the mirrors-in-mirrors in Khan-e Tabatabei

One of the bigger of the Kashan merchant houses, Khan-e Tabatabei is decorated with elaborate stained glass windows, as well as the other usual decorations

The 19th Century Kashan carpet merchant Sayed Jafar Tabatabei has this house, all 4730 m2 of it, built in 1834. The house consists of a family section, a servants section and a section to receive and entertain guests, amongst them business connections. The 40 rooms are set around four different courtyards, across two floors, all elaborately decorated with stucco and stained glass. Especially the stained glass provides a wonderful spectrum, with playful patterns on the floors, in the late afternoon light.

the main courtyard and fountain of Khan-e Tabatabei

row of doors on the courtyard, all containing stained glass

The house is crossed by two qanats, underground water channels, and the four cellars are designed to keep large quantities of food cool, helped by the badgirs, the wind-towers that caught each and every little breeze and transported them downwards into the house, as an early-day air conditioner.

Nearby are the houses Khan-e Boroujerdi, built for Tabatabei’s daughter, and Khan-e Abbasian, as well as the bathhouse Hamman-e Sultan Mir Ahmad.

exquisitely plaster-decorated balconies

more plaster decoration

sunlight colouring the floor through stained glass windows

two rows of stained glass doors and windows in one of the reception rooms, in the Khan-e Tabatabei

top row of stained glass windows

projection of stained glass windows on the floor

sunlight on the floor

series of doors in the Khan-e Abbasian

Easily the largest of the Kashan merchant houses, Khan-e Abbasian is a very impressive structure across several courtyards and multiple floors

Khan-e Abbasian is one of the older Kashan houses, dating from end 18th Century. The exact origin is not entirely clear, some say it was owned by a cleric, others claim the initiator was a rich glass merchant in town, but the result is a huge residential complex, covering a total of three floors. The lower floor contains the reception halls,  with very high ceilings; the courtyards increase in size upwards, the higher ones each more spacious than the one below.

Great place to wander around, and to get lost from one courtyard to the other, from one cellar to the next.

Nearby is the bathhouse Hamman-e Sultan Mir Ahmad, as well as two other houses, the Khan-e Tabatabei itself and the Khan-e Boroujerdi.

one of the facades around the central courtyard, including two of the badgirs

and its mirror image in the pond

stained windows in one of the tall reception rooms

another of the facades around the courtyard

look-through from one courtyard to the next

outside decorations along top floor windows

intricate plaster patterns on the outside walls

the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha

Fabulous collection, in a fabulous building

It is not only the largest collection of Islamic Art in the world – of which a small part is exquisitely displayed -, but also the building itself that makes this the main tourist attraction in Doha. The museum building, a stand-alone modern design at the end of the Corniche, is attractive from the outside, especially when lit in the evenings, but even more spectacular on the inside – even if you don’t like Islamic Art, do walk in to admire the tall dome and the lighting of the interior.




the museum is an attractive modern building

also on the inside, with a spectacular central hall

The collection comes from all over the world, from China and India to Morocco and Spain, and is partly exhibited by theme – figurative art, patterns, calligraphy, etc -, and partly by regions (Iran, Syria, Turkey, amongst others) and time. This makes for a varied and highly enjoyable exposition. The floor space is not even that large, but we spent easily two hours in between the tiles, the jars, the carpets and the golden jewellery. Below a small sample of my favourite pieces.

figure of a monkey, iran, ca 1200

bowl, afghanistan, 13th C

ewer, central asia, 10th C

mina’i bowl, iran, 13th C

tile, iran, 17th C

bronze fountain head, spain, 10th C

bronze fountain head, spain, 10th C (detail)

jug filters, egypt, syria and iraq, 9th to 14th C

jug filters, egypt, syria and iraq, 9th to 14th C

jug filters, egypt, syria and iraq, 9th to 14th C

steel and gold mask, eastern turkey or western iran, 15th C

Qavam House in the botanical garden Bagh-e Eram

The peaceful Bagh-e Eram, a garden with a Qajar place inside, is a wonderful place for an afternoon in Shiraz.

Bagh-e Eram is famous for its cypresses

Gardens are a Persian thing, and Bagh-e Eram – Eram garden – is one of the great examples in Shiraz. The present version was built in the Qajar period, mid 19th Century, but its design is probably older, maybe 18th Century Seljuk Turkish, on account of the distribution of four Persian Paradise garden elements. Some even claim that the garden is over 900 years old, as it has been mentioned in ancient poems, too.

In 1963 Shiraz University was appointed custodian, and they have turned the garden in a Botanical Garden, with a great variety of plants and trees, as well as a nursery and glass house. On the other end of the garden is the Kakh-e Eram, Eram palace, a Qajar house with a pool, a portico and paintings, as well as tiled mosaics. Except for a small section for the souvenir shop, the building is closed.

as a botanical garden, it contains rare flowers

and more, colourful additions

the nursery in the back has its specifics, too

This is a great place to wander around on a lost afternoon, even a Friday afternoon, when the mostly young Iranian public flocks to the garden, too. Opera singers and narcissist selfie-takers intermingle with unmarried couples trying to find a place out of sight from their families.

turtles in the pond, or outside the pond, in this case

Eram House, a Qajar construction

here, too, tiled mosaic decoration

Eram House, and pond leading up to its terrace: vintage Persian

courtyard of the Mashed-e Nasir-al-Molk

The Masjed-e Nasir al-Molk, or Pink Mosque, of Shiraz provides not only beautifully mosaiced decoration of iwans and ceilings, but also spectacular colours through its stained-glass windows.

the central courtyard of the Mashed-e Nasir al-Molk

the upper part of one of the arches

mosaics in the porches

inside one of the prayer halls

vaulted mosaic

Another end-19th Century construction in Shiraz is the Masjed-e Nasir al-Molk, the mosque with the colourful windows – its most appealing characteristic. In the northern prayer hall, adorned with carpets, stone pillars and a brilliantly mosaiced ceiling, one wall contains a series of large stained-glass windows, which, with sunlight, provide a beautiful coloured pattern on the floor. Just sit here, and watch, and forget the time!

Nasir al-Molk was a Qajar ruler, who had the mosque built between 1876 and 1888. It is a traditional mosque, with several iwans around a large central courtyard and pool. Not only the prayer room, but also many of the niches and arches have been decorated with mosaics, the dominant colour of which has given the mosque its popular name, the Pink Mosque.

one of the many stained-glass windows

and this is how the light plays inside

the northern prayer hall with the stained-glass windows – and where the Pink Mosque comes from

terrace of Kahn-e Zinat-ol-Molk

Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk is another Qajar-era Shiraz home, full of mirrors and stained glass.

the stuccoed portico of Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk

Zinat ol-Molk is the private part of the large mansion that the wealthy Qavam family built in Shiraz, the public reception area being the Naranjestan-e Qavam. I presume it was built at the same time, end 19th Century, also for Mohammed Ali Khan Qavam ol-Molk. Zinat was his daughter (or granddaughter?).

Zinat ol-Molk is much smaller than the the Naranjestan-e Qavam, but similarly set up, with a mirrored portico supported by wooden columns, and richly decorated inside. The usual stucco and paintings, as well as carpet-like tiled floors, adorn the rooms, of which there are 20 (according to the description – they are not all open, I think).

stucco wall and wooden ceiling

detail of painted wooden ceiling

wooden ceiling

the pool and the garden mirrored in the portico

colourful stained-glass window

and the effect it has on the whole room

the smaller of two porticos

detail of the decorated portico wall

Narenjestan mansion and garden

Naranjestan-e Qavam is one of those fabulous, lavishly decorated Qajar-era houses.

The Naranjestan-e Qavam, or Orange Grove of Qavam, is a wealthy merchant’s house built at the end of the 19th Century for one Mohammed Ali Khan Qavam ol-Molk. The Qavam family came originally from Qazvin, but settled in Shiraz during the Zand dynasty. Qavam House, as the building became known, was constructed much later, between 1879 and 1886, which is already Qajar dynasty – although I have also seen an earlier construction date, 1836-1846.

the Royal emblem of the Lion and the Sun

Qavam House was the public reception area of the family home, which was connected by underground passage – closed to the public – to the private quarters Khan-e Zinat ol-Molk.

outside decoration, an armed soldier

The pavilion across from the entrance is the main building, with a spectacular mirrored portico and stuccoed ceiling, obviously the place to receive visitors. In the front façade one recognises the Lion and Sun motif, the Qajar Royal emblem. The house is set in its beautiful garden, which at the time was full of date palms and flowering plants – and perhaps also oranges, what’s in a name?

the mirrored portico from above

the mirrored portico, with wooden doors

same portico, showing the ceiling

another view of the ceiling

inside rooms are also decorated with huge mirrors

and with equally dazzling ceilings

Wooden inlaid doors lead to various richly decorated rooms, some with stained-glass windows and others with delicately painted ceilings, with European motifs: there are Alpine scenes complete with leder-hose and winter scenes with sledges on frozen ponds, as well as distinctly European looking women.

first floor roof, individually painted beams

Alpine scene on one of the beams

Other buildings, located around the large garden courtyard, also support wooden ceilings and tiled mosaics, as well as floors that have a carpet motif: altogether a wonderful complex.

wooden ceiling decoration, very European looking

peacefull Khan Madrasse

The Madraseh-ye Khan is a Safavid-era religious school, seemingly the perfectly peaceful surrounding for teaching

part of the Khan Madreseh

The madrasse here was founded already in 1615, not by Karim Khan, who built so much else in Shiraz, but by an Iman called Gholi Khan. This makes it a Safavid building. Several earthquakes have destroyed most of the  original building, and only the entrance is authentic, the rest has been re-built.

Still, it is a pleasant enough place to visit, very peaceful courtyard, impressive iwan and nice tiling. Apparently, there are more than 70 rooms distributed across the two floors of the school, which is still actively in use.


tiled mosaics in the entrance

and more tiles, I think mostly original

colourful ceiling

inside the Masjed-e Vakil

The large Masjed-e Vakil, next to the bazaar of the same name in Shiraz, is an impressive Zand dynasty structure.

The large Masjed-e Vakil, the Vakil Mosque, is another of those majestic Zand dynasty buildings in Shiraz, begun under the auspice of Karim Khan, and finished in the year of his death, 1779. However, much of the tile decoration of flower designs is from the Qajar era, some 100 years later.

The mosque is unusual in that it has only two iwans around its central courtyard, to the north and the south, and not four, as was the standard at the time. A large rectangular pool aligns the two iwans. Inside the South Iwan is the entrance to the shabestan – prayer hall -, with a large vaulted brick ceiling, supported by no less than 48 stone pillars, all carved in spirals.

Next to the mosque is the Vakil bazaar; needless to say that the mosque provides an oasis of peace next to the busy bazaar.

Mashed-e Vakil, one of the iwans

the roof of the iwan

the vaulted prayer hall

the other iwan, opposite

colourful mosaic, also outside

floral motifs in the tiles

and more flowers in tiles

the hamman section of the Arg-e Karim Kahn

Arg-e Karim Khan is the main Zand-dynasty castle in Shiraz, elegant on the inside yet imposing from the outside.

Where Isfahan is Shah Abbas the Great’s creation, Shiraz is the creation of Karim Khan, the first and only ruler of the Zand dynasty. He made Shiraz the Persian capital, in 1750, and the subsequent construction boom is what makes the city so appealing.

the imposing outside of the Arg-e Karim Khan

First and foremost, Karim’s residence, Arg-e Karim Khan, the castle north-west of the bazaar. High, crenulated wall and imposing round watch towers on the outside, but inside is a large garden and pool, surrounded by several one-storey buildings, perhaps winter and summer residences. One of them is topped by a huge baghdir, a wind-catcher: a chimney-like structure that will funnel each and every breeze of wind, from each and every direction, down into the rooms below. Early airco, so to speak.

de baghdir van de Arg-e Khan

one of the many passages in the castle

one of the windows, from the outside

and the same window, on the inside

more of the stained-glass windows

As with so many Iranian buildings, there is a large portico, with a wooden ceiling – probably new, having replaced the original inlaid ceiling – and slender pillars supporting. Stucco and frescos decorate the porticos, and the passages through to the rooms inside. Not all the rooms are open to the public, but those that are, have also been richly decorated. Large stained-glass windows let in the light, which creates a playful and colourful pattern on some of the floors.

one of the ceilings inside

bird motifs on the ceiling

Highlight is the hamman, the bathhouse in an underground cistern. Marble pools and benches, more stucco, stone pillars and further frescos in geometric patterns make for very attractive quarters, great place to linger.

the entrance and front portal to the bath house, the hamman

pool and marble bench in the hamman