Kerman

Big, sprawling Kerman is something of a cultural melting pot, blending Persians with the more subcontinental Baluchis, who dominate areas east of here. This mix is most evident in the long, ancient covered bazaar, which is the city’s entrancing main highlight. Otherwise the region’s main attractions – notably Mahan, Rayen and the Kaluts – are well out of town. All three can be seen on a long day trip from Kerman, but each now has their own decent accommodation if you’d prefer to escape the city bustle.

Sights

Kerman is a large, somewhat formless city. The centre is roughly defined as the 3km stretch of Shari’ati/Beheshti streets between Azadi and Shohada Sqs (the latter is nearer the bazaar).

  • Bazar-e Sartasari

Kerman’s magnificent ‘Sartasari’ (‘end-to-end’) Bazaar is one of the oldest and most memorable trading centres in Iran. Its main thoroughfare stretches 1200m from Tohid Sq to Shohada Sq, the majority covered with classic vaulting and with several caravanserai courtyards off to the north. Within are several museums, bath-houses and religious structures, while the vivacity of the whole experience is enough in itself to keep visitors interested for at least an hour or two, especially in the morning and late afternoon.

To explore, start from Tohid Sq. At the first charsoq (12-sided passage junction) you’ll find lawn-filled Ganj Ali Khan Sq. Its colonnades have much of interest to peruse, including a bathhouse museum, coppercrafts bazaar, the unusual little Ganj Ali Khan Mosque and a money museum, more interesting for its tall wind tower than the coin collection within. Behind, jewellers of the gold bazaar spill into a couple of old caravanserai yards.
A great place for lunch, tea or just to admire is the Hamam-e Vakil Chaykhaneh, from which the vaulted main bazaar continues some 600m before reaching a more down-market section of open-air stalls. From there you can cut through Masjed-e Jameh to reach Shohada Sq.

  • Museum of the Holy Defence

The Museum of the Holy Defence remembers the eight-year Iran–Iraq War through maps, gruesome photos, weapons, letters and intelligence documents from the war. There are brief summaries in English, but you’ll need a guide to really interpret what you’re seeing in any depth. That’s not the case outside, however, where tanks and missile launchers overlook a mock battlefield complete with bunkers, minefield and pontoon-bridges across a waterway.

  • Moshtari-ye Moshtaq Ali Shah

With prominent blue-and-white-tiled roofs dating from the late Qajar period, this attractive mausoleum is the last resting place of several Kerman notables, but it’s remembered particularly (and named) for the 18th-century minstrel and dervish Moshtaq Ali Shah.

  • Masjed-e Imam

The expansive Imam Mosque courtyard covers 6000sqm with tiled iwans (barrel-vaulted halls) on three sides. But it’s the main southwest iwan that’s the attraction here, a massive Seljuk structure in mostly uncolored 10th-century brick. Small remnant sections of original Kufic plasterwork remain. Renovation has added back the missing majority, but in a new style easily differentiated from the original.

  • Muzeh Sanati

The ‘contemporary’ section of this wide-ranging gallery is a selection of thought-provoking photographic and illustrative social commentary in the rear halls. There’s also an intriguing modern section, including a grasping hand sculpture (credited somewhat questionably to August Rodin), two Béla Kádár watercolors and a small Kandinsky landscape. Some of the Iranian works are more compelling, notably Mohammad Javadipour’s semicubist rural scene and Rajbali’s classic Persian-style rendering of Shah Nematollah Vali.

  • Yakkchal Moayedi

This Safavid-era ice house has preserved not just the stepped, conical adobe dome but also the tall mud walls that created winter shade over what would have been shallow ice-making pools. When frozen, chunks of ice would be stacked between layers of straw deep within the yakkchal (ice pit) for use in warmer months.

  • Kerman National Library

The hushed Kerman National Library has modestly billed itself as Iran’s ‘greatest informatic research centre’, but for non-Farsi speakers it’s the architecture that appeals, a harmonious variation on late Qajar-era design with a forest of interior columns supporting vaulted bare-brick ceilings. Originally a wool-spinning factory, it was constructed between 1929 and 1934.

  • Gonbad-e Jabaliye

Where Shohada St approaches the arid crags that abruptly mark the city’s eastern edge sits this hefty octagonal structure of mysterious provenance. Some scholars date it to the 2nd century AD and think it may have been an observatory; others say it was a tomb. What-ever its function, it’s unusual hereabouts for being constructed mostly of stone – though the double-layered dome, added 150 years ago, is brick.

Today it houses a museum of old grave-stones. (Be careful not to photograph the neighbouring army base!) Across the ring road from the tower, Shohada St continues east through a large park towards the eye-catching new Saheb Zaman Mosque. Shuttle taxis from Shohada Sq head this way.

Points Of Interest

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Darakeh

This village, at 1700m elevation and just north of the no-torious Evin Prison, is one of Tehran’s most pleasant urban escapes

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Caspian Sea

At 370,000 sq km the Caspian (Darya-ye Khazar) is five times the size of Lake Superior.That  makes it by far the world’s largest lake.

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Jamshidieh Park

This  popular in town escape stretches ever more steeply up the mountainside at Tehran’s northern edge

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