One of the oldest and richest archaeological sites in central Iran, the Tappeh-ye Seyalk has given up a plethora of interesting pottery pieces, metal tools and domestic implements made from stone, clay and bone. They date from as early as the 4th millennium BC. More significant, perhaps, is the structure itself – what is emerging from the dust is clearly a ziggurat (stepped pyramidal temple), and some Iranians are claiming this predates those of the Mesopotamians.
Lost in the midst of the labyrinthine bazaar is the Seljuk-era Soltaniyeh Mosque. The current structure was built in 1808 by Fath Ali Shah and now houses a madraseh, which is not open to women.
As one of the few remnants of the ancient city of Kashan, this circular wall and an attractive park to the southeast are worth a quick look if you’re visiting the nearby traditional houses. Enter the interior of the circular walls from the southeast and climb the northeastern part of the wall for some city views.
Legend has it that when Sayyed Jafar Natanzi, a merchant known as Borujerdi, met Sayyed Jafar Tabatabei to discuss taking his daughter’s hand in marriage, Agha Tabatabei set one condition: his daughter must be able to live in a home at least as lovely as his own. The result – finished some 18 years later – was the Khan-e Borujerdi. The home originally consisted of two sections, an andaruni and a biruni, but today only the andaruni is open to the public. What you see is an ornately decorated courtyard, laid out around a central fountain pool. At its far end is a two-storey reception hall sumptuously decorated with splendid motifs above the iwan entrance, intricate stalactite mouldings, fine glass and mirror work and frescoes painted by Kamal ol-Molk, the foremost Iranian artist of the time. In one of the smaller adjoining rooms, a carpet design is carved on the ceiling.
Built around 1880 by wealthy carpet merchant Seyyed Ja’far Tabatabei, the Khan-e Tabatabei is renowned for its intricate stone reliefs, fine stucco and wonderful mirror and stained-glass work; photographers will love it. Larger than the Borujerdi house, it covers 4730 sq metres, has 40 rooms and more than 200 doors. It consists of three sections: the andaruni(internal area), where family members lived; the biruni (external area), used for entertaining guests; and the khadameh (servants’ quarters). They are set around four courtyards, the largest of which boasts a fountain pool.
The oldest of Kashan’s restored houses, Khan-e Ameriha is also the most impressive. It was built at the end of the 18th century when Agha Ameri decided his father’s house wasn’t nearly big enough for one of the country’s wealthiest men and needed a little extension. Ameri was Kashan’s governor and made his money supplying the shah with war material and providing security along the trade route between Tehran and Kerman. By the time work finished, his was the largest home in Persia, encompassing a staggering seven courtyards over 9000 sq metres.
Famous for its ground-breaking design, the Khan-e Abbasian is a bewildering complex of six buildings spread over several levels. Unusually, the numerous courtyards are designed to enhance the sense of space by becoming larger as they step up, culminating in an open courtyard on top. The high porticos and reception halls are decorated as extravagantly as you’d expect, with the usual plaster reliefs, fine mirror work and exceptionally beautiful and detailed stained-glass windows.
A few metres from the entrance to the Khan-e Borujerdi, Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad is a superb example of an Iranian bathhouse, built around 450 years ago. A recent restoration has stripped away 17 layers of plaster to reveal the original sarough, a type of plaster made of milk, egg white, soy flour and lime, which is said to be stronger than cement. There is usually an English-speaking guide at the door who can show you around.
Designed for Shah Abbas I, Bagh-e Tarikhi-ye Fin is a classical Persian vision of paradise and is renowned as one of the finest gardens in Iran. It’s famous for its spring water, which flows into the garden via the Lasegah, an octagonal pool behind the garden. From here the water, which has unusually high levels of mercury, is channelled through several pools and fountains, watering the garden’s orchards and tall trees, before continuing on down the road in jubs (canals, pronounced ‘joobs’).
Kashan’s bazaar is one of the most enjoyable in Iran. Busy but not hectic, traditional but with a wide variety of goods, large enough to surprise but not to get lost in, it is a great place to wander for a couple of hours, especially before lunch and in the late afternoon. The multidomed roof of the bazaar dates from the 19th century, but the site hthoroughfare, you’ll find yourself in ancientas been the centre of trade in Kashan for much longer. If you step off the main thoroughfare, you’ll find yourself in ancient caravanserais, mosques or the refreshingly unrenovated Hammam-e Khan.