The cartoon conference of the birds

The British Library is busy digitising their Persian manuscripts (with help from IHF), and are starting to show off the results. Maybe I should confess that my favourite Mantiq al-Tayr manuscript is the one in the  Metropolitan Museum. This was finished in 1487; with more illlustrations added by Shah Abbas in the early seventeenth century, …

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Blowing someone else’s huge metal trumpet

Every day at dawn and dusk (and whenever a sick pilgrim gets healed), kettle-drums are beaten and long metal trumpets are blown in Mashhad. The 1910 photo here shows the naqqāra-ḵāna: the name used for the ensemble of musicians as well as the place where the performance takes place. Click here (and then on ‘live …

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Eating pearls and the lucky woodlouse for a great New Year

Percy Sykes is best known as spy, consul and military man in Eastern Persia. But, with a Persian author, Khan Bahadur Ahmad Din Khan, he also wrote a “second Haji Baba, which would serve as a true picture of Persia [in around 1900], before constitutional reform appeared on the horizon”. This book is an important …

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Amusing Shah Abbas

The Shah didn’t always act like a great warrior, major world leader, and major patron of architecture. Here he is, according to the Chronicle of the Carmelites – acting much more like a very annoying small boy: “One Friday therefore, on the 17th July [1609], while [Fathers Benignus and Redemptus] were in the Maidan near …

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Bedasht

When I visited Bedasht, I was taken to see a very lovely little namaskhane (literally ‘prayer house’) – with images of Abul Fazl (just in case any of you still think images are taboo in Islam), and with much more space for women than for men. There’s also a mosque – this was the only …

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The taxman knows . . everything

Erzerum – now in eastern Turkey – was a thriving town until the Safavid-Ottoman wars of the sixteenth century. After that, the records dwindle to almost nothing. There are virtually no accounts from travellers, for example, for more than a century, until Evliya Celebi comes through in 1645. Dickram Kouymjian, however, has found some Ottoman …

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