ECBATANA (Old Persian :  HAGGMATANA literally “a place of gathering”. ) was an ancient city in Media in western Iran.  It is believed that Ecbatana is in TAPPE – ye HAGGMATANA ) near HAMADAN.

Excavations at KABOUTAR AHANG have revealed stone-age tools and pottery from 1400 – 1200 BC.  According to Herodotus, Ecbatana was chosen as the Medes’ capital in the late 8th century BC by Deioces.  Under the Persian Kings, Ecbatana, situated at the foot of Mount Alvand (11,716ft) , became a summer residence.  Later, it became the capital of the Parthian Kings, at which time it became their main mint producing drachm, tetra – drachm and assorted bronze denominations.  It is also mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Ezra 6: 1-3) under the name ACHMETHA.  In 330 BC, Ecbatana was the site of the murder of the Macedonian General PARMENION by order of Alexander the Great.


The city was surrounded by seven concentric walls.  Itself at an elevation of 6,158ft, the city dominates the wide, fertile plain of the upper QAREH SU River.  A little to the east of Ecbatana is the MUSALLA ( a natural mound ) the debris of which includes the remains of ancient Ecbatana.  The modern city is built partly on this mound.

Ecbatana rug

Modern development is modest.  In summer the pleasant climate makes Ecbatana a resort, but the winters are long and severe.  The EKBATAN DAM (formerly SHAHNAZ DAM ) provides water for the city.  Grain and fruit are grown in abundance, and Ecbatana is an important trade centre on the main Tehran – Baghdad highway.  In the Iranian rug trade, Ecbatana rugs rank second to KERMAN rugs.




ISFAHAN historically also rendered in English as ISPAHAN, SEPAHAN, ESFAHAN or HISPAHAN, is the capital of ISFAHAN Province in Iran, located about 340km south of Tehran.


The city is located in the lush plain of the  ZAYANDERUD River, at the foothills of the ZAGROS mountain range.  The nearest mountain is Mount SOFFEH (KUH-e SOFFEH).  No geological obstacles exist within 90km north if Isfahan, allowing cool northern winds to blow from this direction.  Situated at 5,217ft above sea level, Isfahan has an arid climate.  Despite its altitude, Isfahan remains hot during the summer.  However, with low humidity and moderate temperatures at night, the climate can be very pleasant.  During the winter, days are mild while nights can be very cold.  Snow has occurred at least once every winter except 1986 / 1987 and 1989 / 1990.

Isfahan architecture

Isfahan is Iran’s 3rd largest city after Tehran and Mashhad.  It was once the one of the largest cities in the world.  It flourished from 1050 to 1722, particularly in the 16th century under the SATAVID DYNASTY, when it became the capital of Persia for the second time in its history.  Even today, the city retains much of its past glory.  It is famous for its Persian – Islamic architecture, with many beautiful boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosques and minarets.  This led to the Persian Proverb : ESFAHAN NESF-E JAHAN AST (Esfahan is half of the world).


The NAQSH-e JAHAN SQUARE in Isfahan, is also known as IMAM SQUARE (1602) is an outstanding example of Iranian and Islamic architecture.  The Square contains 2 mosques, a palace and a bazaar.  The square is the largest historical public square in the world after Tiananmen Square in Beijing and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Square is surrounded by buildings from the SAFAVID ERA.


The history of Isfahan can be traced back to the Palaeolithic Period.  In recent discoveries, archaeologists have found artefacts dating back to the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages.  Today, Isfahan produces fine carpets, textiles, steel and handicrafts.  Isfahan also has nuclear experimental reactors as well as facilities for producing nuclear fuel (UCF).  Isfahan has one of the largest steel-producing facilities in the entire region, as well as facilities for producing special alloys.

Isfahan mosque

Over 2,00 companies work in the area using Isfahan’s economic, cultural and social potentials.  Isfahan contains a major oil refinery and a large air force  base.  Isfahan is also becoming an attraction for international investments, like investment in Isfahan City Centre, which is the largest shopping mall in Iran with a museum and has the largest indoor amusement park in the Middle East.

There are many places of interest in  Isfahan.
(1) CHEHEL SOTOUN ( The Palace of 40 columns) —- It was built in 1647.  It is called The Palace of 40 columns, as there are many columns, and in Iranian, 40 means “many”.  There are 20 columns and these are reflected in the pool in front, which might also account for its name.  The function of this Palace was for holding religious-national ceremonies and royal festivals and for receiving royal ambassadors and guests.  Its PERSIAN GARDENS is one of the 9 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  It contains some spectacular battle murals.


(2) SI-O-SEH POL (The Bridge of 33 Arches):  Built in 1602, it is highly ranked as being one of the most famous examples of SAFAVID Bridge Design.  It is beautiful whether there is water underneath it or not, and there is a basic eatery at the northern end.

(3) POL-e KHAJU (KHAJU BRIDGE) : It was built in 1650, and is the finest bridge in the Province of Isfahan.  This structure originally was ornamented with artistic tile works and paintings and served as a teahouse.
(4) VANK ARMENIAN CATHEDRAL : (Holy Saviour Cathedral) : The interior of this 7th century Armenian Cathedral is covered with fine paintings and gilded carvings and includes a wainscot of rich tile work.  The delicately blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Bible Story of the Creation of the world and man’s expulsion from Eden.


(5) HASHT BEHESHT (The Palace of 8 Paradises) : Built in 1669, reportedly for residence purposes of the king’s Harem, it is set with lush gardens, and if you do not want to go inside, you are free to roam in the gardens.


(6) ATASHGAH : A Zoroastrian Fire temple, dramatically set atop a rock on the outskirts of Isfahan and it provides a commanding view of the city (although much of it is covered in smog).

All Fool’s Day

What the traditions say :  Buckle up tight and keep your wits about you.  The silliest day of the year comes tomorrow.  Clever brains are storming with the newest of hoaxes and stunts that can either make you burst into bouts of laughter or cry like a little babe.  The online circuit is dripping with crackpot ideas —– from the epic jokes to the up-to-the-date tricks —– and the smart ones are poised to catch out the fools on April 1, however safe one tries to play.  While some of us may be left popeyed at the crack of dawn, the amusing pranks are sure to make us playful and jubilant when we call it a day.  Let’s hop on a quick tour of the world to find out how the ALL FOOLS’ DAY is celebrated in different cultures …
allfoollogo**  ENGLAND :  Going by traditions, in England people are allowed to pull a prank on someone only during the morning hours of All Fools’ Day, and the victim is quirkily called “noodle”.  In Cheshire County, an April Fool is an “April Gawby” or a ‘gobby’ or ‘gob’.  In Devon, however, tricks are allowed in the afternoon too.  In the Lake District, a victim is called an “April Noddy”.
** SCOTLAND :  The Scots are so much into hilarity that the fools’ day celebrations go o for two days ——– the first is called “Hunt the Gawk day”, in which a person takes part in a mission to send someone on a fool’s errand ; the second one is known as “Taily Day”, which largely involves posterior jokes.
** PORTUGAL :  This country celebrates the fools’ day on the Sunday and Monday before Lent.  Their signature prank involves throwing flour on someone.
** FRANCE :  In this country, April 1 is called “Poisson d’Avri”l (meaning April Fish).  In a bid to pull a prank on others, school children stick a picture of a fish (poisson) on the back of a classmate, who is absolutely oblivious of it, and then wait for the trick to be discovered.
** IRAN :  According to Iranian traditions, it is customary to spend the afternoon outside with family and friends on April 1, which is also the 13th day of the Persian New Year.  They celebrate the onset of spring by indulging in food, laughter, games and good-natured jokes.
April 1 is often referred to as a light-hearted springtime holiday.  The origin of the day being celebrated as fools’ day, however, is shrouded in ambiguity.  According to many, when the Gregorian calendar was adopted in the late part of 1500, the New Year was changed from April 1 to January 1, however, a bunch of people continued to follow the old tradition, and thus were labelled ‘fools’.  But, of course, the celebration of both these days are quite different from each other.

Unknown architectural wonders

We've all heard of the Coliseum, the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal.  But what about the world's undiscovered architectural wonders ?  The man-made wonders where most crowds don't stray ? 


One of the most overlooked landmarks in India, Rajasthan’s CHAND BAORI is a spectacular square step-well, 13 storeys deep, with walls lined with scores of ‘double staircases’ that descend some 30m to the bottom of the well, where a pool of ’emerald green water’ awaits.  The mesmerizing maze of ‘symmetrical steps’ “appears to form a never ending path deep underground.”  With its 3,500 steps, Chand Baori is one of the deepest and largest of its kind in the world.  Built by King Chanda of the Nikumbha Dynasty between 800 and 900 AD, Chand Baori was designed to be as practical as it was pretty.  Due to the structure of the well, the bottom of it remains cooler than the surface, critical in the hot, arid landscape of Rajasthan.


Built in 1907, the Great Mosque of Djenne is the largest ‘mud-structure’ in the world, constructed almost entirely of sun-baked earthern bricks, sand and a mud-based mortar and plaster.  It is considered one of the greatest achievement of the Sudano-Sahalian architectural style and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.  The Mosque’s 3 minarets are decorated with bundles of RODIER PALM, which double as scaffolding for the annual repairs —- a tradition that’s become a local festival in April and May.  “The brutal North African summers bring out cracks in the mud and weaken it over time.  Before the yearly rains that follow, the locals get together and re-coat the entire building with clay from a dried-up pond.”


A fortress of monumental proportions, Derawar’s 40 stunning bastions rise from the desert in a striking square formation.  Combined, the fortress’ walls form a circumference of some 1,500m and stand some 30m high.  “This is a magnificent structure in the middle of the CHOLISTAN DESERT.  Many people don’t know about the Derawar Fort.  Even most Pakistanis don’t know of it.”  And for good reason, to get to the fortress, visitors must hire a guide with a 4-wheel drive vehicle to make the day- long trip from the city of Bahhwalpur, Pakistan through the Cholistan Desert to the fort, where special permission from the Amir or local leader is needed to go inside.


The world’s largest, most expensive and heaviest civilian administrative building, Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament, is truly an unknown wonder.  Built by hated Communist Dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, the building is so huge that its difficult to take a photograph that does its scale justice.  Built in 1984, the neo-classic building has 12 storeys (with 8 additional storeys underground), and some 3,100 rooms covering 330,000 sq.m.  The project cost the people of Bucharest much of their city.  To build the Palace of the Parliament, one-fifth of Central Bucharest was razed, including most of its historical districts, more than 30 Churches and Synagogues and some 3,000 homes.  The patterned carpets on the main level, which run through 100’s of yards of wide corridors, were woven inside the building during construction.  Weaving them outside and bringing them in was not feasible due to their sheer size.


We have all heard of the Great Wall of China, but few know that India also has its own Great Wall, which has long been overshadowed by its neighbour to the East.  The Great Wall of India, also referred to as KUMBHALGARH, is the 2nd longest Wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China.  Located in Rajasthan, the Wall is 4.5m thick, in some areas, extends for 36km and has 7 fortified gates.  Rana Kumbha, a local ruler, commissioned the Wall in 1443 to protect his fort situated on a hill above.  Legend has it that despite several attempts, the Wall could not be completed.  Finally, the King consulted one of his spiritual advisors and was advised that a sacrifice be made and a volunteer offered his life so that others will be protected.  Today, the main gate stands where his body fell, and a temple stands where his severed head came to rest.  The Wall was enlarged in the 19th Century and now protects more than 360 temples within its walls, but it remains an unknown treasure to most of the world.

STARI MOST, Bosnia-Herzegovina

STARI MOST, Bosnia-Herzegovina
If every great architectural landmark has a story, Bosnia’s Stari Most has a comeback story.  The Old Bridge or Stari Most, as it is called by locals, was built of 456 blocks of local stone in 1566 by the Ottoman Turkish architect Mimar Hajrudin.  The ‘hump-backed’ Bridge is located in the city of Mostar, where it crosses the Neretva River.  At 4m wide, 30m long and 24m high, it is one of the country’s most recognizable landmarks and is one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.  Built in the 1990s, the Bridge was destroyed by Bosnian Serb and Croat forces during the Bosnian War.  After the war, the city — and the Bridge — began rebuilding.  It took almost 10 years to make that idea come to life and in July of 2004    , a new ‘old bridge’ was open again.  While the Bridge has changed since its construction, one long-time tradition remains : locals still dive off the bridge into the icy waters of the Neretva to show off their bravery and skill. 


Lotfollah mosque inner entrance
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is a architectural masterpiece and a study in harmonious understatement.  Located in Naghsh-i Jahan Square, in the city of Isfahan, the stunningly elegant Mosque was built between 1603-1619 during the reign of Shah Abbas.  It was named after the ruler’s father-in-law, Sheikh Lotfollah, a revered Lebanese scholar of Islam.  The Mosque is unusual, in that it features ‘no minarets’ or ‘courtyard.’  This was probably because the Mosque was never intended for public use, but rather served as the worship place for the women of the Shah’s harem.  As such, the prayer hall is reached through a long twisting, underground hallway, and the decoration, on the Mosque, is extraordinarily exquisite.  The Dome makes extensive use of delicate tiles that change colour throughout the day–from CREAM to PINK.  Inside the Sanctuary, one can marvel at the complexity of the mosaics that adorn the walls and the beautiful ceiling with its striking yellow motifs.  The shafts of sunlight that filter through the few high, latticed windows, produce a constantly changing interplay of light and shadow.
———- Husna Haq.

The transforming house

SHARIFI-ha or Sharif’s home.  The 7-floor SHARIFI-ha, in Tehran, is the award-nominated creation of locally-based designers NEXT ONE.  The house is located in Tehran’s leafy Darrous district ——– considered one of the most affluent and fashionable.
The design is nominated for a World Architecture Festival Award, that takes place this October (2014) in Singapore.  The design of the house aims the most of its narrow frontage.  Each of the wooden-looking “blocks” —– the top office room rotates on a base usually used for theatrical stage sets.  Below, the “block” contains a guest bedroom, which can be opened up to the sun, in summer or closed to keep warm, in winter.  On the floor blow there is a breakfast room which can also be turned .
When “open”, each “block” reveals a terrace, providing extra space, in the summer.  When open the house is flooded with light through the front façade.  When the boxes are closed, the building captures sunlight throughout the central space, which also connects the 2 halves of the house by suspended bridges.  The ground floor holds a shallow aquatic pool, which provides the ceiling for the lower levels, allowing dappled light to enter.  Below the rotating rooms, the “wellness areas” provide a place for the inhabitants to relax. The house is also home to all the luxury features, including a gym.
SHARIFI-ha has 3 rooms that can open in summer and close in winter.  The design is inspired by traditional Iranian houses, that have different living rooms for the two seasons.  The temperatures in Iran can rise above 40degrees or plummet well below freezing point.. 

Underrated cities

10 of the most UNDERRATED CITIES :
(1) QUEENS, NEW YORK :—It might lack the glamour of Manhattan, but it is still one of the most diverse places on the globe.  ‘QUEENS’ is definitely overlooked.
(2) BERGEN, NORWAY : ——-Surrounded by mountains, and the gateway to the Norwegian fjords, this pretty city, on Norway’s west coast, is the ideal destination for cruise fans and nature lovers.
(3) SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO : —– From chic new hotels to night spots, boutiques, dance venues (salsa rules here) and art galleries, urban sophisticates will find much to whet their appetites in San Juan.
(4) DARWIN AUSTRALIA : —-It is often overlooked, in favour of Sydney.  The city’s MINDIL BEACH, has some great open-air markets, superb food-stalls and live music, and the city hosted the 2013 BRIDGESTONE WORLD SOLAR CHALLENGE, with teams competing in a 3000km solar-powered vehicle race between Darwin and Adelaide.
(5) ISFAHAN, IRAN : —-It is one of Iran’s great treasures, breathtakingly elegant, located at the foot of the ZAGROS MOUNTAINS.  Romantics should try to walk along ZAYANDEH RIVER to the beautiful KHAJU BRIDGE.
(6) LISBON, PORTUGAL : —-It is full of character and flanked by beautiful, un-crowded beaches, making it a good alternative to the touristy ALGARVE.
(7) GLASGOW, SCOTLAND : —-It has the best music scene in Britain, after London, great activities for families, including the SCIENCE CENTRE, and the collections of curios at the ZAHA HADID designed RIVERSIDE MUSEUM and also has some of UK’s best shopping.
(8) HOI AN, VIETNAM : —-It’s not, technically, a city, but this seaside heritage spot, on Vietnam’s central coast, is such an enchanting contrast to hectic Hanoi, that it is worth a mention.  The best part is its historic architecture and fantastic street-eats.
(9) CALGARY, CANADA : —-Gateway to the Rockies, yet it is often viewed as little more than an airport-pickup point.  But it is special with a cowboy heritage, all its own, one of North America’s best-loved and biggest rodeos (THE CALGARY STAMPEDE), and Canada’s largest museum, THE GLENBOW.
(10) DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA : —-With year-round sunshine, a vibrant cosmopolitan vibe and the beautiful —- and beautifully named —-HARE KRISHNA TEMPLE of UNDERSTANDING, what’s not to love ?