As I said in my last post, Isfahan was very much a traditional city in 1960.
The Main Bazaar in Isfahan
The main bazaar was covered by domes and had shops on both sides. At frequent intervals, arched entrances led to caravanserais, colleges, bath houses, shrines, mosques, and stores, all tightly connected to the center, but each a separate, self-contained world.
A secondary movement system of residential paths still connected the main bazaar route to tightly clustered houses located on narrow streets and flanked by high mud brick walls.
Isfahan Bazaar: Commercial Life
The commercial life of the bazaar continued to be connected to the surrounding countryside by supply routes linking the past and the present.
The handcrafts of distant desert villages, raw materials for manufacture in the bazaar — leather, cotton, wool, metal, skins — have for centuries arrived here in endless procession from as far away as the Caspian and Persian Gulf — they came by camel, donkey and mule train, following service roads built for their sole use between high blank walls of sun-dried brick leading direct to the serais or warehouses.
Isfahan: Bazaar Environs
In old Isfahan, the houses were all of the courtyard type with rooms facing inward to a paved court with a pool and small garden, showing nothing to the outsider but a bare wall of mud or mud brick.
Lest the bazaar and environs be idealized, however, it is important to note one observer’s observation of “beggars with ugly sores, there is poverty — but no sign of starvation.” The observer goes on to state:”
This is the old Isfahan — the Isfahan that is now being swept away. A water system is under construction, a sewage system will follow. Broad new streets are being driven through the town, forming a grid which will eventually leave no ancient alley far from a tarmac road.
Change Comes to Isfahan in the 1960s
Despite the traditional appearance of much of the city, change was occurring.
Isfahan now displayed elements of both the East and the West. As the observer noted: “In Isfahan today it is the factory hooter, rather than the muezzin, which wakens the sleeping city, and as the minarets decay and fall, the factory chimneys rise.”
Industry in Isfahan
The most important industry in Isfahan remained spinning and weaving and, even though Isfahan’s Shahnaz mills were the largest in Iran, new factories were sprouting up and cottage industry was thriving. Over one-half of the national textile output came from the city.
By the end of the 1950s, there were 25 spinning and weaving mills fueled by electric power generated mainly from oil.
In total, the mills employed 18-20,000 laborers with 6 of them employing over 1,000 workers each.
In addition to modern manufacturing, there were 25,000 handlooms producing cheap cloth for sale in surrounding villages.
Other industry included a sugar mill and a cement factory.
Isfahan’s Economy: The Bazaar and the Mosque
Regardless of signs of modernization, however, Isfahan’s economic vitality remained, to large extent, tied to the mosque and its various guilds through the diverse trades carried on in bazaar workshops — handcrafts remained central.
So far as social life, economics, and the built environment were concerned, Isfahan was little changed from 1945. Political life, though, had changed dramatically.
Political Life in Isfahan: Then and Now
The democratic interlude had ended with the fall of Mossadegh and, increasingly, Isfahanis (like their compatriots throughout Iran) were protesting authoritarian rule.
It’s interesting to note how Isfahan has changed in the past 50 or so years. In place of textiles and handcrafts, the city is now home to Iran’s controversial nuclear industry. (Read the latest IAEA report dated September 2, 2011.) What are your thoughts?
Politically, Iran’s Green Movement first gained power and then lost momentum.
As countries throughout the Middle East demonstrate for greater freedoms and liberties, in Iran, the public has been cowed into silence. Has it given up? Is the public divided? Or are those who want change just waiting for an appropriate opening? Another chance? What do you think?