Natanz: the traditional pottery factory and the ancient monastery

9 November 2018 

Natanz is a little known village of Iran, but with several interesting things to see. We visit an ancient caravan station, a monastery with over 700 years of history and a pottery factory still following traditional methods of production.

WHAT TO SEE IN NATANZ

Natanz is a village located in the desert not far from the western mountain range of Iran and is a destination rarely included in tourist itineraries, although there are several interesting things to see. Natanz has just over ten thousand inhabitants and looking around for information, it turns out that this village is more famous for the so-called "Natanz nuclear plant", rather than for its interesting history and for the beautiful attractions that the tourists can see here.

The main things to see in Natanz are the ancient caravan station once used by the caravans while crossing the desert (site recently restored because of historical interest), the monastery and the tomb of Sheikh Abdol Samad Isfahani (a mosque with over 700 years of history presenting detailed inscriptions in ancient languages, made by tiles and stucco) and a traditional pottery factory where art has been handed down for many generations and where the whole production process is based exclusively on raw materials sourced locally.

Natanz is more or less half way between Kashan and Isfahan, along a detour from the highway and not far from Abyaneh, which is why the village can be a pleasant stop to rest during the transfer between these cities. The things to see before described can be visited in 1 or 2 hours.

Desert caravan station
We begin the visit of the little-known Natanz, exploring an ancient service and supply station once used by the caravans crossing the desert. The site is located just outside the city and is surrounded by a beautiful landscape with high mountains in the background.
Shelter for transport animals Service station for caravans
The service station for the desert caravans includes a covered area used as a shelter for transport animals, were they could rest, eat and drink (first photo). Rooms were also available for the caravanists, who could sleep and eat here before continuing the journey.
Millennial tree
Reached the center of the city, visitors can admire this millennial tree with a total circumference of roughly thirty meters
Abdol Samad Isfahani tomb Ancient islamic inscriptions
Decorations of the mosque

The Tomb and Monastery of Sheikh Abdol Samad Isfahani is the most important historical monument of Natanz and dates back to 700 years ago. Sheikh Abdol Samad Isfahani was a mystic who lived in Natanz during the Ilkhanid dynasty and died in the 13th century.

The main portal of the monastery is inspired by Iranian architecture and is decorated with colored tiles and stucco that show calligraphic inscriptions in ancient languages.

Abdol Samad Isfahani Natanz
Natanz mosque Pool for ablations
The interior of the Sheikh Abdol Samad Isfahani monastery consists of a small courtyard surrounded by the "iwan", typical of Islamic architecture, showing inscriptions made by stucco. Unlike most Iranian mosques, there is no ground-level pool, as Natanz is in the middle of an arid desert, but the water needed for ablations can be reached through a stairway going a few meters underground. Unfortunately, this shrine in the past has been looted of many precious decorations and elements, including the main altar.
Stuccos decoration with inscriptions
A detail of the calligraphic inscriptions surrounding some structures of the Sheikh Abdol Samad Isfahani monastery, made by stucco and showing very precise details.
Stones used to produce dyes Traditional pottery factory in Iran
Natanz traditional pottery

Natanz is known for traditional pottery factories, where the full process is carried out entirely by hand with techniques handed down for many generations.

The raw materials used to make the item, as well as the dyes, come from stones collected among the mountains around Natanz. The stones are first reduced to dust (first photo) and then into a mixture suitable to be modeled.

The item is then shaped by various techniques and after a first cooking, the edges of the figures to be represented are traced. Then, a second cooking follows.

Pottery made by hand in Iran
Subsequently, all the colors are applied and a further cooking is made.
Oven to cook ceramics
The oven used to cook the ceramics has a narrow opening through which a worker can pass to go inside and place the various items to be cooked over various shelves. The operating temperature varies according to the processing phase and is on average 800/900 degrees Celsius.
Stone to polish ceramics
The last phase consists in applying the polisher obtained from a stone reduced into a dust. Once the polisher has been applied, the item appears totally white. The last cooking follows, which melts the polisher making it perfectly transparent and shiny.
Handicrafts in Iran
Between processing and cooking treatments, an item needs several weeks before it can be sold.

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