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Persia and the Persian Question, volume I

by George N. Curzon

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Chapter 12


For the King of the North shall return, and shall set forth a multitude greater than the former, and shall certainly come after certain years with a great army and with much riches.' — Daniel xi. 13.

IN Chapter II. I have disembarked the newcomer to Persia at Resht, or rather at Enzeli, in the south-west corner of the Caspian, and have conducted him from thence to the capital; in Chapter VIII. I have begged his company as I ranged over the whole of Khorasan from the Herat border in the east, to Astrabad in the west; in the last chapter I have shown him the plain of Teheran, bounded on the north by the stupendous barrier of the Elburz Mountains. But on the far side of those mountains, where their northern skirts descend in wooded flounces to the Caspian, and between Resht and Astrabad, extends a range of country, marked by so strange an individuality, and so unlike anything else that is to be seen in any other part of Persia, that a work professing to treat of that country as a whole would err seriously in omitting any notice of it. Readers who have followed me so far will have pictured, and have justly pictured Persia, at least in the winter months, as for the most part a colourless, waterless, and treeless expanse, where wide deserts, with whose monotony the eye aches, roll their sandy levels to the base of bleak mountains, whose gaunt ribs protrude like the bones of some emaciated skeleton through a scanty covering of soil. And yet within a few miles at the most of this cheerless scene, severed by a single but mighty mountain range, lies another Persia, so rich in water that malarial vapours are bred from the stagnant swamps, so abundantly clothed with trees of the forest, that often a pathway can scarcely be forced through the intricate jungle, so riotous in colour that the traveller can almost awake with the belief that he has been transported in sleep to some tropical clime. These extraordinary characteristics, and this amazing change, are exhibited by the northern maritime provinces of Mazanderan and Gilan. Mazanderan signifies Maz

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(a Pehlevi, or old Persian word for mountains) and anderun (within, the inner part, whence its application to the women's quarters in a house), i.e. the hollow between the mountains and the sea. Gilan has been commonly said to be derived from a word signifying mud; and this would certainly be appropriate to a region in which that is the chief tangible commodity, and which an experienced and sympathetic traveller has summed up as 'moist, muggy, villainous Gilan.' But this derivation is disputed by some professors, though I am not aware that they have found anything to suggest in its place. The name is, no doubt, adapted from the Gelae, who inhabited the south shores of the Caspian, and who bequeathed a title both to the sea, the country, and the principal local manufacture.[332] The characteristics of these two provinces are so similar, if not identical, a slight difference of latitude being the only serious disparity to which they can lay claim, that I propose to treat them in conjunction. Mazanderan starts in the neighbourhood of Astrabad on the east, and runs for a distance of 220 miles along the coast to an unimportant river, which is the boundary of Gilan. From this point Gilan continues round the south-west curve of the Caspian for a further distance of 150 miles, terminating in the mountain district of Talish. It is this transmontane maritime belt, 370 miles in length and with a breadth varying from twenty to sixty miles, with which I am called upon to deal.[333]

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When discussing the political and strategical aspects of the Astrabad-Shahrud position in Chapter VIII., I undertook to say something more upon a future occasion of the former city and of the province of which it is the capital. Politically, Astrabad looks in the main towards Khorasan and the East. Physically, it must be classified with the Caspian provinces, to which in climate, vegetation, and character of inhabitants, it bears the closest resemblance. Furthermore, any visitor to Mazanderan is so likely either to start from Astrabad, if he be coming from the East, or to end his journey there if he have started from Teheran, that some mention of its features seems to be appropriate in this connection.

Astrabad city[334] (i.e. the town of either astra star, or aster mule), sometimes called by the Persians Dar-el-Muminin or Gate of the Faithful, from the number of Seyids living there, is said by Fraser, who is incomparably the best authority upon the Northern provinces, to have been founded by Yezid ibn Meklub, or Muhallab, an Arab chief of great celebrity, and general of the armies of the Omeyah Khalif Suleiman about 720 A.D.[335] Its subsequent history is somewhat obscure. Of course it was levelled in the universal cyclone of Timuride destruction in 1384 A.D. In later history it became famous as the headquarters of the Kajar

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Tribe, one branch of whom was settled here, and at the fort of Ak Kaleh on the Gurgan; and one of whose chieftains raised the standard of revolt against Nadir Shah and seized the town in January 1744, while Hanway happened to be residing there, innocently bent upon the quixotic task of conducting a large trading caravan to Meshed, and attracting to the English net the commerce of Central Asia. Nadir Shah took summary vengeance upon the rebels, and ordered the Kajar stronghold of Kaleh Khundan in the city to be razed to the ground. The subsequent rise and ascendency of the Kajar tribe brought Astrabad into a prominence that it had not before enjoyed; but in this century the members of that tribe have been dispersed in positions of mark throughout the country; whilst Astrabad has acquired another and more sinister importance as the armed outpost against Turkoman attack. Of this desultory guerilla warfare I have before spoken. Its significance has usually been thought sufficient to justify a Royal Governor at Astrabad, and the province has suffered in proportion.

The town is at once one of the most picturesque and ragged in Persia. The circuit of its mud walls, flanked with round towers and defended by what was once a deep ditch, is about 3½ miles; through which four gates admit to the interior. But walls, towers, and ditch are in a state of like decay; the forest has encroached almost to the outskirts of the city, and a jungle of brambles and briars, the favourite haunt of the wild boar, fills the moat and assails the ramparts. Nor does the city occupy the whole of the interior space; for here, too, are deserted and overgrown patches more frequented by wild animals than by man. Nevertheless, the town is most picturesquely situated; the wooded slopes of the Elburz descending almost to its gates; and the outlook from its walls extending over a thick forest for twenty miles to where, on the west, the Caspian glitters on the horizon; and on the other, or north-eastern side to the Gurgan or Wolf River,[336] and the sandy flats of the Turkomans desert. More picturesque, however, than its own surroundings is the town itself. Its thatched or red-tiled houses, with roof of high pitch and wide projecting eaves, the tiles being laid on reeds supported on rafters,

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present a spectacle in singular contrast to the cubical parallelograms of mud with which Persian urban architecture has hitherto familiarised us. At Astrabad, too, the walls are often of stone or burnt brick, mud being unable to resist the abnormal dampness of the climate. Many of the houses in the neighbourhood are built on platforms raised by poles to a height of from two to three feet from the ground, in order to escape the excessive moisture; and many have pleasant verandahs beneath the eaves.

The streets are stone paved, a still surviving relic of the days of the Great Abbas; and the famous causeway or Sang farsh (lit. stone carpet), built by him to facilitate communication through these northern provinces to which he was so much attached, emerges from the western gate. From here it ran right through the forest, passing the various palaces and cities which he created or enlarged in this locality, to a place named Kiskar in the western part of Gilan. It was composed of big roughly hewn blocks of stone, sometimes nearly a foot square, and dwindled from a width of fifteen feet at Astrabad to from eight to ten feet as it penetrated further into the jungle.[337] None the less it was once a magnificent work, and worthy of the monarch who ordered its construction. It has now in parts entirely disappeared; elsewhere the stones have been broken up, dislodged, or tossed hither and thither, and the road is a perilous succession of pitfalls and quagmires. On the other, or south-eastern, side of Astrabad it reappeared and conducted to the foot of the pass leading to Shahrud and Bostam. From the summit of this pass began what may be described as its second section, which ran in an easterly direction, viâ Jajarm to a point near Chinaran, about fifty miles from Meshed. In no part of this extended length has it ever been repaired; and, where it still exists, the roadway gapes with a three hundred years' ruin.

Astrabad is said to contain a population of 8,000 persons, and the surrounding villages 23,000. The Governor's palace is in the Ark or citadel, a considerable but ruined structure in the south-east angle, built by Agha Mohammed Shah in 1791. The remaining public buildings are of no importance. There is the proper allowance of one reputable shrine, viz., the sepulchre of Abdullah, a brother of the Imam

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Reza, who appears to have graciously distributed his relations in the places which he could not patronise himself. This is situated outside the walls on the north, a little to the west of the Ak Kaleh gate. Six madressehs, or colleges, communicate a stinted and obsolete education to such pupils as take advantage thereof; but the vakf or religious endowments, in which the place is rich, sustain a dissolute crowd of mullahs and seyids, who appear to be a curse to any spot which they afflict with their sanctity.

Soap boiling and the manufacture of gunpowder are the chief local industries. The former is conducted in a very rude and clumsy fashion, the potash employed being extracted from a plant that grows on the banks of the Atrek; nor is the article, when manufactured, of a character or quality that has ever warranted exportation. Gunpowder is made of sulphur brought from Baku, nitre from Meshed, and willow charcoal locally procured. A certain amount of felt carpets are also made, compounded of a mixture of camel's hair, goat's hair, and sheep's wool, beaten together into a solid mass.

The abatement of Turkoman ravages has resulted in the bringing under cultivation of a much larger area than heretofore in the province of Astrabad. The soil is so extraordinarily productive that emigrants from a great distance, even from Afghanistan, come and settle here. The climate is gentle; fuel is abundant; there is no lack of water; and the land has merely to be scratched in order to produce a manifold return. Wheat, barley, and rice are the chief crops; and the rent of land under grain cultivation is only about 8s. an acre. Partition of property in equal moieties between the male and female members of the family is here the law of landed inheritance; and accordingly, the several properties, not large at the commencement, have shrunk into narrow plots, some fields of six acres having not less than nine partner landlords. 'This state of things,' as Colonel Lovett said in his Consular Report, 'tends not only to impoverish the country, but is a fruitful source of the indolence and apathy that characterise the inhabitants of this province, and also accounts for the rarity of handicraftsmen.' Many of the villages encountered in the forest or in the open clearings are curious places, surrounded by impenetrable bramble hedges; and the homesteads of the peasants, 'constructed of split poles, wattle, and mud dabbing,' thatched or tiled, and elevated above the ground, suggest

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reminiscences of countries very far removed from Persia. Rice is the staple of every-day consumption, and an adult male is said to consume ten ounces at breakfast, twenty-two ounces at lunch, and twenty-two ounces at supper; which, on the whole, is not a bad performance.

From the Astrabad province and city, which have merited a somewhat minute particularisation, I turn to the adjoining provinces of Mazanderan and Gilan. And here I shall first give an account of those natural features and products which they share in common, before turning to individual cities or sites. I have already pointed out that these provinces consist of a strip of country rising from the shores of the Caspian, itself eighty-five feet below the sea level, to the summits of the Elburz, possessing a mean elevation of 12,000 to 13,000 feet. It may readily, therefore, be conjectured that a region, however narrow, that embraces so many zones of climatic influence, will not admit of a single classification. It should rather be divided into four belts or sections, which may be thus distinguished and described.

First comes the maritime edge of these provinces, where they are lapped by the waves of the Caspian. And here we are at once confronted with a phenomenon of remarkable but uniform occurrence, allusion to which has been made in an earlier chapter. The wash of the surf and the violence of the prevalent north and north-western winds on the Caspian have combined to pile up along this stretch of shore a long chain of sandhills, sometimes from twenty to thirty feet in height, and from 200 yards to a quarter of a mile in width. On the inner side of these sandhills the rivers descending from the mountains, surcharged with alluvial deposit, have, in their inability to force a way to the sea, outspread themselves in low morasses and lagoons, where the waters chafe idly to and fro, or lie stagnant, a nursery of humid and poisonous exhalations. In cases where the current has with difficulty cleared a way for itself to the sea, the incoming resistance of the surf creates an outer bar, which renders the lake useless for purposes of navigation. These murdabs, or dead waters, succeed each other along this entire fringe of coast, the most notable examples being the lagoons of Enzeli at the western, and of Astrabad at the eastern extremity, between which occur the cognate murdabs of Lengarud and Meshed-i-Ser. The inner banks of these

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backwaters are overgrown with a dense jungle of alders, ashes, planes, poplars, willows, and such timber as loves a saturated soil. Through this jungle the rivers and streams come down from the mountains, furrowing a bed that is alternately a swamp, a torrent, or a quicksand, and in the rainy season spreading themselves out into sluggish morasses. Pestilential vapours rise from the rotting vegetable matter; every manner of reptile infests the swamps, and a cloud of mosquitoes and insects spins in the air.

From the very brink of these maritime lagoons the jungle stretches inland to the mountain base, which is sometimes at a distance only of two miles, at others of twenty. Through the dense undergrowth the stranger picks his way with the aid of a guide, by intricate pathways known to the villagers only. And yet in the heart of this malarial forest clusters of cottages are hidden away beneath the trees; and every now and then occur considerable clearings devoted to the cultivation of sugar, cotton, or rice. No European could live for long in these damp low levels, where there is no elasticity in the air, and an ever-present sense of suffocation; but their native population is sedentary, and though liable to rheumatism, ague, dropsy, ophthalmia, and other eye diseases, does not appear to be hereditarily stunted or weak. What the acclimatised Mazanderani or Gilani, however, can stand, is perilous even to other Persians. There used to be a proverb which, parodying a well-known Italian saying, might be translated: Vedi Gilan e mori; and over two hundred years ago we find Tavernier and Chardin recording that 'The air is so unwholsom that the People cry of him that is sent to Command here, Has he robb'd, stolen, or murder'd, that the King sends him to Guilan?' Fraser, after penetrating for a second time, in 1834, from end to end of this maritime belt, could pass no more lenient verdict upon it than this: —

Bengal in the rains, Demerara in the wet season, Bombay in the monsoon — these were the recollections that suggested themselves to my mind; and yet I think Mazanderan far more unpleasant than either.[338]

From the marshes and jungles of the plain, however, we pass to a region of surpassing beauty and splendour. The skirts of the Elburz descend in great wooded slopes and buttresses towards the sea; and between their spurs lie the most romantic glens and ravines. It is difficult to count, much less to classify, the

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immense variety of forest timber that clothes these spurs and valleys with its shaggy mantle. The trees are mostly deciduous; and there have been reported by different travellers, the oak, elm, plane, maple, ash, lime, box, walnut, beech, juniper, yew. Wild vines wreathe the tree-stems and clamber among the branches. Wild hops, wild figs, plums, pears, and apples abound. Wild strawberries are met with everywhere; and while honeysuckle, wild briar, and roses deck the undergrowth, in which are seen laurels, hawthorn, and box, the forest floor is carpeted in spring time with primroses, violets, and other sylvan flowers. It will be observed that this flora is in no sense tropical, but is such as might be encountered in any southerly temperate zone. The comparison, therefore, with the East or West Indies, which is naturally suggested by the climate, is in reality a faulty one. The vegetation is rather that of Southern Europe, to which special atmospheric conditions, presently to be explained, have superadded a humidity rarely met with out of the tropics. Wild animals abound in this region, just as they do in the low-lying jungle and on the greater altitudes. Tigers of great size are common, play havoc with the cattle, though they rarely attack a human being. Leopards, wolves, bears, wild boar, jackals, lynxes, different varieties of deer, wild sheep and wild goats, are among the larger game, and in the Turkoman desert wild donkeys and gazelles; pheasants and woodcock among the smaller; whilst in the morasses on the lagoons, as I have previously indicated in speaking of Resht, are to be found swarms of wild fowl, duck, and snipe.

It is in this third belt, and principally on its lower slopes, that occur the towns and largest centres of population. Hidden, one may literally say buried, amid the trees, they are entered by the traveller almost before he is aware that he has left the forest. It is difficult for him to say whether he is in a village or in a great town, so overtopped and submerged is everything with the foliage, not merely of natural plantation, but of orchards and gardens rich in every variety of fruit. I have already mentioned the wild fruits that grow unasked in the wooded depths. In cultivated ground may be produced oranges, lemons, citrons, pomegranates, peaches, melons, medlars, quinces, and olives. In fact, it would be difficult in temperate regions to name a tract more favoured by Nature for purposes of production. It is in country of this character that the silkworm was cultivated, and

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the silk spun, that first brought Persia within the range of European commerce, and that made Gilan the most famous to foreigners among Persian provinces. Well might Sir Anthony Sherley, the adventurous English knight-errant who entered the service of Shah Abbas in 1600, write of it as follows: —

Gheylan is a country cut off from Persia with great mountaynes hard to passe, full of woods (which Persia wanteth, being here and there onely sprinkled with hils, and very penurious of fuell, onely their gardens give them wood to burne, and those hils, where are some faggots of Pistachios, of which they are well replenished); betweene those hils there are certaine breaches rather than valleyes, which, in the spring when the snow dissolveth, and the great abundance of raine falleth, are full of torrents. The Caspian Sea includeth this countrey on the east, betweene which and the hils is a continuing valley, so abounding in silke, in rice, and in corne, and so infinitely peopled that Nature seemeth to contend with the people's industry, the one in sowing of men, the other in cultivating the land; in which you shall see no piece of ground which is not fitted to one use or other; these hils also are so fruitfull of herbage, shadowed by the trees, as they show, turned towards the sea, that they are ever full of cattell, which and yieldeth commoditie to the countrey by furnishing divers other parts.[339]

Finally, above the wooded zone, rise the naked heights of the mountains, covered with a scanty pasture, frequently veiled in mist, and with snow-streaks rarely absent, from their summits. Thus from the steaming vapour bath by the sea's edge to and the eternal frost and ice of Demavend, every gradation of climate and atmosphere may be encountered, alternately enervating the system and filling it with brisk vitality. In the upper ranges, tremendous kotals or rock-passes are met with, as stiff and neck breaking as any in Persia. In the open places of the forest zone and on the slopes of the mountains above are the yeilaks, or summer quarters, to which all the richer folk retire from the plains and low lands in the heat, and to which the nomad villagers who are dependent upon herds and flocks, drive their cattle for summer pasture.

A very large proportion of the population is, therefore, migratory in character; and with them are mingled other wandering tribes, who have become village-settlers, but whom the summer heats tempt to wander again; whilst in Gilan. bands of gipsies are not rare. Of the two provinces, Gilan is said to be the damper, and its people less vigorous and brave; but I cannot

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convince myself that there is any genuine distinction between the two. Fraser, the most competent authority to follow, said that he had expected to find the inhabitants wretched, puny, and diseased; but that, on the contrary, they were stout, well-formed, and handsome, the children being particularly beautiful. Of the two, he reported the Mazanderanis as the darker and swarthier. Holmes said that the sedentary population near the sea were sallow and sickly; and I am sure it would be surprising if they were anything else. The Mazanderanis have been commonly denounced as the Beotians of Persia, and the taunt of Mazanderani yabus, or packhorses (for which, too, the province is famous), has been levelled at their heads. Here too, however, Fraser comes to their rescue, reporting them as quiet and inoffensive, but brave and good soldiers, at least in their own climate, outside of which they are now never employed. The population of the two provinces suffered terribly from the plague of 1830-31, in which it was estimated that two-thirds were swept away. Epidemics of small-pox and other diseases have ravaged the district since, and it is only latterly that it has begun again to hold up its head. The totals for each of the two provinces are variously estimated at from 150,000 to 250,000; but I doubt if the data for correct enumeration have ever been collected. The natives are said to be descended from the ancient Medes, and speak a dialect of Persian, which differs slightly in the two provinces, and a third form of which, with more Pehlevi words than in either of the others, is spoken in the highlands of Talish.[340]

Like their surroundings, and like themselves, the costume of the peasantry in Gilan and Mazanderan differs from that which is worn in the cities and plains of the interior. Their shulwars, or pyjamas, are frequently made of a woollen stuff called chakah, which is better adapted than cotton to resist the thorns. On their legs they wear bands of webbing rolled round and round, called pai tava, or tua, the counterpart, and perhaps the eponymous forerunner of the Kashmir putti. Their sandals, or charuks, are made of raw hide fastened over the instep and ankle by a thong. On the head they wear, not the felt egg-shell of the Persian peasant, but a shako of sheepskin. Their costume, in fact, is not unlike that worn by the Kurds in the mountain-border

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of East Khorasan. The entire outfit is said to cost from sixteen to eighteen shillings. The men are frequently equipped with bill-hooks to clear a way through the jungle.

To anyone who has been, as I have, in other parts of the Caspian, or who knows of the temperature that there prevails in the winter months, the contrasts between the northern and central and the southern shores, as I have here depicted them, in climate, in flora, and in fauna, is so great as to be almost amazing, and far greater than can be accounted for by the mere difference of latitude. Khanikoff well expressed the phenomenon thus exhibited in the following terms, which I have translated: —

If we compare the arid and sorrowful uniformity of the saline plains on the north shore of the Caspian with the luxuriant and almost tropical vegetation on its southern coast, we are struck with the contrast presented by the development of organic nature upon the two borders of the same inland sea. In the north the donkey can scarcely withstand the rigour of the climate; in the south the tiger of Bengal is a common animal. Near Astrakhan it is all that the grape can do to ripen; in the Gulf of Astrabad, on the semi-island of Potemkin, the palm-tree grows wild, and sugar-cane and cotton are cultivated with success. Finally, every year the northern parts of the sea are fast bound in ice; whilst, before they have had time to melt, everything is in full bloom on the coasts of Gilan and Mazanderan.[341]

The explanation of this seemingly strange phenomenon is, no doubt, that the vapour-charged clouds arising from the Caspian, and drifting southwards under the effect of the prevalent winds, impinge against the crests and slopes of the Elburz, and descend in mist and rain on to the lowlands sloping below. Khanikoff thinks that the dissolvent process is furthered by currents of hot air flowing in a north-westerly direction from the Great Central Desert, and that, when these meet the northern blasts, they melt in soft rain. Certainly the rainfall in the Caspian provinces is as ten to one compared with that in other parts of Persia; and rain is liable to fall, not at certain seasons of the year only, but almost at any time.

The staple produce of Mazanderan is rice, cotton, and sugar. The staple produce of Gilan once was silk. As Richard Chenie, one of the factors of the British Moscovy Company, wrote home in 1563, 'The King of Gillan, where as yet you have had no traffique, liveth al by marchandise.' Since it

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was this silk traffic that brought Persia into mercantile contact with Europe, that prompted the interchange of embassies and the framing of treaties in the sixteenth and later centuries, and that made Persia wealthy and famous; and since, moreover, it is only recently that it may be said to have permanently declined, I shall take advantage of this opportunity to give a short résumé of this interesting page of Persian history, only treating of the subject in so far as relates to Gilan and Mazanderan, and reserving for a later chapter on the Commerce of Persia, its international application in bygone ages.

The romantic story of the introduction of the silkworm from China into Europe in the reign of the Emperor Justinian, about 550 A.D., is one of the favourite anecdotes of history. The first mention of its cultivation in the northern provinces of Persia that I have come across, is in the pages of the tenth century pilgrim, El Istakhri, who travelled from Rhey to Sari, the capital of Mazanderan, and spoke of the silk which was produced in great quantity in the province called Taberistan, the ancient name for the Elburz region in these parts. Three centuries later we learn from Marco Polo that the merchants of Genoa, then at the height of its commercial renown, had recently brought the Caspian within the far-reaching sphere of their trade, and had begun to export 'the silk which is called Ghelle.' In the middle of the sixteenth century the Moscovy Company, through its agents, Anthony Jenkinson and others, made that courageous attempt to open up a British Caspian trade, through Russia, whose dramatic annals I shall afterwards relate. It was the silk of Gilan in quest of which they came. In the succeeding century the main channel of export of this product was in Dutch hands from the Persian Gulf. Early in the eighteenth century, Peter the Great, who fully understood the part that commerce can be made to play in schemes of imperial aggrandisement in the East, endeavoured to divert the entire northern export into Russia, by an arrangement with the Armenian traders of Baku. After a while this conspiracy broke down and the Russians attempted the business themselves. In 1725 Peter was about to enter into an engagement with a company of English merchants, being willing even to invoke foreign aid in order to gain his end, when he sickened and died. Then ensued the second brief, but gallant, experiment on the part of a small band of English merchants, headed by Elton

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and Hanway, the history of which will also come under notice in my second volume. Since then, no direct endeavour has been made forcibly to divert the traffic into this or that channel, although the conquests of Russia in the early part of the present century have rendered it inevitable that the greater part of the exports of northern Persia should pass through her hands.

Sooner than weary my readers with a long-drawn and statistical narrative of the state of the Silk trade of Persia, and of northern Persia in particular, during the last 250 years, I have preferred to arrange in tabular fashion the principal information with which my reading has supplied me as to the produce and value of that trade at different dates within this period.



Produce of all Persia


Produce of Gilan


Produce of Mazanderan



20,000 bales of 216 lbs. each

2s. 6d. or 2s. 8d. per lb. in Persia

8,000 bales

2,000 bales



22,000 bales of 276 lbs. each

10 to 12 million livres

10,000 bales

2,000 bales



30,000 batmans of 12 lbs. each

12-18 crowns, i.e. 3l.-4l. 10s. per batman; 30-40 crowns, i.e. 7l. 10s.-10l. circ. 1750



1,500-1,600 batmans



60,000 shahmans of 14 lbs. each

6½-8 tomans, i.e. 3l.12s.-4l. 8s. per shahman



1,800,000 lbs. (Gilan and Mazanderan)




90,000 shahmans of 13 lbs. each



110,000 shahmans



1,300,000 lbs.



1,000,000 lbs.



2,190,000 lbs.



1,230,000 lbs.



Stolze & Andreas[342]

612,500 kilogr.




503,400 kilogr.




403,400 kilogr.




323,800 kilogr.




418,100 kilogr.




350,400 kilogr.




286,600 kilogr.




347,400 kilogr.




644,700 kilogr.




245,400 kilogr.




262,000 kilogr.




210,000 lbs.




704,700 lbs.



Stolze & Andreas

177,000 kilogr.



608,000 lbs.

7,000 shahmans of 65 lbs. each

35,000 lbs.



6,000 bales as above

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Restricting our observations to Gilan alone, in the absence of sufficient data upon which to base any more general conclusions, we notice the lamentable falling off in production between the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, consequent upon the anarchy that succeeded the overthrow of the Sefavean kings. In Hanway's time Gilan only furnished one-eighth of the total output in the days of Chardin. At the close of the century, the firm hold of the Kajar family upon the northern provinces re-established security and brought with it a revival of trade. During the first half of the present century the progress continued without intermission. Sir J. Sheil, when British Minister, wrote in about the year 1850, 'Silk is the great staple of Persian commerce, particularly of foreign traffic, which enables it to pay for a portion of its imports from abroad.' He spoke of attempts that had been made by English merchants to introduce improvements in the preparation of the silk, but which the normal supineness of the Persians and their reluctance to abate one jot or tittle of archaic routine, had rendered unavailing.[343] In 1864, the very year in which, as the above figures show, the climacteric of production was touched, disease appeared for the first time. By the year 1869, its ravages had made such serious inroad that the value of the annual output had sunk to one-fifth of the figure at which it stood five years before. From this attack the silk trade of Gilan has never recovered. Eggs from Khorasan and eggs from Khanikin in Turkey were tried, but with no success. Eggs were brought all the way from Japan, but without much better results. In despair at bad season succeeding bad season, the peasants have turned their attention to other crops. Tobacco was started as an experiment in 1875. An impulse was given to the olive cultivation of Rudbar near Resht. In the central silk-growing districts of Persia, opium has been largely adopted as an alternative, and has produced most gratifying results. But in the northern provinces rice has proved the most popular and remunerative substitute; and in a country where new ideas and improved methods penetrate so slowly as in Persia, it is doubtful whether, at least in Persian hands, the silk industry will ever permanently

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revive. Under other auspices, a different tale might very likely soon be told; for the disease having been expelled, and the soil and climate remaining what they formerly were, there is no valid reason why so lucrative an industry should either be abandoned or should cease to flourish.

At present the silk-worm is cultivated, in addition to Gilan and Mazanderan, in Azerbaijan (where in 1885 the crop was 32,500 lbs.), in Khorasan (16,250 lbs.), and in the central district of Persia, whose chief marts are Kashan, Isfahan, Yezd, and Kerman (13,000 lbs.). In the two latter cases, the produce is wholly, or almost wholly, required for local consumption, and it is from Gilan and Azerbaijan alone that the export now takes place to Russia, and still more to Marseilles. The native manufactures in which Persian silk is employed are velvets, brocades, satins, and sarsenet, as well as plain silk, and silk mixed with cotton. Since pure silk is forbidden by the Koran, such of the Persians as are sticklers for that somewhat neglected code of precepts, salve their consciences by wearing silk with the slightest admixture of cotton. Of the modern fabrics that I saw in the above-mentioned towns, I admired the velvets of Kashan the most. Old Persian velvets and velvet brocades are superb, but are very difficult to procure in pieces of any size. Silk carpets are still made to order at Kashan and Sultanabad, and are as magnificent and as costly as heretofore; but, unless carefully watched, the manufacturer flies to the use of cheap aniline dyes, and the artistic value and durability of tone of the fabric are irretrievably ruined.[344]

Before I quit the subject let me very briefly describe the manner in which the silk cultivation is conducted in northern Persia. In the month of April the natives, and chiefly the women, take the eggs, attached to a sheet of paper, and expose them to the warmth of the human body by wearing them beneath their clothes, next to the skin. After the lapse of three days the eggs are hatched and the caterpillars appear. They have before them a life of about forty days, which is spent in alternate

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spasms of excessive gluttony and stupefied repose. The periods of feasting, however, last from seven to ten days, the intervals of torpor not more than two. After the first ten days the worms are transferred to a tilambar, or platform, covered with a thatched shanty and reared at a height of about five feet from the ground, where, in the intervals of voracity, they are stuffed to repletion with mulberry leaves. After about forty days they become fat, full, and nearly transparent, in which uncomfortable condition they exhibit a desire to climb up a number of branches placed vertically in the shed, and to spin their cocoons. This goes on for ten days, during which time the tilambar is hermetically closed, At the end of that time it is again opened, the boughs are removed, the roof is found to be entirely covered with beautiful cocoons; and while some of these are spared to develop into moths for breeding purposes, the bulk are taken down, the chrysalis is killed by exposure to the sun, or immersion in boiling water, and the silk is unravelled and wound off on reels. The survivors come out as full-blown moths in a fortnight, when the female, having done her duty by laying from 100 to 300 eggs, pines, and incontinently expires.

In addition to the valuable products of their cultivated area, Mazanderan and Gilan are endowed with gratuitous sources of wealth, of which but little, and that unsystematic, advantage is taken by the Persians. There are considerable mineral resources in the two provinces, of which I shall speak in a future chapter on the resources of the whole country. Much of the timber that is grown on the mountain slopes is well adapted for ship building. It was utilised for that purpose by John Elton, the ingenious English shipwright of Nadir Shah, who was commissioned by that monarch to construct for him a flotilla on the Caspian. Timber from Mazanderan was even hewn and ordered to be transported across the whole of Persia to the Gulf, in order to repeat the experiment there. Boxwood has been exported from the Caspian provinces in some quantity to Russia and England. But no system or science of forestry exists; and the timber which might produce a large annual revenue is either apathetically neglected or mischievously destroyed.[345] Nor is the sea much less rich in money-making properties than the land. The mouths of

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the principal rivers, especially the Sefid Rud, and the marine lagoons, swarm with a variety of fish, sturgeon, salmon, mullet, trout and carp. At the mouth of the above-named river nearly 4,000 fish have sometimes been taken in the day at the height of the season, whilst in the Enzeli lagoon 300,000 carp have been netted in a single day. At the time of my visit the entire fisheries on the south shore of the Caspian were leased to a Russian for 65,000 tomans (18,500l.) a year; and from the export both of dried fish, and still more of caviar to Russia, he was said to make a large annual profit by the speculation.

The revenue of these two provinces has been peculiarly fluctuating, according as it has followed the ups and downs of their material progress or decline. Fraser in 1822 found the revenue of Gilan, from customs and land-tax, to be 200,000 to 210,000 tomans, or 110,000l. to 115,000l. Ten years later Monteith returned it as 300,000 tomans, whilst, after a further decade it had, according to Holmes, reverted to the original figure. Sir F. Goldsmid has given the revenue (in 1874) as 440,000 tomans. The 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' quoting from an obsolete report, gives 105,000 tomans as the revenue of Mazanderan, and says that no surplus is left therefrom for the treasury, the entire receipts being consumed in military and administrative expenses. I do not find that this is the case. In 1888-89 the revenue of Mazanderan was 139,350 tomans in cash, that of Gilan 345,000 tomans. The expenditure in the former province on government dues, cost of collecting, public buildings, &c., was only returned at 4,590 tomans; in the latter it was 24,430 tomans. What proportion actually reached the Royal Exchequer it is impossible to determine.

Shut off by the mountains from the rest of Persia, and differing therefrom in climate, character, and interests, the Caspian provinces have necessarily played a somewhat independent part in history. The imagination that finds both its stimulus and satisfaction in the legendary period of a nation's life, not unnaturally located the heroes of Persian myth in the sublime uplands. There they fought their battles and triumphed, the very beasts of the forest taking their side in the conflict; there Rustam vanquished the Div Sefid, or White Demon; an inferior order of men, predestined to a just servitude, inhabited the maleficent regions below. The part played by these provinces in classical

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history, and in the campaigns of Alexander, may be traced by reference to the title Hyrcania in a Classical dictionary. In the Christian Era they appear only at fitful epochs upon the public stage. During the Sassanian period and the first centuries of Islam, Mazanderan formed part of Tapuristan, the modern Taberistan. About the year 900 A.D. Mazanderan was given by the Khalif Mutadhid (or Mutazzid) to Ismail Samani, the founder of the Samanid dynasty of North Persia and Bokhara, as a reward for his services in conquering the rebellious Amr bin Leith, the brother and successor of Yakub bin Leith, already mentioned in the chapter on Seistan. In the fourteenth century we find an independent Seyid dynasty ruling in Mazanderan. When Anthony Jenkinson and his fellow pioneers opened the British Caspian trade with Persia in the middle of the sixteenth century, they speak of a king of Gilan, who was only in nominal dependence upon the Sefavi Shahs. This state of halting subjection developed into actual rebellion in the reign of Shah Abbas, who, in 1593, ordered a general massacre in Gilan. Mazanderan, however, as his mother's birthplace, was a special favourite with Abbas. Here he built a series of magnificent palaces, whose wasting ruins I shall presently describe; here, in sight of the Caspian and in a retreat where no enemy could either follow or disturb him, he loved, when not at Isfahan, to reside. So anxious was he to raise the maritime border to a higher level of prosperity and cultivation, that here, as elsewhere, he pursued his favourite policy of colonisation on a gigantic scale; transplanting 30,000 families of Christians from the Turkish border in order at one and the same time to depopulate the regions which were yearly ravaged by the Ottomans, and to apply a fresh and vigorous industry to the most neglected part of his dominions. Chardin gives the following quaint description of the aptitudes of the country for the novel immigrants: —

It is sayd to be a perfect right country for the Christians; it abounds with wine and hog's flesh, two things which they mightily like; they love to go to sea, and they will traffick with their brothers, the Muscovites, by the Caspian Sea.[346]

Abbas, however, had failed to reckon with the Mazanderani climate, which quarrelled as fatally with the new comers as it did with the worthy English ambassador, Sir Dodmore Cotton; for, as

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Chardin goes on to relate, 'The malignity of the air was so cross to his designs and projects, that, about 1630, the 30,000 Christian families were reduced to 400.' The Italian Pietro della Valle, who visited the Court of Shah Abbas in Mazanderan, was very much smitten with the ladies of that province. 'The women,' he wrote, 'were in my eyes perfectly beautiful; and I had full opportunity of judging, as, unlike other Mohammedans, they never cover the face, but converse freely with man. In addition, they are affable and exceedingly obliging.'

I have previously spoken of the Cossack descent upon Mazanderan that occurred in the year 1668. Fifty years later the Russians made their first determined attempt, in the closing years of Peter the Great's reign, to occupy the southern shores of the Caspian. Such conflicting versions of this episode have found their way into books about Persia, that I will briefly relate, so far as can be ascertained, what actually occurred. The best authorities are Jonas Hanway, who was in the country within a few years of the event; G. Forster, the first overland traveller from India to England, sixty years later; Captain P. H. Bruce, an Englishman serving in Peter the Great's army during the first Persian Campaign; Dorn's 'Caspia' (in Russian) and a work by M. Fonton entitled 'La Russie dans l'Asie Mineure.' From a collation of these several sources we may reconstruct the narrative of events as follows. In 1722, Peter sent an ambassador to the Persian Court at Isfahan to demand redress for serious damage done to the property of Russian merchants by the Lesghians, then in constant revolt against Persia, in the town of Shemakhi. The envoy, arriving at the capital, found that Shah Sultan Husein had been deposed, and that Mahmud, the Afghan usurper, was on the throne. The latter replied that he could not accept the responsibility, and that the Czar had better safeguard his own trade. Peter, who was never slow at accepting a hint, at once assembled an army of 30,000 veterans at Astrakhan, embarked in July 1722, and sailed against Derbend, which yielded to his arms. He was proceeding to advance upon Baku and Shemakhi, when he was met by the Ottoman ambassador with the threat that, unless he withdrew (the Turks also laying claim to the entire Caucasus), he would find a Turkish as well as a Persian war upon his hands. He then retired for the winter to Astrakhan, leaving a garrison at Derbend and a fort on a river further south, which was presently attacked by the Afghans

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and destroyed. In the course of the winter, the Persian chief of Gilan sent an agent to Astrakhan offering to surrender Resht, which was then besieged by the Afghans, to Russia. Overjoyed at this windfall, Peter despatched another army early in 1723. Resht opened her gates to the new-comers, and the greater part of the province of Gilan passed into Russian hands. In July of the same year, Baku, after suffering a bombardment from the sea, also capitulated. The young Shah Tahmasp, who meanwhile was striving to make headway against the Afghans in the north, now thought it time to enter a claim of nominal ownership over his fast-shrinking dominions. What weakness, however, rendered him unable to dispute, policy suggested that he should amicably concede. Accordingly, an ambassador was sent to Peter, and the terms of a bargain, which in all probability neither party had any idea of keeping, were embodied in a treaty of alliance that was signed on September 3, 1723. It contained four principal articles. The Czar was to drive out the Afghans from Persia, and to reinstate Tahmasp on the throne. In return the Shah was to cede to Russia in perpetuity the towns and dependencies of Derbend and Baku, as well as the provinces of Gilan, Mazanderan, and Astrabad. He further undertook to furnish camels and provisions for the Russian army of invasion. Finally, full liberty of commerce was guaranteed between Russia and Persia.[347] The Russians, as has been shown, had occupied Gilan even before the treaty was signed, and the agreement in that respect was little more than a ratification of the status quo. They do not appear ever to have set foot in Mazanderan or Astrabad, having their hands full elsewhere, or realising the doubtful policy of such a proceeding. In 1725 Peter the Great died, and his schemes of Oriental aggrandisement were temporarily shelved. In the same year the Russian forces took Lahijan, the second town to Resht in the province; but they advanced no further to the east. Basil Batatzes, the Greek merchant, whose travels I have cited when speaking of Kelat, was in Gilan during the period of the Russian occupation and had an interview at Resht with General Levasoff, the Russian commander.[348] Finally, about the year 1734, 'the Russians, then involved in domestic commotion and intrigue, were compelled to evacuate their Caspian dominions, with only a permission to hold

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a resident at the seaport of Enzeli for the management of the silk trade of Gilan.' This is Forster's version. Hanway, who was in Gilan within ten years of the evacuation, assigns as the true reason the pernicious effect of the climate. 'The warmth and dampness of Ghilan, together with the unwholesome fruits, rendered that province the grave of the Russians, for which reason the Empress Anne very prudently consented to evacuate the country in 1734, without drawing any advantage from it.'[349] Watson, quoting from a writer in 'Blackwood's Magazine' (vol. xxi.) says that Astrabad and Mazanderan had already been restored to Persia by a treaty concluded at Resht in 1732; and that a further treaty restored Gilan in 1735 — statements which, if correct, would absolutely dispose of any claim that Russia may subsequently have felt disposed to make on the ground of the original concession. There is a fourth version of the epilogue, which may be supposed to reflect the view that might commend itself to a patriotic Persian, whose amour propre could admit neither the voluntary occupation, nor the peaceful retreat. According to this version Nadir Shah, having obtained the throne, sent an imperious ultimatum to the Russian commander, that unless the Russians disappeared from the scene, he (Nadir) would send his ferashes (lit. carpet-spreaders), to sweep them into the sea. It is the obvious sequel of this story, which is probably of later construction, that the Russians embarked with great precipitation, and were no more seen. In 1746 the only relic of their occupation of the coast strip was a factory at Enzeli, and a commercial agent at Derbend.

That Shah Tahmasp himself attached very little validity to the treaty with Peter the Great, had already been shown in 1730, in which year he made a grant of Mazanderan, along with Khorasan, Seistan, and Kerman to Nadir, as a reward for the expulsion of the Afghans. The condition of the two maritime provinces during the latter part of Nadir Shah's reign, the oppression and misery and ruin that everywhere prevailed, are admirably depicted in Hanway's pages, from which we learn how a national hero soon transformed himself into an intolerable curse, for whose removal men prayed almost in public. In the anarchy, consequent upon Nadir's assassination, a local chief named Hidayet Khan raised himself and the province of Gilan to a position of practical independence. When Kerim Khan Zend attained the

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throne, he left Hidayet Khan in charge of Gilan, exacting only an annual tribute. The chief kept a large army, and observed great state. It was during his rule that the Russian traveller Gmélin visited Resht, and travelled in the Caspian provinces. Meanwhile, in Mazanderan and Astrabad, the wily Kajar eunuch was organising the strength and the following that were shortly to place him upon the Persian throne. Sheikh Vais, the son of Ali Murad Khan Zend, who held the throne for four years, from 1781-85, was despatched by his father to crush these pretensions, and to recover Mazanderan. Though at first, successful he was deserted by his followers and compelled to retire. When Agha Mohammed had finally triumphed, Hidayet Khan of Gilan was foolish enough to resist the successful usurper, and paid the penalty with his life. Since then Gilan and Mazanderan have remained in secure and undisputed possession of the Kajar reigning family, and have commonly provided governing billets for the sons or relatives of the sovereign.

I have already spoken of the partiality displayed by Shah Abbas for Mazanderan, and have alluded to the royal residences which he there constructed. Let me say a few words more about them before passing on. The monarch was here visited and seen by the garrulous Italian Pietro della Valle, and by the ingenious Englishman, Sir Thomas Herbert, and their contemporaneous narratives are still extant. A century later, Hanway described the ravages of a hundred years' decay. In the present century, the tale has been carried down to modern times. These palaces were several in number. The principal were located in a situation of great natural beauty at Ashraf, about five miles south of Astrabad Bay, and with an exquisite outlook over the sea. Shah Abbas' causeway, running in a westerly direction from Astrabad city, passed the village of Gez, and conducted thence, a distance of twenty-six miles, to Ashraf, whose title signified the Most Noble. Here the Great Abbas set about building himself a sort of northern Isfahan, whose palaces and gardens should rival those of the southern capital. Pietro della Valle was there in 1618, while the king's palace was the only completed structure, and the town was still in the bricklayers' hands. Nine years later, on May 25, 1627, in the same palace, which Herbert described as 'pretty large and but newly finished,' the King received in public audience Sir Dodmore

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Cotton, ambassador from Charles I., and his own accredited envoy Sir Robert Sherley. This is how the ever-amusing Herbert describes the scene: —

At the upper end sat the Pot-shaw [i.e. Padishah], beloved at home, famous abroad, and formidable to his enemies. His grandeur was this: Circled with such a world of wealth he clothed himself that day in a plain red callico coat quilted with cotten, as if he should have said his dignity consisted rather in his parts and prudence than furtivis coloribus, having no need to steal respect by borrowed colours or embroideries. Cross-legg'd the Pot-shaw sat; his sash was white and large; his waste was girded with a thong of leather; the hilt of his sword was gold, the blade formed like a semi-circle, and doubtless well tempered; the scabbard red; and the Courtiers, regis ad exemplum, were but meanly attired.[350]

Originally there were six different royal establishments at Ashraf; five of which were contained within one large wall of circumvallation. Of these the most famous was the Bagh-i-Shah, or King's Garden, laid out with stone terraces, and canals, and cascades, and adorned with aiwans, or open halls, the largest of which, called, like that at Isfahan, Chehel Situn, or Forty Pillars, terminated the principal vista. Terraces, and cascades, and halls have all gone to utter ruin, but the garden is still a glory, with its gigantic cypresses and orange trees. The Chehel Situn was accidentally burnt down in the time of Nadir Shah, and was replaced by a flimsy structure, itself in equal ruin. Other gardens and palaces were the Bagh-i-Harem, or Garden of the Seraglio, the Bagh-i-Tepe, or Garden of the Hill, which contained the Hummum, or warm baths, the palace of Sahib Zeman, or Lord of the Age, and the Khelwet, or private palace and garden. A paved way with streams and waterfalls led from this enclosure to the Imaret-i-Chashmeh, or Pavilion of the Fountains, making the sixth royal residence at Ashraf. The old stone pavements have vanished, the slabs having been broken or stolen for the sake of the iron clamps cemented by lead, and the entire precincts are a wilderness of ruin.[351] Half a mile from Ashraf the grandson and successor of Abbas, Shah Sefi, built a palace for his daughter, upon a lovely wooded eminence, and called it, after himself, Sefiabad. Like its predecessors it has perished; and a hunting lodge, built many years ago by

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the present Shah in its place, is within measurable distance of a similar dissolution. The town of Ashraf was peopled by Shah Abbas with a colony of 7,000 Armenians, some of whose descendants still inhabit the place along with a mixture of Persian and Turkish descent. During the last twenty years it has experienced quite a revival, owing to the trade with Russia that has sprung up from the port, or rather roadstead, of Meshed-i-Ser.

Twenty-six miles from Ashraf on the north-west, at a distance of about three miles from the Caspian and on the banks of the Tejen river, are situated the ruins of another city and palace of Abbas, known as Ferahabad. Pietro della Valle declared that the circuit of the walls was equal to, if not greater than, that of Rome or Constantinople, and that the city contained streets of more than a league in length. In this palace died Shah Abbas in January 1628, in the forty-third year of his reign and the seventy-first of his age. Forty years later the palace, which, according to Chardin, was 'a wonder of art that deserved a kind of perpetuity,' and 'wherein was kept a vast treasure of dishes and basins of porcellane or china, cornaline, agate, coral, amber, cups of crystal of the rock, and other varieties without number,' was plundered by the Cossacks and destroyed; and the worthy knight sorrowfully adds, 'Everytime I think of the magnificence and delightfulness of that place, I cannot but lament its hard fate.'[352] Fraser, in 1822, examined and carefully described the ruins of Ferahabad, which he declared to be vastly inferior to those of Ashraf, in extent as well as in magnificence, and to indicate only a temporary rather than a permanent abode. It is curious that the king should have ventured upon two such similar designs in such close proximity to each other; but it is also characteristic of the whims of a monarch, who shared to the full the capricious irresponsibility that has always been a feature of despotism in the East. Ferahabad is now a miserable village, which no one turns aside to visit.

From the palaces I turn to the cities of Mazanderan, few in number but distinct in individuality, which I shall treat in the order in which they are encountered if journeying upon Shah Abbas' causeway from Astrabad, namely: Sari, Barfurush, Amol. Of all of them it may be said that in their situation, amid forest or jungle and on moist and luxuriant plains,

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in their architecture, which is similar to that already described at Astrabad, and in their population, which is easily distinguished from the Persian of the centre and south, they are sui generis.

Sari, thirty-five miles from Ashraf, is the old capital of Mazanderan, and has been identified by D'Anville and Rennell with the Zadracarta of the ancients, where Alexander halted for fifteen days and offered sacrifice. Be this as it may, it was the capital and residence of the independent sovereigns who ruled this region in the later Middle Ages. The more modern city was also selected as his capital by Agha Mohammed Shah in the days when he was still fighting for the throne, and when his dominions did not extend much beyond Astrabad and Mazanderan. He built the palace, which still exists in a ruined condition, and which contained pictures of the battles of Shah Ismail and Nadir Shah. In the early part of the present century, Sari was reported to contain from 30,000 to 40,000 inhabitants; and as late as 1874 Captain Napier was told that the total was 16,000. It is not now supposed to contain much over 8,000 persons, business having migrated to Amol and Barfurush. The streets are stone-paved and the town has a picturesque appearance. When Hanway was here in 1744, he left on record that 'there are yet four temples of the Gebres, or worshippers of fire, made of the most durable materials. These edifices are rotund, of about 30 feet diameter, raised in height to a point near 120 feet.'[353] Herein there can be no doubt that the excellent merchant was hoodwinked either by the ignorance or the deceit of his informants; for these four (there were only in reality three) towers, so far from being Parsi fire-altars, were merely gumbaz, or sepulchral towers, erected in the Arab period in memory of eminent saints. Fraser in 1822 found all three still standing. The largest was called Gumbaz-i-Selm-wa-Tur, and was a hollow, circular, brick tower, 100 feet high, with two belts of Kufic inscription and a conical roof. It was believed to be the tomb of Hasan-ed-Dowleh, a descendant of the Buyah or Dilemi sovereigns in the fifth century of the Hejira. The two other imamzadehs were attributed to Yahia and Ibrahim, the sons of the Imam Reza. Since Fraser's day all three have been destroyed, or partially destroyed, by earthquakes.

Barfurush, the modern commercial capital of Mazanderan, is situated twenty-six miles west of Sari and ninety miles north-east

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of Teheran. Three centuries ago it was a mere village; but its admirable position and the improved communication both with the capital and the sea, have combined to make it the most considerable town on the Caspian sea-board. Little more than a century ago (1771) Gmélin found it a poor place, in no wise resembling a capital. And yet Fraser, in 1822, would have us believe — the sole instance, so far as I know, in which his judgment was seriously at fault — that it had grown within that space of time into a great city, as frequented as Isfahan, and with a population alleged to consist of 300,000, but accepted by him as 200,000 persons. He went into positive ecstasies over 'the spectacle of a city purely mercantile, governed by a merchant, with no khans or nobles, peopled entirely with merchants, mechanics, and their dependents, and prosperous and happy far beyond any in Persia.' The people were as respectful and polite as their town was admirable, and the bazaars, a mile in length, were as excellent as the town.[354] Twelve years later Fraser returned to find that the scourge of the plague had fallen in the interval upon this earthly paradise of cities, and that the fanciful population of the previous decade had fallen to 30,000. Since then it has partially recovered, although it is to be feared that the halcyon days of Fraser's imagination will never return. Napier, in 1874, reported its population as 50,000 (a greatly exaggerated estimate), its streets as clean and well paved, its shops as well built, and its bazaars as full of European goods. The town is situated in the level country about halfway between the base of the mountains and the sea, and though surrounded by rich rice, sugar, and cotton plantations, is so buried in forest trees as to be invisible from the exterior. In the summer it is almost deserted by its inhabitants, who fly to the mountains. On an island in a small lake or tank between the town and the river stands a dilapidated villa belonging to the Shah. The Russians keep a Consular agent here to superintend their trade with the Caspian. There has for long been a considerable number of Jews resident in Barfurush, where they are engaged in retail trade. A furious outbreak against them took place in 1866 and is recorded by Mounsey.[355] It was suppressed by the vigorous action of the Shah; but public opinion prevented him from inflicting condign punishment upon the authors.

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Fifteen miles from Barfurush is the port or roadstead of Meshed-i-Ser, at the mouth of the river Babil. Here the Russian steamers of the Caucasus and Mercury touch in their circumnavigation of the Caspian, and there is a very considerable trade, both export and import, principally with Astrakhan. The harbour accommodation is of the most meagre description, or, rather, does not exist. The rival influences of river and wind have, in a manner before described, created a formidable bar which no effort is made to pierce or dredge. The steamers are obliged to lie out in the offing at a distance of between two and three miles from the shore; and passengers and cargo, as at Enzeli, can only be disembarked in calm weather, when they are transferred to native, flat-bottomed barges. 'The coast here is a line of low sandhills, overlooking a steep and narrow beach of dark-grey sand. There are no shells on the shore, no birds in the air, no seaweed, no fish, nothing but green water-snakes, tortoises, and frogs.'[356] There is a Persian Custom-house at Meshed-i-Ser, and a lighthouse, with no light. The only other edifice worthy of notice is an imamzadeh of a brother of Imam Reza, who appears to have strewn his dead relatives about this neighbourhood as thick as autumnal leaves in Vallombrosa.

Amol, the third town of Mazanderan, and the present residence of the Governor of the province, is, unlike Barfurush, but like Sari, a place that has figured in history. In the time of Yakut it was the first city in Taberistan; and it long retained a celebrity for its cotton and carpet manufactures. It is situated on the banks of the Haraz, about twenty-three miles west of Barfurush, the river being crossed outside the town by a very old stone bridge, between 80 and 100 yards long and not more than a yard in width, Gmélin, 120 years ago, found the population of Amol to be only 800 persons, but 50 years later Fraser, still in his generous mood, reported from 35,000 to 40,000, although on his second visit in 1834 the place was 'a ruin, a desert — the streets grown with jungle, and not a soul to be seen.'[357] The population now is said to be about 8,000. There are the ruins here of a mausoleum, erected by Shah Abbas, over a Seyid, called by Fraser Mir Buzurg, who was his mother's ancestor, and raised

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himself to the throne of Mazanderan in the fourteenth century, but whose real title was Kawam-ed-Din. In the neighbourhood, also, are a number of the square or circular towers with conical roofs, which local ignorance has attributed to the fire-worshippers, but which were the familiar sepulchres of holy men in the first centuries succeeding the Arab conquest. The town is so overgrown with jungle and orchards as to be collectively invisible.[358]

Within the last three years an attempt has been made to connect Amol with the Caspian by rail — the second of the two only railroads in Persia — and to open up a new commercial route with the capital. This speculation has been undertaken by one Haji Mohammed Hasan, the Master of the Persian Mint, who conceived the idea of monopolising the carrying trade between Teheran and the Caspian by creating a quicker and shorter route than that which runs from Amol to Barfurush, and thence to Meshed-i-Ser. Accordingly, he obtained a concession from the Shah — the first step in any public undertaking in Persia — and, selecting as his port of debarkation the murdab of Mahmudabad, at the mouth of the Haraz river, twelve miles due north of Amol, he built a fine caravanserai and shops there (which, when I was in the country, were unoccupied), he imported rails and engineers from Belgium, and he laid a single line of rails to Amol, which was to be in connection with a horse tramway for a distance of some miles beyond. Of the engineering quality of this enterprise I shall require to speak in a later chapter upon Railways in Persia. I may here limit myself to remarking that the newly-created port is as bad, if not worse, than any on the Caspian, there being the familiar bank of shingle and sand between the murdab and the sea, and vessels requiring to lie off at a distance of some miles and to land their cargoes in lighters. The line was badly laid, and the proprietor soon quarrelled and parted with his Belgian engineers. Quite lately, however (October 1890), Haji Mohammed Hasan appears to have found a new field for his energy, for I hear of a large factory in course of erection by him at Amol, which is to contain wood-working machinery and a powerful sugar-cane press, the labour being directed by a Russian engineer. To this indefatigable Persian

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must at least be conceded the merit of energy, which, in any form of public undertaking, is so rare in Persia as to deserve encomium even if ill-judged or misplaced.

A new road from Amol over the main range of the Elburz to Teheran was constructed by order of the Shah in 1877-78 by General Gasteiger Khan, an Austrian engineer officer in the Persian service. The total distance is about 120 miles, and the places passed en route are Parus, Shahzadeh, Raineh (or Rehna), skirting the Eastern base of Demavend, Imamzadeh Hashim, Ali, and Jajrud. The scenery is superb, alike amid the lower elevations and the wooded glens and valleys, and on the rugged and savage heights. Of the former, Stack (in 1881) wrote the following description, which I think it only fair to quote as a set-off to my own occasional jeremiads upon the sullen sterility of the normal Persian landscape: —

Our march to Amol was the loveliest I made in Persia; but, indeed, one could hardly believe that this was Persian scenery, with its forest paths and meadow glades, and broad river bordered by tall and leafy growth of oaks. I thought of the leagues of brown or black desert, the bare sand-ridges, the salt hills, white and crimson and green, the dry, clear air, and the bold and sharply-defined forms and colours that I had seen during my wanderings in Persia till now; but here was an atmosphere laden with soft, invisible vapour, and all the shapes of mountain and valley were rounded or clothed with vegetation, hiding the bare outlines of the rock, and all the colours were the blue and white of the cloud-flecked sky above, and varied shades of green all around us.

Between the village of Bund-i-burideh and Raineh, in one of the narrowest parts of the mountain defile, through which the road runs, is a great rock sculpture of Nasr-ed-Din Shah on horseback facing the spectator, with ten ministers in full uniform standing five on either side of him. The figures are life-size, and raised in relief about three inches, and the likenesses are undeniably good. I saw the original full-size cartoon in the Royal College at Teheran. The tablet is bordered by a metrical inscription, which sounds the praises of His Majesty and commemorates the making of the road. The idea is a somewhat belated and turgid imitation of the Sassanian model; but apart from the absurdity, the execution is in this case creditable.

Of the towns of Gilan, the only one worthy of mention (with

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the possible exception of Lahijan, on the Lengarud), is the capital, Resht, of which I undertook in Chapter II. to say something in this connection. It is the first town which most travellers see in Persia, and the last also to which the majority bid farewell. Situated in the low, swampy ground at a slight distance from the sea, it has always been an unhealthy spot, from which Europeans would willingly fly. It was originally buried in jungle, after the fashion of the other cities which I have described. The Russians, during their occupation 160 years ago, cleared the surrounding timber for a distance of 15 miles, as far as the mountains; but a good deal has sprung up since. Its position as the capital of the chief silk-producing province of Persia, and as the natural outlet of export trade, very early secured it a prominence, which has rendered its name one of the most familiar of Persian titles to English ears, and which has left its record in the pages of many travellers,[359] British, Russian, and French Consuls or Vice-Consuls were here from an early period, to safeguard the commercial interests of their several countries. The near vicinity of Russia, and her predominance in the Caspian, have naturally given her a commanding position; the more so as she has a large number of subjects, chiefly Russian-Armenians, in Resht and Gilan, and as she is understood to own several villages in the neighbourhood by right of mortgage. Nevertheless, the best days of Resht have passed. Early in the century, while the silk trade was at its zenith, its bazaars exhibited a curious congeries of different nationalities: Armenians, Jews, Europeans, Buniahs from India, and even Povindahs from Afghanistan. Fraser, who, at the close of his first journey in 1822, experienced an unprovoked and vexatious imprisonment here, escaping on foot only to be recaptured and brought back under circumstances of great indignity — estimated its population at that date as from 60,000 to 80,000. It was almost annihilated by the plague in 1830-31, which swept like a tornado, carrying everything before it, over the natural fever-beds of the maritime border; and in 1834 was only 'the ghost of its

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former self. The silk trade, however, which continued to flourish till the last twenty-five years, enabled Resht to raise its head more quickly than any of its neighbours. It was a flourishing town in the middle part of this century, and many English travellers have occasion to recollect the hospitality of the firm of Ralli, who kept a large establishment here, and maintained a country house in almost European style. With the collapse of the silk trade they disappeared, and the fortunes of Resht experienced a sensible decline. The counterbalancing increase, however, in the cultivation and export of rice and cotton have caused it to revive, and the population is now calculated at from 25,000 to 30,000. The situation of Resht as the chief maritime outlet on the north must always render it an important place, quite apart from the trade of the province whose capital city it is. For instance, in 1878, the last year in which published statistics are accessible, the exports to Russia from the province of Gilan, viâ Resht, equalled 192,000l.; while the exports from the rest of Persia through the same Custom-house were only 4,000l. less; the internal trade between Resht and the Persian interior amounting to 143,000l. in the same period.

Anyone who has followed me so far will by this time be expecting the statement, that considerable as is the trade of Resht, it might be increased and, in all probability, doubled, did the Persians take the most elementary steps to expedite or facilitate its transit. It is safe to say that in no other country in the world would the main avenue of mercantile entrance and exit be left in so miserable and chaotic a condition. The bar at Enzeli, the entrance to the Murdab, or Lagoon, the anchorage therein, the ascent by creek to Pir-i-Bazaar, the road to Resht, are so many successive and undisputed obstacles to freedom of intercourse. In any other country the bar would have been dredged, steamers would have been admitted into the lagoon, jetties would have been built for lading and unlading therein, the creek would have been deepened and widened, or a canal constructed to Resht itself. Above all, the marsh and forest roads would have been kept in good repair. The question of railway communication with the interior is one that has frequently been mooted, and was once on the verge of being put into execution, the embankments being built, and even the rails being laid for the distance of a few miles from Resht; but this is a subject which I must reserve for a later chapter. The only

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plausible excuse which Persia can offer, apart from her congenital inability to help herself, is the fear that she may have felt of providing, by any of the means above indicated, an easier path of invasion to a hostile power, or, in other words, to Russia. Such a fear is, perhaps, venial, but I do not think that it constitutes either an honourable or a valid excuse. The power that designedly fosters its own weakness, ultimately perishes of the atrophy thus engendered. Moreover, Russia can march so easily into Persia from other quarters that her power of aggression would be but little augmented by the removal of obstacles from one out of many channels of invasion.

And thus I am brought to the question, with which I will conclude this chapter, of the alleged designs of Russia upon the northern provinces, and of the probable place allotted to them in her political horoscope. There can be no doubt that ever since the temporary occupation of Gilan in the reign of Peter the Great, Russia has turned a regretful and covetous eye upon the Persian possessions to the south of the Caspian Sea. It is also a matter of common knowledge that, on occasions when the Shah has shown too marked a disposition either to independent or to Anglophile action, he has been significantly reminded of that bygone incident, and has been threatened with its repetition. It is further true that Russia could land her forces either at Resht or at Gez without, in all probability, incurring any armed opposition. Lastly, it is rumoured that in the famous secret memorandum drawn up by General Kuropatkin, now Governor-General of Transcaspia, in 1885, and generally accepted as the official scheme for a Russian invasion of India, the incorporation of Gilan and Mazanderan, as well as of Azerbaijan and Khorasan, are treated as indispensable preliminaries upon the Persian stage of operations. There is therefore abundant ground for believing that Russia regards these particular provinces with a not wholly disinterested vision. Sir Justin Sheil, himself a British Minister in Persia, and consequently well-informed, echoed and confirmed the general impression when he wrote: —

That Gilan should have been long coveted by Russia is not surprising. Everything contributes to make it a desirable possession; its situation relative to Russia, its wealth and improvable qualities, its defensible position — mountains on one side, the sea on the other, swamps and jungles all over the province.[360]

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On the other hand, it is well to pause for a moment and consider whether the movement, if contemplated, would be either so advantageous or so simple as at first sight appears. Let it be remembered that there is not in the same parallel of latitude a more unhealthy strip of country in the world. The Russians were expelled by the climate before. Gilan has proved a graveyard to most Europeans whose lot has cast them there. In the fifth trading expedition of the British Moscovy Company to North Persia in 1568-1574 A.D., five of the English factors died of illness and two were murdered in the space of five weeks. Sir Robert Sherley and Sir Dodmore Cotton succumbed in the manner already related in 1627. When Elton and Hanway revived the British trade with the Caspian in the eighteenth century, five out of the fifteen Europeans engaged in the traffic died at Kazvin between 1740 and 1744. In the latter year we hear of all the Europeans in Resht as very ill with agues, distemper, &c. The recent occupants of the British and Russian consulates at Resht tell a similar tale. It may, therefore, be accepted that for Europeans an occupation in force or a colonisation of either Gilan or Mazanderan would be an extremely risky experiment. Any such invaders would be compelled to seek the higher altitudes, and to leave the lower levels to the acclimatised indigenous population. Such a partition might be possible, in the event of the absolute quiescence of the latter; but it might also become in the highest degree perilous if the natives resisted a foreign usurpation, and profited by the extraordinary natural advantages for defence of their jungles, and defiles, and mountains.

It may be averred without fear of contradiction that a more difficult country either to carry or to hold in the face of armed opposition can nowhere be found. Fraser, who twice traversed it from end to end, summed up its strategic properties in the following language: —

Certainly I never saw, nor can I imagine, a stronger or more impracticable country in a military point of view than these provinces. Roads, i.e. made roads, there are none, except the great Causeway made of old by Shah Abbas, and this has now so nearly disappeared that it requires a guide to find it; and even when found it would be useless, for military purposes, from the numerous breaks and gaps in its course, and from the impenetrable jungle which surrounds it on all sides, and affords cover for all sorts of ambuscades and surprises.

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The surface where not cultivated consists of natural or artificial swamps, overgrown with forest trees and thorns, particularly bramble bushes of incredible luxuriance, and perfectly impervious. Indeed, these brambles are called by the inhabitants the 'Pehlewanhâ Mazunderanee, i.e. the heroes or guardians (lit. wrestlers) of Mazunderan, and well do they deserve the appellation.[361]

Monteith, who was a practical soldier, said, 'If only the Persians were united, nothing ought to be more desired by them than attack from the Caspian.' Indeed, in the present state of communications, it should be as easy for a comparatively small body of well led troops, with proper dispositions, to repel any incursion from the Caspian, as it would be to repel a storming party from the Great Pyramid. Disembarkation, to begin with, is difficult, cumbrous, and lengthy. An invader should find his work cut out for him ere ever he set foot on land. But, even supposing him to have landed, the swamps and jungles of the lower levels should whistle with bullets and pullulate with ambuscades;[362] whilst, if the lowlands were either surrendered or seized, there would remain the ambush of the forest, the covert of the deep ravines, the invulnerable vantage points of rocky pass and precipitous ledge. For an army whose advance was seriously and systematically contested, to cross the Elburz would be no mean achievement of warfare. Finally, supposing resistance to have been either abandoned or overcome, and the country to have been occupied by the enemy, his continued stay there should be made a daily and nightly persecution by a peasantry, or still more a native militia, familiar with the country and inured to guerilla warfare. All these perils are based upon the hypothesis of an unwelcome intruder, and a population or an army pledged to defend its homes. If neither of these conditions be realised in North Persia, and it may be rash to assume their possibility, there will remain no reason why Russia should not occupy Gilan and Mazanderan

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to-morrow. Ehrenbreitstein itself would be powerless if its garrison lounged unarmed on the ramparts and left open the gates.


TEHERAN TO GEZ — (viâ Raineh or Rehna, Baijan, Amol, Barfurush [Meshed-i Ser], Sari, Ashiaf). — Colonel W. K. Stuart (1836), Journal of a Residence, cap. xi. Captain Hon. G. Napier (1874), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xlvi. pp. 118-129. E. Stack (1881), Six Months in Persia, vol. ii. cap. vii. viii.

TEHERAN TO AMOL (viâ Firuzkuh, Shirgah, Sari, and Barfurush). — Sir W. Ouseley (1812), Travels, vol. iii. cap. xvii. Major D'Arcy Todd (1836), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. viii. pp.101-108. Colonel W. K. Stuart (1836), Journal of a Residence, cap. x. Capt. R. Wilbraham, Travels in 1837, caps. xxxviii-xlii.

TEHERAN TO ASTRABAD (viâ Firuzkuh, Shirgah, Sari, Ashraf, Gez). — (Sir) A. Burnes (1832), Travels into Bokhara, vol. vii. pp. 105-114. E. B. Eastwick (1862), Journal of a Diplomate, vol. ii. pp. 60-101. Colonel Val. Baker (1873), Clouds, in the East, pp. 70-77.

TEHERAN TO FIRUZKUH (viâ Ahar, Serek, Waliabad, Asolat, Arsinkiru, Oz, Baladeh, Khan Lar Khan, Ask, Arjumand). — Colonel B. Lovett (1881-82), Proceedings of the R.G.S. (new series), vol. v. pp. 58-75.

FIRUZKUH TO ASTRABAD (viâ Chashmeh Kabud, Salash, Fulad Mahalla, and Chardeh). — Colonel B. Lovett (1881-82), ibid.

RESHT TO AMOL (viâ Lahijan, Lengarud, Rud-i-Ser, Abbasabad). — W. R. Holmes (1843-4), Sketches, cap. vii. ix.

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