The Province and City Of Kirman

It was an obscure province under Achaimenian and Sassanian. Because of its remoteness and inaccessibility many adherents of the old religion of Zoroaster, who had refused to embrace Islam, took refuge there. It became a centre of resistance. The Arabs did not conquer it until a century after the decisive battle of Nehavand (A.D.641). There exists a considerable community of Zoroastrians.

In the eleventh century the province came under the sovereignty of the Seljuk sultans of Ghazni. It was preserved from the horrors of the Mongol invasions by its remoteness, and the diplomatic skill of one of its ruling prince lings. In the thirteenth century a notable figure among the heterogeneous rulers of the province was a lady, Turkhan Khatum, who possessed unusual and decided views on femininity. It was during her beneficent regime that Marco Polo visited the city, of which he gives lively description. The Lady was buried under the turquoise dome of the Gombad-I-Sabz, which was unhappily destroyed by an earthquake in 1896.

Under the Sefavi kings the province enjoyed a long period of tranquillity. Nor does it appear to have suffered unduly when the Afghans marched through it on their way to Isfahan in 1720 and 1722. The most terrible event in its long history occurred in more recent times, after the death of the benevolent Karim Khan Zand, whose seat of government was Shiraz. There was a struggle for power between his heirs and Agha Mohammad Qajar, who later became the first Qajar monarch. Agha Mohammad finally besieged the gallant Lutfali Khan, the last Zand prince, in Kerman city. After a bitter siege the city was finally captured in 1794. Its inhabitants were treated with almost inconceivable cruelty. Not only were its women handed over to the soldiery, who were encouraged to rape and to murder, but also the Qajar victor ordered that 20000 pairs of eyes should be presented to him. These he carefully counted.

Under the phlegmatic rule of the successors of Agha Mohammad Shah, the city slowly recovered from this disaster. Its surroundings lack an essential element of all prosperity, water; and it is too remote from the more affluent provinces of Persian to share their fortunes, such as they are.

The province of Kerman is about the size of England and Wales, or the state of Illinois. It is bounded on the north and east by the Great Desert, on the west by the province of Fars, and on the south by the Persian Gulf. The greater part of it is uncultivable, hard or sandy desert or barren upland. The rest, because of the lack of rivers and the inadequate and unbalanced rainfall, is fruitful only in those few and scattered areas where the soil is irrigated by meagre streams or ancient water channels.

Nevertheless, the province produces a variety of food and other commodities of quality. The most important are wheat, barley, rice, cotton, wool, asafoetida, and pistachio nuts.

In medieval times the province had two capitals, Sirjan and Bardashir, and of the two Sirjan was the more important. In the tenth century, however, the seat of government was concentrated in Bardashir. By reason of a lighthearted usage common in Persian of calling a province and its capital by the same name, Bardashir became known as Kerman. The twin capital, Sirjan, has disappeared; but it has given its name to an important district in the western part of the province.

Kerman is the last of that important line of towns and cities which fringes the western limits of the Great Desert along the ancient highway to India. The line Tehran, Qum, Kashan, Ardistan, Yazd and Kerman. It owes its location, no doubt to the fact that it lies at the intersection of the Indian highway with one of the principal caravan routes across the Lut, for the town possesses no strategic strength, or is the district which surrounds it of any agricultural importance.

Its elevation of 6000 feet above sea-level, next tot Hamedan the highest among the larger provincial towns, has endowed it with a pleasant and, on the whole, healthy climate. The summers are hot, but not intolerable, and the winters are far milder than those of the cities of the northwest. Snow is uncommon. Although the county around is arid and inhospitable, there are some attractive valleys in the Jupar mountains south and southeast of the city.

Except for a small minority of Afghan and Indian traders and a few Jews, the inhabitants are of the Persian race. There are no foreign consulates. The Government of India maintained a consulate there for many years, but it was closed in 1947. The Church Missionary Society to which the city and district owe an incalculable debt is now precluded from carrying on its former educational and religious work. But it continues its invaluable medical service and maintains an excellent hospital.

 Ancient Buildings

Kerman is said to contain ninety mosques (1940s). Two possess considerable architectural merit. The larger and more ancient foundation is Masjid-I-Malek, built by the Seljuk Malek Turan Shah in the eleventh century. It was a ruin in the sixteenth century and has been practically rebuilt since that date. The second is Masjid-I-Jumah, which dates from the fourteenth century, though a good deal of the tile work is much later.

Another notable building is the Madrassah or religious college of Ibrahim Khan, Zahir-u-Doleh, a distinguished governor of the province in the early nineteenth century.

The most memorable monument in the area is the mausoleum of Shah Nimatullah, a saint and sage of the fifteenth century. It is situated in the village of Mahan some 25 miles southeast of Kerman, on the Bam road. The tomb chamber is under a beautifully tiled dome, flanked by twin graceful minarets. There are three courtyards, each adorned, in the Persian manner with brimming pools.

Kerman possesses a handsome covered bazaar, of which the longest alley runs in a straight line for 600 yards. A number of imposing caravanserais lead off from it; their large, square, arcaded courtyards open to the sky.

There is not much left of the great mud wall and its six gates. Only the imposing Gate of the Unbelievers (so called because it guards the section of the town where the Zoroastrians live) still stands. The Castle of Ardeshir and the Castle of the Maiden, which formed part of the defences, are nothing but huge mounds of earth.

 The Rise and Development of The Carpet Industry In Kerman

Kerman possesses a name renowned through out the world, for some of the best carpets in the world are conceived and woven by its people.

Even though Kerman possesses a long weaving tradition there are no indications that it existed before the sixteenth century. Marco Polo visited Kerman in the thirteenth century and said that the activities in the city included embroidery but did not mention carpet weaving. Le Strange, who so carefully perused the works of the twenty-four Moslem geographers, did not find any reference in their writings to carpets weaving in Kerman. It appears that the craft did not establish itself in Kerman until the Sefavi times. We know that it was in existence then, because in the chronicle of Shah Abbas, the Alamara-I-Abbasi, which was composed by the Monarch’s secretary, the carpets of Kerman are mentioned. Also Chardin who was in Persia in 1666 and again in 1672 mentions the carpets of Kerman. We know too that carpets were shipped from Kerman to India in the time of Akbar the Great, who was a contemporary of Shah Abbas.

The end of the Sefavi dynasty was followed, as we have seen, by a hundred years of turmoil; and that period by the peaceful reign of Karim Khan Zand. I am not aware of any references to carpet weaving in Kerman during that century and a half. We have already noted that Sir John Malcolm, who visited the neighbouring province of Shiraz early in the nineteenth century and who devoted a chapter of his History to a survey of the commerce, the industry, and the arts of Persian during the reign of Karim Khan, did not even mention carpet weaving.

It does not follow, however that the industry in Kerman had ceased to exist; For the Kerman carpet has always been a favourite among the wealthier classes in Persia. It may well be, therefore, that a small demand persisted through the troublous times, which may have kept the industry alive.

Weaving seems to have been going on also in the remote village of Ravar, 100 miles northeast of Kerman, on the edge of the Lut desert. Ravar was a place of some importance in ancient times. Mukaddasi states that in the tenth century it had a strong castle, which served to protect the frontier. Marco Polo passed through it in the thirteenth century. It lies on the ancient caravan road across the Great Desert to Meshed. When this desert road is opened up to regular motor traffic Ravar may regain its former importance.

Ravar carpets are the oldest in existence, which can be, ascribed without hesitation, to the Kerman area. In the Shrine Collection there are three, which were almost certainly woven in Ravar. They are dated A.H.1286 (A.D. 1866). There are no doubt still older pieces in existence. It is interesting that such a remote inaccessible village should have become a weaving centre in preference to a dozen others, equally populous, better-favoured and less remote.

The industry in Kerman, although probably maintained at a high level of excellence during the nineteenth century, was on a small scale, and did not attain to nay importance until its end. Thus in 1871, Colonel Euan-Smith reported that there were only six carpet factories in the city. Actually, there were no factories at all in Kerman at that time. The largest establishment contained only a few looms, so that the total number of looms in the city could not have been more than thirty. Again, E.G. Browne. Who spent several months in Kerman in 1888, says nothing about its carpets; though he gives some details of the shawl manufacture and notes that it appeared to be declining. Curzon, writing in the early nineties, devoted half a page to the manufacture of Kerman shawls, but hardly mentioned carpet weaving. The shawls of Kerman, as well as the kindred products of Kashmir, had been in considerable demand by the ladies of the mid-Victorian era. But Curzon appears to have been unaware that the industry of which he spoke so feelingly was doomed to disappear; while the craft of carpet weaving, which he dismissed in a few sentences, was soon to bring the city honourable and world-wide renown.

Sir P M Sykes who established the first British Consulate in Kerman in 1895, and who spent a number of years there, wrote (at the turn of the century) that there were about 1000 looms in Kerman itself; 100 in Ravar; and in the villages of the area only 30. He dilated on the excellence of the weaving and added that if the carpets of Kerman were widely known they would become the fashion, especially for drawing rooms and dainty boudoirs. Fifty years ago (1890-1900) the Kerman carpet was, indeed, little known abroad.

Sykes protested against the introduction of European designs in Kerman by H H the Ferman Ferma, who had been governor there. He may have been referring to a fine rug, which that prince had ordered to be woven for himself by one of the most prominent master-weavers of the time. The design is taken from the picture “Fete Champetre” by Watteau, of which His Highness probably possessed an engraving. The rug bears inscriptions, which record that it was woven to the order of Ferman Ferma by Ali Honari, one of whose descendants is today (1940s) a prominent master-weaver of Kerman. Sir Charles Marling presented it to the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Sykes also stated that the usual quality woven in Kerman at that time counted 640 knots per zar of 39 inches, which is equivalent to 16 x 16 knots to the inch; and that the price was £1 per zar, or about 2s. a square foot.

The decline in the demand for Kerman shawls happily coincided with the sudden expansion of the carpet industry. The same deft fingers, which had formerly woven and embroidered her shawls, were quickly taught to master the art of weaving carpets. This, no doubt, accounts for the speed with which the carpet industry expanded; for the labour was there and was already half trained.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century when the Persian carpet industry was expanding rapidly, thanks to the enterprising Tabrizis, carpets were bought off the loom and sent to Tabriz for shipment on to Istanbul. This system did not long endure. As more buyers from Tabriz arrived in Kerman and they soon numbered over a dozen, there were not enough carpets to go round. Furthermore, the Tabrizis always restless, always inventive, sought to introduce new designs and new variations of colour in their carpets; and to do this they were compelled to place orders with the existing weavers, or to set up looms or factories of their own. Thus, at about the turn of the century the industry in Kerman entered upon a long period of steady and almost uninterrupted expansion.

It was about this time that the first foreign firms established offices in Kerman. The first to come was the Eastern Rug and Trading Company of New York (which was afterwards absorbed by the Fritz and La Rue Company of the same city). The late Mr Otto Brandly went to Kerman for them in 1909, and was thus the first foreign carpet man to take up his residence there.

Some years before that, Nearco Castelli, who belonged to respected and well to do Italian family of merchant bankers of Istanbul had begun to interest himself in the Persian carpet trade. The banking house was already in business relation with the Persian merchants of Istanbul and Tabriz, and Nearco’s brother, John Castelli, was already established in Tabriz, and had been the first agent there of the Imperial Bank of Persia. So that Persia, to the Castellis, was not a remote, mysterious, or seemingly impenetrable country.

Nearco Castelli, trading as Nearco Castelli & Brothers, began operations in Tabriz and New York at the end of the nineteenth century. Some years later the firm appointed a Tabriz merchant, one Mirza Ali Akbar, as its representative in Kerman. He was transferred to Kashan in 1909 and was succeeded by George Stevens, who arrived in Kerman about a fortnight after Otto Brandly. It is fitting that the names of these two men, Brandly and Stevens, who were pioneers in the carpet industry of Kerman, should be recorded here.

During the decade, which followed, the leading importing firms of Britain and America established offices in Kerman; and the industry continued to expand, with increasing momentum. Whereas in 1900 Sykes had reported that there were 1000 looms in the city and 130 in the surrounding villages, by 1914 the number had tripled. The increase was mainly in the villages, particularly those within a radius of 25 miles of the city.

World War I inevitably produced a setback in the industry. Kerman was for a short time in the hands of German agents; but the position was restored by brigade of Indian troops and local levies under the command of Brigadier-General Sykes.

As soon as the war was over the demand for Kerman carpets from America became greater than ever. The firms, which had been formerly represented in Keramn quickly, resumed their activities; and a number of other concerns established agencies as well. Under this fresh impetus, production continued to expand. The number of looms in the town increased and carpet weaving was introduced into many more of the surrounding villages. Between 1922 and 1929 the Kerman weaving industry reached its peak, both in output and in excellence. About 5000 looms were in operation. By that time the Tabrizis had almost faded out of the picture. The trade had passed into the hands of foreign firms.

The American depression of the early thirties was for Kerman a calamity of the first order. The town possessed one and only one manor activity, carpet weaving, and 90% of its production were being shipped to the United States. When it became evident in America that the crisis was not a mere passing phenomenon, orders for Kerman were cancelled, one by one. And one by one the American firms gathered in their carpets, closed their dye-houses, their designing rooms, their go downs and their offices, and withdrew.

The effect on the carpet industry of Persian of this wholesale withdrawal, for it took place from Sultanabad, Hamedan and other centres as well, was momentous and far-reaching. When at long last, America issued from depression, the firms, which had survived, found themselves faced with a Persian very different from that which they had previously known. Nationalism, under the dynamic impetus of Shah Reza Pahlavi, was dominating men’s minds. Foreign firms no longer enjoyed their former prestige; and the privileges, to which they had presumed that they were entitled, had ceased to exist. Under such conditions, advancing money to penniless weavers as they decided, unthinkable. Most of the firms resolved that they would not return to Persia. The most important of them all, which had maintained its installations throughout the crisis, sold out to a newly formed company, organised and capitalised by the state.

Meantime, the Persian merchants and master-weavers had not been idle. There was no lack of capital in Persia; for the feverish activities of the reigning monarch, in every department of the State and in every part of the county, were beginning to produce boom conditions. The abandoned looms and installations were taken over by local interests; so that when the orders began once more to trickle in form abroad, the carpets were made by Persians and not by Western firms, as before; and were purchased from them by agents appointed for the purpose.

World War II did not prove to be so calamitous for Kerman as the American depression. Orders from the United States were not curtailed until Pearl Harbour, and by that time a new and striking local demand had arisen in Tehran, which kept the industry going until foreign demand was once more restored.

Boom conditions had continued in Persian throughout the thirties with increasing momentum, particularly in the capital. Shah Reza far exceeded his illustrious predecessor, Shah Abbas, in the number and extent of the avenues and squares, which he caused to be laid out and in the importance and variety of the public buildings, which he caused to be erected. He determined that Tehran should not only be the administrative capital of his realm, but also its financial, commercial, industrial and cultural centre. In this he succeeded in a manner, which must have gone beyond, his expectations. Tehran became a magnet, which attracted to itself a greater part of the intelligence, the wealth, and the ambition as well as the knavery of the country. It grew in extent, in lustre, in activity and in population.

The problem of housing his influx of people, largely of the middle class, was further complicated by the entry of the Allied forces into Persia, which resulted in a second building boom. Soon the new, broad, asphalted avenues were lined with flats and private houses. A vast acreage of floor space was created, which clamoured for the best carpets, which Persian could produce. The demand was mostly for plain red grounds with medallions, for the Persians delight in bright cochineal red, unfaded and untamed. This unexpected local activity averted a serious crisis in the Kerman carpet industry.

After the armistice, and as soon as transport became available, shipment to America were resumed. But they were on a smaller scale than before the war, for the style of furnishing had changed. Plain carpets, the very antithesis of the floral motives, the complicated sinuosity, and the whorls and tendrils of Kerman, were in vogue. What demand remained for Kerman carpets were concentrated on patterns of French inspiration. Many hundreds of them, all very much alike, were shipped to the United States. During 1947 and 1948 the demand for carpets in the French style gained momentum. By the end of 1948 Kerman was weaving designs, which were borrowed directly, form Aubusson and Savonnerie.