A New Year . . A New Blog! Happy Nowruz!

Since Nowruz (Iranian New Year) is on the 21st March, I thought I’d start this new blog off by looking at how Shah Abbas celebrated New Year.

Haft Sin in Ramsar. With thanks to Negin Ghaffari

Unsurprisingly, with the Shah’s love of illuminations and festivities, there was a generally a sensational party.  At first this was in Qazvin, Abbas’ first capital:

“Shah Abbas gave a great banquet in the Chehel Sotun hall of the palace [at Qazvin] to celebrate the New Year festival and this was attended by the foreign rulers and princes who were present at the court . . . The bazaars were decorated, and in the Saadatabad Square there were polo matches and archery contests.  For ten or twelve days, there was a public holiday” (1595AD, in the ninth year of Abbas’ reign).

Shortly after Isfahan became the capital in 1598, the revelry shifted there too:

“Shah Abbas gave a huge feast in the Naqsh-e Jahan gardens at Isfahan and invited to it the emirs, moqarrabbs, principal officers of State, people of Isfahan and the various classes of person present at court at that time.  Cunningly fashioned pavilions, hung with lights, were erected in the gardens and the feasting went on for three days and nights” (1599AD).

The Shah did not, however, always get to relax and enjoy the spring.  For New Year in 1604AD, he was “still before the walls of Erivan [present-day Armenia], the siege making little progress because of the extreme cold”.  Then in 1607AD, he and his army were stuck in the mud as they beseiged Shamaki [present-day Azerbaijan], it having apparently rained for the preceding three months.

As his reign went on, although Abbas often celebrated New Year more privately in Mazanderan, he didn’t desert Isfahan altogether.   In 1611, the New Year festivities were postponed until the end of the (unusually simultaneous) mourning period of Ashura.  The Shah then ordered:

“a great feast to be prepared in the Naqsh-e Jahan gardens to which all classes of society were invited . . Each group was allotted its own particular place in the park, and gold tents and canopies of silk and Chinese brocade were set up . . . Pages plied the assembled gathering with cheering draughts and the merrymaking went on for several days.”

Next week, I’m going to write about something that happened just after New Year 1601 – the return of a splendid diamond plundered from Mashhad by the Uzbeks.

All the quotes above are from the ‘History of Shah Abbas’, by Iskandar Beg Munshi, the Shah’s ‘official’ chronicler.

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