looks like space pods have landed. 

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse | Kashan | Iran
The roof of Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse

Tepe Sialk

Everyone seems to forget about Tepe Sialk, but it’s one of the oldest four ziggurats in Iran dating back some 7,500 years. Not much of it remains, but it’s worth a stop to get a history of it, check out the modest display of excavated pottery at the visitor’s center, and discover the two encased 5,500-year-old skeletons. Tepe Sialk may seem like heap of dust today, but it offers a nice point of reflection of the past and present as you look out onto the rapidly encroaching city of Kashan.  

Tepe Sialk | Kashan | Iran
Tepe Sialk

Tepe Sialk Skeleton | Kashan | Iran
Skeleton at Tepe Sialk


What to see and do in Kashan, Iran

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