What to see in Kashan: traditional houses and gardens
8 November 2018
Kashan is mainly known for the old houses based on traditional Persian architecture, residences of wealthy families from past centuries, perfectly preserved. A visit to the historic baths, to Persian gardens and to the Great Mosque, completes our tour in Kashan.
THINGS TO SEE IN KASHAN: TRADITIONAL HOUSES, GARDENS, OLD PUBLIC BATHS AND THE MOSQUE
Kashan is a stunning city located about 3 hours drive from Tehran and just a little more from Isfahan and has just under 250,000 inhabitants. Surrounded by two deserts that are often a destination for day trips to admire the beautiful scenery, Kashan is especially appreciated for its famous old houses built on traditional Persian architecture, and is a must-see destination for any tour in Iran.
Main attractions in Kashan:
- Kashan traditional houses - The old houses in Kashan date back to the 17th century and are based on traditional Persian architecture, showing elaborate stucco decorations, stained glass, mirrors and perfect symmetries among doors, windows, porches and facades. These palaces, developed around large courtyards well hidden from the street, housed rich families of businessmen and traders, and are still in excellent state. The most visited Kashan old houses are Abbasi House, Tabatabaei House and Borujerdi House.
- Sultan Amir Ahmad traditional baths - finding water in the desert and having it warm even during the winter was not an easy task, the inhabitants of Kashan could then wash mainly in public bathrooms finely decorated with bas-reliefs and colored ceramic tiles.
- Persian garden of Bagh-e Fin - dating back to the 16th century, the Persian garden of Bagh-e Fin features ultra-century cypress trees and has hundreds of fountains that distribute water along channels paved with blue tiles.
- Old mosque of Agha Bozorg - it is a large mosque with a particularly evocative aspect during the evening hours when it is illuminated. The sanctuary houses also a school of theology, while not far away, the shrine of Khajeh Taj ad-Din displays a finely decorated dome.
- Kashan old city - is a dense maze of alleys among clay houses, where visitors can also try some restaurant serving traditional Iranian dishes. For the night it's also possible to stay in some traditional house renovated and converted into a hotel.
- Desert near Kashan - not far from Kashan there are at least two deserts, one to the east and one to the west, that can be visited as a day excursion from the city or while on the way to Isfahan or Tehran. They show colorful hills, sand dunes and salt flats.
To visit Kashan fully enjoying at least most of the attractions, it is necessary to stay a full day and a night. If coming from Tehran or Isfahan, it is advised to leave early. But now let's see some photos of Kashan and the traditional houses.
One of the most beautiful things to see in Kashan, from where our city tour begins, are the traditional houses
. These structures usually date back to the seventeenth century and their architecture is based mainly on the fact that wealthy families did not like to show the facade of the buildings or the courtyards to everyone walking around, but everything had to be properly hidden from unwanted eyes. From the road, in fact, as well as from the main entrance, all that you can see is just a 4 meters high wall and nothing else.
Walking along a long corridor and a ramp of stairs, we find ourselves, as if by magic, in the courtyard of a huge building of at least 5 or 6 floors, and we immediately wonder how it could be possible that such enormous structure is totally invisible from the street. But to know more, let's visit Abbasi
, a traditional house
built in the late eighteenth century and belonged to a wealthy merchant of glass. The entire property consists of 6 multi-storey buildings that overlook the same number of courtyards with pools and small gardens.
The main building material used for traditional houses in Kashan, as we will see in other parts of Iran, is clay mixed with straw
. This offers excellent thermal insulation in all seasons and it is also said that when it is wet, it can produce oxygen.
Our visit to this traditional Kashan house
, known as Abbasi
, starts in one of the office rooms. As already mentioned, House Abbasi was owned by a wealthy glass merchant and therefore the room where customers were received, has large stained glass windows projecting colored beams of light over fragments of mirrors glued to walls and ceiling.
The air conditioning system of the traditional house works through the wind capture towers
(or wind towers), high structures capable of expelling hot air during the day and introducing cold air at night, by simple pressure difference. The air moves inside large ducts and passes through large nozzles sometimes located near tanks full of water, to amplify the cooling effect. We will learn more about wind capture towers later in Yazd.
The facade of the traditional houses is adorned with finely detailed stucco decorations. Although many of these decorations have been repaired after major restoration work, some are still original.
The rooms of the traditional houses have often high domed ceilings with many embossed decorations. Originally they also presented beautiful colors, which unfortunately have been lost in over 2 centuries.
The facade of House Abbasi
, decorated with elaborate high-reliefs made with clay.
The effect obtained by collimating the doors connecting the various rooms is rather curious. For the architects who designed these old houses, the symmetries and the games of shapes and colors, were the basis of their achievements.
The access doors to the buildings were always in odd numbers, generally 3, 5 or 7. Since curtains were not customary, the windows were instead decorated by colored glasses
composing elaborate mosaics made by small pieces cut by hand and mounted into wooden frames.
On rare occasions, visitors can see the colors originally used to paint walls, ceilings and bas-reliefs. Unfortunately, most of these colors were completely lost after more than two centuries.
Beautiful traditional doors
made by wood and colored glasses. The opening works by sliding the door upward inside a special compartment and there are no hinges of any kind.
Very interesting also the water distribution system, reaching different points of the traditional house through a network of channels.
The cold room
used to store food was instead located in the basement of the house and was cooled through the air carried by the wind towers over water pools. Recently, strange tunnels and secret passageways
have been found, leading to premises that were probably used as safes or as bunkers in the event of an attack.
Some original pieces of furniture and the elegant rooms of Abbasi house, one of the most beautiful historical houses of Kashan.
The tour to Kashan continues by visiting Borujerdi House
, another traditional house built in the mid-seventeenth century by architect Ustad Ali Maryam and owned by a wealthy carpet merchant. The complex of buildings overlooks a beautiful courtyard with a large pool that reflects the high wind-capture tower, one of the tallest in the area, used for the air conditioning system.
is known for its interiors in an excellent state of preservation, with bright colors and fine high-reliefs with absolutely incredible details. The construction of this historic house required 18 years of work that involved over 150 craftsmen.
The frescoes of Borujerdi House were largely made by the painter Sani-ol-Molk
who, having spent some years in Europe, produced images that are more reminiscent of this continent, rather than Iran.
Almost two centuries ago, producing and managing hot water was not an easy task, so the inhabitants of Kashan could wash mostly using just public toilets. The visit to the baths of the Sultan Amir Ahmad
begins walking on the roof, where visitors can see the ancient skylights that transmit the light inside the rooms, and the water distribution system working by channels and pipes dug directly into floors and walls.
The baths of Sultan Amir Ahmad
have been excellently restored, to give them the original appearance obtained from various historical documents and finds found on the spot. The light come-in from the skylights, previously observed while walking on the roof.
The Sultan Amir Ahmad baths
in Kashan, with the various rooms and pools.
A short original section of the wall showing how the decorations were in the past.
The historical center of Kashan
is interesting not only for the traditional houses, but also for the picturesque maze of narrow alleys, where ancient doors still have the double clapper differentiated for men and women (producing a different sound, therefore helping those in the home to understand if a man or a woman is knocking).
The third traditional house we visit Tabatabaei House
, dating back to the late seventeenth century and belonged to a rich carpet merchant. The complex of buildings overlooks large courtyards, the largest of which has a pool surrounded by flowerbeds.
One of the peculiarities of Tabatabaei
House, commissioned by the architect Ustad Ali Maryam, is that during the afternoon the sunlight passing through the colored windows produces colorful beams projected on floors and walls.
The sumptuous rooms of Tabatabaei House in Kashan, where the architects have made massive use of colored glass
, mirrors and bas-reliefs with incredible details. Many tourists who visit this old house can not resist taking selfies through the mirrors that decorate the walls.
Other buildings of Tabatabaei complex in Kashan, with their courtyard and terrace.
Glimpses of Tabatabaei House, with steep stairs to climb to the attic of one of the buildings.
Another very interesting tourist attraction in Kashan is the Persian garden of Bagh-e Fin
, completed during the end of the 16th century and considered to be Iran's oldest garden. The Bagh-e Fin Garden
has a network of channels where water flows continuously, two historic buildings, old baths and many ultra-secular cypress trees.
Because of the hot and dry desert environment where they are usually found, the Persian gardens
are designed to guarantee mainly shade and coolness. Therefore, in place of lot of grass and flowers, there will be mainly tall tress for their shadow, in this case cypresses, and pools and fountains for their freshness.
In Bagh-e Fin, a beautiful Persian garden in Kashan
, there are hundreds of fountains from where water flows naturally due to pressure difference, without the use of any pump.
The Persian garden of Bagh-e Fin is home to many cypress trees
(Cupressus sempervires var. Fastigata
) some of which are centuries old.
in the garden of Bagh-e Fin are all registered and a plate indicates the approximate age. This specimen with a very large trunk has an estimated age of 460 years and probably dates back to the time when the garden was built.
We complete our tour in Kashan by visiting the old Agha Bozorg mosque
built in the late seventeenth century and particularly evocative during the evening hours, when it is illuminated. Attached to the mosque is also a school of theology.
The Khajeh Taj ad-Din
is a building adjacent to Agha Bozorg mosque and houses the tomb of Ghotbs Kashani, a famous mystic who lived during the Qajar dynasty. The building also houses a chapel with a particularly elaborate ceiling showing lot of inscriptions over blue and green tiles.
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