Kerman, the capital of Kerman Province, located in an altitude of 1, 860 m above sea level and 1,062 km to the south of Tehran, is a wonderful place. Unless one travels to Kerman by air, it seems a very long way from any other center of importance, no matter whether one approaches it from the northwest, the southwest or the southeast.
Modern Kerman is connected to all such centers by air (daily flights), railway and first-class asphalt roads, on Tehran-Bandar Abbas-Zahedan routes. The train station is 4 km southwest of Kerman and the airport is also southwest, but the bus station (terminal) is in the south.
The town is situated close to the wastes of Dasht-e Lut, from which it is separated by a range of mountains. Its name is probably derived from the tribe of Germanioi listed by Herodotus. Believed to have been founded in the early 3rd century AD by Ardashir I, founder of the Sassanian dynasty, it was from the 7th century ruled in turn by the Arabs, by Buyids, the Seljuks, the Turkmans and the Mongols. But it did not become famous for its carpets until long after the time of Marco Polo (who mentions only the skill of local leather workers, silk embroiderers and armoreres in 1271), for the town expanded rapidly under the Safavids in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, both the English and Dutch exporting Kermani carpets from the port of Bandar Abbas. Kerman has had a long and turbulent history, and it has only for short spells enjoyed peace and prosperity at the same time. Late in the 18th century AD, Agha Mohammad Shah of Qajar dynasty took a terrible vengeance on the people of Kerman because they had given help to his mortal enemy Luft Ali Khan Zand. The town has a Zoroastrian minority, altogether much smaller than that in Yazid.
The pistachio, grown principally in the Rafsanjan-Kerman area, is the most popular nut in Iran, though walnuts, almonds, and hazel nuts are also eaten; so too is melon seed, which has first to be adroitly split with the teeth to extract the edible kernel. A variety of nuts, seeds and dried fruits, known collectively as ajil are eaten before and after meals and particularly in Iranian parties.
Most of the ancient Kerman was destroyed in 1794 earthquake, and the modern Kerman radiates from two squares (Azadi and Shariati), and all the monuments of interest lie between these two, and include:
Known also as the Masjid-e Jame this 14th century AD Friday Mosque, appropriately the greatest structure of the city, is just off the main square (Shohada). It is designed on the classical Iranian model of four ivans, with wonderful blue faience, if “blue” is not too vague a term for the several shades from turquoise to ultramarine that create a vertical sea of smooth, shimmering glittering mosaic-tile. The wall of the mihrab and the central dome are also decorated with admirable geometric compositions, which Robert Byron believed to be Yazd work of the 14th century (although much of the present structure dates from the Safavid period). It is no problem for the non-Muslim to go inside. In addition to the mihrab, its magnificent portal and the Kuffic inscription bearing the date 1349 AD are worth seeing. On the western side of the mosque there is an ivan which originally dates from the times of Al-e Muzaffar. However, the mosque has been repaired in later periods, including repairs of the main part of its mihrab, carried out in the reign of Shah Abbas II.
Khajeh Atabeig Mausoleum
The historic mausoleum of Khajeh Atabeing is a twelfth century building (Seljuk period) in the south east of Kerman, near Masjid-e Bazaar. Inside, it looks a square building, while octagonal from outside. Its gypsum moldings and prettily patterned brickwork, costly marble slabs and fine Kuffic inscriptions are extremely worthy of note. They include geometrical patterns, detailed ornamentations, and a fine style of columniation and stone workmanship in the mihrab. The gypsum moldings had been destroyed about fifty years ago, however, repaired by the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization.
Gonbad-e Jabalieh (also known as the Gonbad-e Gabri and Jabal-e Sang) is an enormous tower standing quite on its own on the north side of Shohada Avenue, toward Masjid-e Saheb oz-Zaman, just beyond the eastern end of Kerman. It is of octagonal design and comprises three floors crowned by a rather flat dome, totally empty inside. It appears to predate the 2nd millennium AD and may have been a Zoroastrian building, and is remarkable because of being constructed of stone rather than the more usual brick. The door is permanently locked, although the tourist office might be able to find someone to open it for you if you really want to see inside. To get there; take a shared taxi from Shohada Square, The rocky outcrops over looking the Martyrs Cemetery just south-east of the Gonbad-e Jabalieh, offer a fine outlook over Kerman, if only you manager to climb to the top. It has been repaired during the first decades of the advent of Islam in Iran.
Standing to the east of Masjid-e Jame, Gonbad-e Moshtaghieh of the early nineteenth century (Qajar period), is also known as the Seh Gonbad. It has got very fine tile decorations in its interior. The tower has been constructed on three tombs belonging to Moshtagh Alishah (a 19th century mystic), Sheikh Esmail, and Kowsar Alishah. This Gonbad has been repaired before the Islamic Revolution. A costly manbar (pulpit) and some rich plaster decorations on the ceiling of the Gonbad and mural painting constitute the main attractions of the place.
Ganj Ali Khan Bath & Ethnological Museum
Look out for the Ganj Ali Khan Bath and Ethnological Museum in the Vakil Bazaar (now a traditional tea-house). This building houses an interesting exhibition of good waxworks of men in various poses and costumes set in a traditional but no longer operational bathhouse. There is an insignificant entry of 50 rials or so.
The Ganj Ali Khan Bath (hammam) is one of the several ancient monuments and a group of utilitarian buildings in Vakil Bazaar dating from the Safavid period in the 17th century. The Bath, named after a former governor of the province, is being kept as a real hammam, but its life-size wax figures bring back the memory of everyday scenes of the past. All garments and other objects exhibited belong to the same period: razors, sandals, phials for attar of roses, pipes with small bowls and long stems to be enjoyed after the bath.
Close to the Ganj Ali Khan Museum, the Ebrahim Khan Bath-house is a working traditional bath-house for men only: try to go with a male Iranian friend, as you may have cultural or language problems.
The extensive Regents Bazaar, constructed of beautiful and well-preserved brick, much of it from the Safavid period, is largely of interest for its architecture rather than for the range of goods, although there are a few metalwork shops selling brass trays and the like noisily hammered into shape on site. Built by Mohammad Ismail Khan, Vakil ol-Molk, who was an energetic governor of Kerman from 1859 to 1866, the Vakil caravansary with its attractively tiled walls, adjoins the main Vakil Bazaar.
The caravansary provides office accommodation for bazaar merchants. The two handsome “chimneys” are in fact wind towers (bad-girs), which are a common feature of Kerman, Yazd, and other desert towns of Iran. Cool air was drawn down to basement rooms which were used during the scorching summer months. The temperature in these rooms is between 20 to 30 degrees cooler than in those above ground in summer.
Perhaps the most enchanting corner of Kerman bazaar is the entrance to the Ebrahim Khan Madraseh and Bath House (hamman). Built in 1816-17 by a cousin and son-in-law of Fath Ali Shah, Ebrahim Khan, who was the governor of Kerman from 1802 to 1824, the entrance portals are decorated with gay tilework, whose designs include peacocks, water fowl, flowers and calligraphic inscriptions. The interior of both buildings is worth their entrances. The tiled and single-story Madraseh is built round a peaceful, cypress-shaded courtyard, while the walls of hamman are decorated with amusing painting said to date from the end of the 18th century. There is a traditional and very atmospheric tea house inside the Vakil Bazaar, which is called the Ghahveh Khaneh Sonnati.
The Anglican Church of St. Andrew
The Anglican Church of St. Andrew, a building easily missed from the street, is hidden in a garden behind a doorway in Shariati Avenue marked with the Persian Cross characteristic of all the Anglican churches in Iran. The small flock seems largely to have been forgotten by headquarters in Canterbury except for goodwill cards at Christmas and Easter, and fellow-believers are assured of a warm welcome. The original building founded by British missionaries was destroyed in a recent earthquake, but with a great effort the tiny congregation built a new church in stone in mid 80s. For a few years now they have had to do without a minister, so a small community of lay members sharing the priests house take it in turn to lead the Sunday service (in Persian).
Apart from Bam which you might have put it down on your list of visits, we recommend you to add another name, i.e. Mahan, 35 km south of Kerman on the Bam road, renowned for the sanctuary of a saintly person said to have lived for a hundred years, from 1331 to 1431: Shah Nur od-Din Nematollah Vali, poet, sage, sufi, and founder of Nematollahi order of dervishes, who are quite numerous in Iran and meet in the sanctuary of Mahan. They are peaceful people of the Muhammedan faith. To them life means being uprooted; their striving is for the return through death to their “native land, relying on their activities, patience and tolerance.” Nematollah was born in Aleppo, spent much of his life in Iraq, seven years in Mecca, then traveled to Samarqand, Herat, and Yazd, spending the last years of his long life here in Mahan.
The greenish-blue faience on two Qajar minarets and the mighty Safavid cupola stands out against the unremitting deep blue of the sky and the elephant gray of the surrounding mountains as a token of man’s spiritual intrusion into the majesty of nature. The tomb and the great assembly hall next to it do not present any particular decoration, except for the ceiling, which one could easily take for a Kerman rug. The little oratory, however, where Nematollah Vali used to meditate, deserves attention owing to its extraordinary interlaced script work decoration, divided into twelve sectors, all of different colors. Inside the courtyard there is a well-designed small lake or body of water surrounded by cypress trees. On the perimeter of the shrine are glorious colonnades which lead to the central shrine itself. Here is a dub-shell dome, and on the tomb itself a beautiful chest is installed. Mahan has also an attractive historical garden from the Qajar period, called Bagh-e Tarikhi (Historical Garden). The combination of delightful scenery and the charm of its mausoleum is very restful.