The province of Isfahan, in central Iran has a history stretching back thousands of years. There are lots of world-famous historical sites in every corner, attracting numerous Iranian and foreign tourists year-round.
Perhaps one of most famous is Abyane, a very beautiful ancient village near the town of Kashan. It’s registered with UNESCO as one of the four most historic villages of Iran. (The others are Masule, Kandovan and Meimand.) This article is a brief survey of Abyane’s geographical location and the culture and traditions of its people. Much of the information included here is adapted from “Abyane and its People” by Zein-al Abedin Khansari.
Getting to the village involves a 50 kilometer drive off the Kashan-Natanz road, through a few villages, then into the actual valley of Abyane. The setting is breathtaking, with the village on the north-western slope of Mt Karkas.
The first thing which strikes a visitor is the unique architecture. The houses are arranged like steps up the hillside, so the roofs of some houses are the front yards of the next one up. The roofs/yards are built using traditional materials, timber, straw and clay. The walls, also red mud bricks, are impressive. Uniquely, these bricks get stronger when exposed to the rain. To make as much use of the sun as possible, the houses face the east. Most of the houses are uniform in appearance. The doors also feature beautiful patterns, poems and, sometimes, the names of the owner and mason are carved on the front.
The weather is cold and the winters are long. The trees surrounding the village frame the landscape, especially during spring. On entering the village, in addition to the architecture, the colorful traditional style of clothing, and the cheerful faces of the people attracts everybody’s attention.
Religious and public buildings
The Friday Mosque, in the middle of the village, is impressive. The sanctuary has a wooden prayer niche around which there are eye-catching patterns and carved decorations dating back to the Seljuq Period (1038-1194). Interestingly, the building has some features similar to architectural elements seen at the palace of Persepolis. Another mosque, called Porzaleh, was built during the Illkhanid period, and is situated in the oldest part of the village. Its sanctuary is vast. The decorations are very similar to those of the tomb of Bayazid of Bastam, the great Persian mystic. The Hajatgah mosque, built next to a rock outcrop, dates back to the early Safavid period, according to an inscription on top of its door. Inside there is a beautiful sanctuary hall with large wooden pillars. In addition to the mosques, there are some other places which are worth a visit including the Zoroastrian fire-temple (from the Sassanid period), three castles, a few pilgrimage sites and a mill.
As it is located in a valley with a narrow river, Abyane does not have alot of agricultural land. So the people tend to rear animals for a living. The hills and valleys surrounding the area are used as pasture lands in all seasons. Due to the scarcity of agricultural products the people are rather frugal.
Traditional food and clothing
Gipa is a stew cooked with mutton. It’s a local dish, served on special occasions and feasts. Other specialties of the region include Jovin, made with barley (”jo” means barley in Persian), Karvani, made with curd and fried onions, and Ardine, made with local vegetables and yogurt.
Traditionally, men wear a felt hat, a long garment called a “Ghaba”, a pair of loose canvas pants, and a pair of special shoes called “Giveh”. The women of Abyane usually wear a long head covering with floral designs, which completely covers their hair and shoulders. They also wear colorful dresses, along with a special pair of pants. In winter, a velvet vest is added to this outfit.
Language of the people
The language of the residents of Abyane is called “Old Fars” which is a distinct dialect of Farsi. It’s close to what is spoken in the central cities of Iran, such as Semnan.
In Abyane, like other parts of Iran, Moharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar is accompanied by special religious rituals. During this month, Shia Muslims mourn the martyrdom of a descendant of the prophet, and their third Imam, Hussain ibn Ali. The people of Abyane, like Shias all over the country, mourn during the day of Ashura, which falls on the 10th of Muharram, traditionally regarded as the date of Imam Husain’s martyrdom. On Ashura, people ritually reenact the massacre and express their grief.Out on the streets during this day, people often come across “Dasteh”a procession of male mourners who line up in two rows facing each other, and beat their chests rhythmically. Carried at the head of the procession is a cross-like banner called “Nakhl” (3-5 meters in width and 3 meters in height) which has metal ornamentations. Local youths carry the “Nakhl” all over the village. This takes a long time, from early in the morning till sunset.
Some special food and drink are also distributed among the mourners during the ceremony.
The event culminates in a Passion Play in which the Angel Gabriel gives a key to Imam Hussein (AS), which he can use to take all those who have honored him to paradise. Among Shia Muslims, Ashura is the most important of the many events observed in commemoration of martyrdom.
Abyane is truly a living piece of history. Its architecture, its people’s ways of life and their traditions have survived practically unchanged for hundreds of years, making it an unforgettable place to visit.