If the name Natanz rings any bells it’s as the subject of frequent news items in the Western media, most recently this week, because of its role as the location of Iran’s contentious nuclear facility. The installation sits deep in the stark Karkas Mountain range in Isfahan Province in central Iran and takes its name from a nearby township of around 45,000 people. Ironically, the municipality could not be more different from this barren, rocky landscape.
A charming, sleepy, leafy place, with the sound of channelled water running along plane-tree-and-cypress-lined streets creating a cooling retreat from the surrounding desert, Natanz township is a worthwhile stopover for the traveller heading from Isfahan to Kashan. As the informative irandokht.com website says: “The traveller, coming upon (Natanz) in mid-summer, might … believe he is approaching a paradise. For Natanz arises out of the dust haze as if from some vision, or from the depths of unconscious experience: a green plain stretched out like a vast Persian carpet before his incredulous eyes.”
Plane trees and cypress pines help Natanz keep its cool.
Greenery and channeled water grace the Sheik Abd al-Samad mosque.
Apart from being famous for its fruit, especially Natanz pears, a product of its chilly winter climate, it is known for the historic Sufi dervish mosque built as a shrine to Sheik Abd al-Samad by a disciple at the beginning of the 14th century. A cluster of religious buildings subsequently were spawned around the shrine. An outstanding feature is an ancient plane tree, 800-years-old and planted at the time the mosque was built, and now a vast shady umbrella with numerous large trunks. Its massive root structure is said to be completely entangled with the structure’s foundations. Nearby is a 1700-year-old Sassanian Period Zoroastrian fire temple, a reminder of the region’s diverse religious heritage and of the strong links ancient Persia had with monotheism.
The multi-trunked plane tree guards the mosque entrance.
A beneficiary of the tree’s shading limbs is one of the grandest architectural facades in the country, a myriad of glazed, tiled blues and turquoises. It is said that some of the geometric symbols are scientific symbols and another the basis of Mercedes Benz’ three-sided-star trade mark. The shrine’s sanctity has not protected it from the ravages of looters, including British adventurers. One of the most lavish mirhabs in Iran, and an exquisite carved entrance door, were spirited away and are now ensconced in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Subsequent religious zealots have also left their mark defacing decorative images of creatures such as exotic birds.
Nearby 1700-year-old Sassanian Period Zoroastrian fire temple.
Standing sentinal at the entrance to Natanz is a giant representation of a pottery urn, a nod to one of the town’s past glories. Whatever industry existed is now but a shadow of its former self, most of the artisans long gone, but there is said to be growing interest in the distinctive Natanz pottery in which powdered stone rather than clay is used.
The towering Karkas Mountains, rising almost 4000 metres and meaning mountain of vultures, are part of the Zagros range which begins in northwestern Iran and roughly correspond to the country’s western border. Perching atop a peak can be seen a tower structure, a Zoroastrian fire alter where the dead were laid to be consumed by vultures. The guiding principle of Zoroastrianism is: “good words, good thoughts, good deeds”. Let’s hope these words are front of mind for those nuclear proliferation talk negotiators.
Goatherds tend their flocks in the shadow of the Zagros Mountains nuclear facility.