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4Bagh


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Chahar Bagh Boulevard is a historical avenue in Isfahan constructed in the Safavid era of Iran.
The avenue is the most historically famous in all of Persia. It connects north of city to south and is about 6 kilometers long. On the west side are situated the Gardens of the Vazirs, and on the east the Hasht Behesht and Chehel Sotoun gardens.
Shah Abbas I was the king who changed his capital from Qazvin to Esfahan and decided to pour all the countries artistic wealth into that central spot which has been dubbed for centuries “Nisfi Jahan” or “Half the World”.
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); The chief architect of this task of urban planning was Shaykh Bahai (Baha’ ad-Din al-`Amili), who focused the programme on two key features of Shah Abbas’s master plan: the Chahar Bagh avenue, flanked at either side by all the prominent institutions of the city, such as the residences of all foreign dignitaries, and the Naqsh-e Jahan Square.
The courtyard is coated in a fine brown dust, the surrounding walls are crumbling and the flaking plaster is the same monotonous khaki color as the ground. This decrepit house in a decaying maze of narrow alleys in Isfahan, Iran, betrays little of the old capital’s glory days in the 17th century. Suddenly, a paint-splattered worker picking at a nearby wall shouts, waves his steel trowel and points. Underneath a coarse layer of straw and mud, a faded but distinct array of blue, green and yellow abstract patterns emerges—a hint of the dazzling shapes and colors that once made this courtyard dance in the shimmering sun.

I crowd up to the wall with Hamid Mazaheri and Mehrdad Moslemzadeh, the two Iranian artist-entrepreneurs who are restoring this private residence to its former splendor. When these mosaics were still vibrant, Isfahan was larger than London, more cosmopolitan than Paris, and grander, by some accounts, than even storied Istanbul. Elegant bridges crossed its modest river, lavishly outfitted polo players dashed across the world’s largest square and hundreds of domes and minarets punctuated the skyline. Europeans, Turks, Indians and Chinese flocked to the glittering Persian court, the center of a vast empire stretching from the Euphrates River in what is today Iraq to the Oxus River in Afghanistan. In the 17th century, the city’s wealth and grandeur inspired the rhyming proverb, Isfahan nesf-e jahan, or “Isfahan is half the world.”

After a brutal siege shattered that golden age in the early 18th century, new rulers eventually moved the capital to Tehran, leaving Isfahan to languish as a provincial backwater, which not incidentally left many of the old city’s monuments intact. “One could explore for months without coming to an end of them,” marveled British traveler Robert Byron on his 1933-34 journey across Asia. That artistry, he wrote in The Road to Oxiana, “ranks Isfahan among those rarer places, like Athens or Rome, which are the common refreshment of humanity.”

Today, however, the city is mainly known abroad as the site of Iran’s premier nuclear research facility. What once was a sleepy town has emerged as the country’s third largest metropolis, surrounded by expanding suburbs, belching factories and the choking traffic of more than three million people. Nothing symbolizes Iran’s disconcerting modernity more than its launch, in February, of a satellite named Omid (Hope). In Isfahan, however, hope is a commodity in sharp decline. The elegant urban landscape that survived invasions by Afghan tribesmen and Mongol raiders is now threatened by negligence and reckless urban development.

Mazaheri and Moslemzadeh are members of a new generation of Isfahanis who want to restore not just buildings but their city’s reputation as a Persian Florence, one they hope will one day enthrall Westerners with its wonders once again. Inside the cool and dark interior of the house that is their current focus, the freshly painted white stucco ceiling bristles with scalloped stalactites. Delicate gilded roses frame wall paintings of idyllic gardens. (Paradise is a Persian word meaning “walled garden.”) Above a central fireplace, hundreds of inset mirrors reflect light from the courtyard. “I love this profession,” says Safouva Saljoughi, a young, chador-clad art student who is dabbing at a faded painting of flowers in one corner of the room. “I have a special relationship with these places.”

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