Saturday, July 29, 2017

Everybody enjoys a little shopping when they travel, but for me, shopping was never so much about spending time in the mall looking for clothes and shoes as it was buying local handicrafts. I’ve always collected all kinds of goods from the countries I’ve visited with the idea of turning my house into a “museum” of memories one day. Growing up, my mom always kept Iranian handicrafts in the house, but I never paid much attention to them, just thinking of them as Iranian and, well, normal. But since I’ve been in Iran, I’ve been paying closer attention to the typical items of each city, how they are made, and have started my own collection. (Although I must admit that sometimes I feel like such a grownup when I buy these things because the kid in me feels like it’s something only my mom should do.) Now when I go to my parents’ home, those items make more sense, and I can easily identify where they came from. Of course, Persian rugs are by far the most well-known thing you can purchase, but not everyone is in the market for one. So in case you are like me and like to have something to remember your travels by, here’s what you should keep your eyes out for in cities across Iran.


A city so concerned with aesthetic beauty, it’s no wonder that so many handicrafts come from Esfahan. One of my favorites is minâkâri, or enamelwork. Copper surfaces are traditionally decorated with birds and floral patterns on a background which is most commonly azure, though green and red can also be found. On my last trip to Esfahan, I bought a pair of antique minâkâri earrings, and before I left, the shopkeeper drew me a miniature portrait with a single-hair brush on the back of his business card. For me, it was probably more valuable than the earrings!

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy
Drawing a miniature

Esfahan also has khâtamkâri, or marquetry, which means ‘the best of all art work’. Fine pieces of wood, bone, and metal are inlaid to create all kinds of decorative objects. 

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy
Khatamkari is the Persian art of marquetry

Ghalamkâri, a traditional textile printing using wooden stamps, is also native to Esfahan. Usually made of pear wood, the stamps come in various patterns ranging from floral and geometric to arabesque and pre-Islamic. 

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy
Textile printing and stamps

One of the best things about Esfahan’s bazaar is that it feels more like a living museum. As you walk through it, you’ll notice skilled craftsmen busily banging away on metal to create elaborate designs known as ghalamzani. Bowls, vases, are other objects are available though I personally prefer the trays. 

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy
Metal worker in Esfahan


The handicraft I love from the beautiful city of Ahvaz and the Khuzestan province is the handwoven baskets. Thin strands of palm tree leaves are woven together and are either left in their natural state or given a pop of color with some brightly colored threads sewn in. Quite durable, they add a nice touch of nature to the home. While I was in Ahvaz, one of the artists explained to me how it was done. I was quite surprised at how affordable the products were considering how time consuming the process seemed to be. 

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy
Baskets woven from palm tree leaves


Kerman is known for its pateh, a decorative cloth made from wool. It’s impossible not to see them all across restaurants, hotels, and teahouses while you’re visiting the city. Colorful yarn is woven in the cloth, known as ariz, in designs like trees, birds, and paisley. The less visible the ariz, the more expensive the pateh due to the time it takes to sew the design. It’s from this Kermani handicraft that we get the famous Persian idiom related to calling someone's bluff, which you can read about here.

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy
Pateh is seen all over Kerman 


The textile Yazd is best known for is termeh, a luxurious wool and silk cloth which dates back to the Safavid period. Traditionally used as a decorative cloth, these days you can also find it as shoes, bags, small pouches, and more. Because the main motif is paisley, it’s thought that this pattern originates from termeh.


Move over Swiss Army because Zanjan is also known for its knives, switchblades, and pocket knives. Step into any store, and you’re sure to find the perfect knife for practically any purpose.

Malileh is another typical handicraft of this city. Thin silver wires are bent and molded to create some of the most intricately designed decorative items and jewelry. Some wires are so tiny, you’ll wonder how delicate the hands of the artist must have been to make it. I only bought a pair of earrings, but just to give you an idea of what it looks like...

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy
Earrings made of malileh


Lalejin in Hamedan province was declared ‘the city of pottery’ by the UNESCO-affiliated World Crafts Council. Pottery is definitely not unique to Iran, but you can find some of the best unique Persian-themed pottery in this town.

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy


Burning espand, wild rue seeds, is a common practice in Iranian culture to ward off the evil eye. In the small, red adobe village of Abyaneh, you’ll find these decorative espand shells everywhere, and for some reason, they seem to me like an Iranian version of dreamcatchers. 

Iran, handicrafts, souvenirs, what to buy


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