Kashan- town of Mansions

We both love small towns. I find them to be very inclusive, people living there know each other, and they are excited to see new people most of the time. Kashan is one such town that takes you away with its old-world charm with all modern necessities along with its rich heritage. Here is your complete guide to visiting Kashan – Mansions, baths & gardens.

INDEX

How to reach Kashan

Kashan is like the midway point for those who travel between Tehran and Isfahan. The best way to get to Kashan from either city is by public bus or a shared taxi if you have no plans of stopping by at the nearby towns like Abyaneh or Qom. Take public buses in Summers, and not in winter.

Private taxis work best to see more places en route to Kashan, especially in winter.

The Kashan railway station is located in the outskirt (Kashan as a town itself is small, so 10km away train station seems to be a lot of distance in this tiny town). Plus, the train frequency isn’t that often.

Our initial plan was to travel by public VIP bus to Kashan from Tehran. The moment we stepped out of the hostel at 4.30, we froze in the cold & weren’t able to move afoot. After going back to the hostel, Mr Khooyar managed to arrange a cab in the next 15 minutes! If you plan to go by private taxi, DO NOT MAKE THIS LAST MINUTE BOOKING, ESPECIALLY DURING TOURIST SEASON. Even Khooyar was surprised that he could arrange a taxi for us in such a hurry. That last-minute “ill-maintained, always wobbling and making weird noise” car took us to Kashan on the straight, clean highway roads with rocky mountains in the beginning – Greenfields later. At last – the beautiful tiny town with Snow-capped mountains background – The road trip from Tehran to Kashan is super scenic.

Why visit Kashan-

The Historic mansions & bathhouses marvel in their architectural details; the cosy and friendly local cafes serve great food. The Bazar can either make you go bankrupt or allure you with its Muqarans of its domed roof. Unlike Tehran, the clean and calm (free of bikes) streets are great for evening strolls.
Talking about natural wonders, this mansion town is crazy in its Geography. 50km North of Kashan is the Maranjab Desert. 80km South is Abyaneh village with snow-capped mountains! Hence, the rose farms, desert, snow mountains, the architecture of the mansions and friendly people (Typical Persians trait) – What more do you need as a traveller?

Best season & How many days to spend in Kashan?

Late February to April are the best months to visit, but you can expect many domestic tourists. January was a “free of tourists” month with sunny mornings, freezing evenings and early sunset. In May -June, Kashan’s legendary rosewater festival takes place. Iran is the top producer of Rosewater & one of the best fragrance producers in the world. So it would be a delight to see workers pluck Mohammadian rose in large rose fields at Kashan & nearby sleepy town Qamsar. Summers are scorching in Kashan, like most parts of Iran.

AGHA BOZORG MOSQUE – A JANUARY SUNSET

How many days to spend –
Don’t make a day trip or “on the way seeing Kashan” trip. The beauty of the town lies in walking in the old alleys filled with rose fragrance. So keep 1 to 1.5 days to see the historic buildings, bazar, garden and rose factory. The next day, visit the local garden, head to Abyaneh and then Isfahan. If you stay for two nights & 3 days, you can make day trips to Karkas mountains.

Where to stay in Kashan

Adding a pinch of luxury to our budget travel is our thing to do. Iran is one of the most affordable countries for travellers. Kashan being the home for historic mansions, we couldn’t have asked for a better, uniquely luxurious stay at Saraye Ameriha Boutique Hotel. 

PS – We loved this place so much that, when you read our experience, you may feel we were paid for writing this. But This isn’t a paid post, 100% our own experience.

Why choose Saraye Ameriha?

It is authentic and unique. You won’t find any branches of this hotel anywhere else in the world. It is close to all famous historic houses, bathhouse, Agha Bozorq mosque and bazar. You can experience authentic Persian royal hospitality genuinely here. The mansion has got 85 rooms, seven courtyards dating back to 300 years ago. The restoration work has been going on for 15 years. You will not at all know about the ongoing restoration process unless the hotel manager tells you. It is surreal and calm.

The multiple courtyards with ponds, low height seating under the Muqarnas are the best part of the mansion-hotel to sit and unwind. If you look up, you will be mesmerised by stalactites kind of decoration. The pool surrounded by flowers reflects the beige Persian building in all its glory when you look straight.  The room decor with Turquoise fabrics, window panes with stained glasses, stucco works on the wall makes you feel you belong to a Persian royal family. The elaborate & tasty breakfast with around 6 types of jams, fruits, Persian bread, cheese, halwa – Gives a great kick start to your splendid day. Mirror hall restaurant is expensive (like in any other Boutique hotel), but the interiors are stunning with mirror work all over and 300-year-old wallpapers on the wall. The friendly staff always ready to help you and talk to you makes the place even more special.

Their carpet and pottery shops are overpriced! So beware of it before buying.

Best restaurants in Kashan

Mozaffari traditional restaurant

After feasting on breakfast at Saraye Ameriha, there was no way we could get hungry. But their Nabaat chai digests the food quickly, I guess. While conversing with the property caretaker at Borujerdi house, he suggested Mozaffari traditional restaurant – The local’s favourite. Most tourists go to either Abbasi restaurant or Mirror hall in Saraye Ameriha because of their decor, but he said the food is best in Mozaffari. That is what we wanted, cheap and the best place where locals go. 

Rice with saffron topping + Herbal Chai+Lemon Sherbat+ Kookoo Sabzi ( dill leaves with other veggies deep-fried cutlet with salad and sweet potato fries) + Persian bread = cost us less than 8Euro.

He was absolutely right – the restaurant was full of locals. A pond in the middle with an open skylight above, indoor plants, traditional Persian seating along with the regular tables, low prices and plenty of options for Vegetarians. Service, cleanliness, communication and whatever you want me to rate for, I will give 5 out of 5. This is perhaps the best place to meet locals. The only bad part about this hotel is, it is so cosy and lively that it can make you lazy. You may end up spending 2 hrs for lunch like us.

Dopaza Coffee

A small cafe that can accommodate not more than twenty customers with modern decor serves good coffee. The ambience and good English music they plaid made us feel as if we were in Amsterdam or Prague and not in Iran.
Why have coffee when Chai is life in Iran, you may be thinking – As a south Indian, hailing from Chikmagalur (the place that grew coffee for the first time in India), you can’t expect me to live without coffee. So this Cappuccino was my booster. This is not a traditional cafe, and hence you see & meet the other side of this historical town. A perfect place to end your day at Kashan while you recall your entire day sipping coffee and good music.
Try their Cinnamon apple cake. 2 cappuccinos and one cake cost us 3 Euro.

Bath & Beyond – Sultan Ahmed Amir Bath house

For an ancient Persian city to perform its best, these five structures were most important – Mosque, Bazar, houses, cisterns and the bathhouse. This 16th-century bathhouse is a perfect example of a necessity made to work in luxury with its explicit blue, mustard tile work on the lower walls. The indigo anaglyphs compliment the vibrance of the tiled pattern, while the muqarnas tiled with different shades of blue accentuates the beauty.

Don’t miss walking in all parts of the building. The first hall with a sprout with oozing water has a raised decorated platform is Gharamkaneh ( Steam bath Area). The next room is similar, but without water, sprout was used as changing rooms. The underground is where there used to be burning wood to heat the water and to create steam that rises into Gharamkaneh.

The simple punctures in the topmost part of the dome that is glazed let the natural light inside. So when you go to the terrace, you see multiple domes raised from the flat roof like this and are glazed with blue tiles- A stunning view of the surrounding mansions and a colony of domes with punctures on the terrace is magical! The view you must never miss.

The hidden alleys where locals meet you.

The town is compact, so everything is within walkable distance. Walking in the old alleys make it even more interesting. When you walk on the wider streets, you spot taller rectangular towers that dominate the town’s skyline. Because of Kashan’s (Iran in general) sweltering summers, historical houses are all equipped with a unique air conditioning system called “Badger” (wind tower). Wondering & wandering, very likely you are about to miss the route though you have a paper map in hand. Looking at your clueless faces, the friendly locals themselves approach you to offer help.

Every time we asked a local person for directions or to suggest to us their favourite restaurant, the conversation didn’t end after the answer. It continued about our whereabouts, what they love about Iran, how we feel about Iran and so on. One of the souvenir shop owners had a huge collection of currencies collected from the customers who came to his shop from all over the world. So if you see 100 Indian Rupees currency in his shop, it was given by us. The rosewater sellers have all the patience to explain to you in detail how a Persian scientist invented the art of rose oil extraction. When we asked about the shortcut route to Agha Bozorg mosque, a policeman walked us all the way to the mosque! Small town charm is everything is within walking distance, and people are kinder than in the cities – You don’t have to meet locals, they only meet you in Kashan with their warm heart and a broad smile.

Love & Fragrance is in Kashan’s air

If you have wondered why Rumi talks about roses and fragrances or heard of Islam phrases that talks about a spiritual world full of the sound of water and fragrance, you must visit either a Rose farm/factory or at least a local shop in Kashan. The Rosewater making history in Iran dates back to around 7,000 years ago. Persian scientist Avicenna is believed to be the inventor of rose water. He attended Moghul emperor Akbar’s wedding, where a water channel surrounding the ceremonial area was filled with rose petals. The water evaporated spread a great aroma in the venue. Using a similar principle of evaporation, Avicenna discovered the art of heating the pots of water with roses in them and collecting the cooled down vapours in the form of liquid after hours of boiling.

The shopkeepers still keep a sample pot in their premises to explain to curious tourists the ancient method which is replaced with the modern techniques these days.

Glimpse of Ancient Kashan’s luxury lifestyle at Historic houses.

There are more than 10 historical houses in Kashan. There is no particular order to follow for visiting the houses. But you may get an overdose of seeing similar luxurious mansions if you go on visiting each. Borujerdi, Tabatabaei & Abbasi House are located next to each other near the bathhouse. So the combo ticket of less than 5 Euro /person will work out cheaper if you want to visit all the three houses along with the bathhouse.

However, check with locals if any of those houses are under renovation/restoration. Plus, Abbasi house wasn’t that impressive for us. I wish we had gone to Ameri house instead. The bigger mansions like Saraye Ameriha are converted into boutique hotels. So visiting a mansion house can also be coupled with your lunch/dinner plan.

Borujerdi house

I want to call it mansion for Love – Long, long ago, (1200AD) merchant Seyyed Mehdi Borujerdi fell in love with a girl from a wealthy family in this town. To impress his girl and her family, he asked the well-known architect of that time, Ali Maryam, to build the best possible mansion. Mission accomplished – He married the same girl and must have lived happily ever after in this beautiful mansion. And I hope Ar Ali Maryam was paid well on time for his service. Unlike what happens to present-day architects – let us get back to the love mansion.

The most impressive feature of this house is the terrace with petal kinds of things around the dome & the highly detailed ceiling of the dome. The detailing around the dome on the terrace reminded me of India’s Gol Gumbaz (Indo-Persian architecture style.) & the explicit details underside the details reminded me of Antoni Gaudi. (The details are meticulously done elegantly,, not gaudily,, though)

The nearest mansion to Ahmed bathhouse is this – So the lotus petal roof you see from the bathhouse terrace is Borujerdi House’s – A mansion with peach colour painted walls with floral stucco work around the courtyard, a fancy terrace with lotus petals(or Rose?) around the dome & the most beautiful Mukaran(underside of the dome) of all the mansions, we visited in Kashan.

Tabatabaei House

Ar Ali Maryam seems to be very famous among Kashan’s wealthy merchants. So the carpet merchant Seyed Jafar Tabatabaee asked the same architect who built Borehurdi house to construct for his wife. This mansion is somewhat similar to Borujerdi house but has no lotus petals on the terrace.

The mansion’s four courtyards are lined with extremely intricate stucco designs – This definitely reminded me of the Stucco work on Gol Gumbaz and Ibrahim Rauza’s wall in India.

The corner Mukarans have stalactites hanging increases the charm. The facade of these walls is decorated with wooden doors and colourful glazed windows. The podiums and balconies are the best places to hide out if it gets too sunny when you are part of the Mansion hopping day at Kashan.

Muqarnas with ultra-detailed delicate stalactites, meticulously done stucco designs are what makes this mansion stand out from all the other ones.

Abbasi house

The only mansion that wasn’t exciting as the other two was the Abbasi house for a few reasons. Major parts of the house were under restoration. So there were scaffoldings, dust and repair noise almost everywhere. Though this is more like a palace than the mansion (75000 SQFT& five floors), the grandeur was similar to the other two. Neither the Muqarnas were explicit as Tabatabaee’s nor the terrace had the castle roof kind of a thing like Borujerdis. If you have seen the other two, you can skip this.
The only factor that impressed me was the large courtyard – Abbasi was a cleric and teacher, the central yard was used for conducting his religious classes.


Agha Bozorg Mosque

A narrow side road ends the steps of this 18th Century Mosque. You see only a part of the facade at the entrance that looks like a palette of peaceful, warm colours done on a beige canvas. The magic happens when you step inside and cover your body with the Chador to go further ahead. A bulbous beige sandstone Onion dome sits on a facade with the epitome of Persian geometrical pattern cladded with two shades of Turquoise tiles. The beautifully cladded minarets on either side of the dome are no less; they compliment the width and height of the entire facade, and everything sits in perfect harmony. The typical Persian garden with a waterbody makes this colourful yet elegant atmosphere most soothing.

You find lots of local youngsters hanging out here. Because like most Persian mosques, this is a mosque with the Madrasa (Islamic school for children). As you seat yourself under one of the arches to observe the tactfully placed turquoise tiles following an intricate pattern, the sun setting changes the whole vibrancy. The beige sandstone reflects sunshine and turns orange-ish yellow. The call for prayer in a low tone is sure to take you to trans, but the smoke of cigarettes by the local youngsters will get you back to the real world. It is disheartening to see the locals not respecting the sanity of the place despite having such strict rules.
End your day here – irrespective of the religion you follow and your beliefs; this enchanting place can make you turn either spiritual or read more of Rumi.

Was this helpful in your mansion hopping day at Kashan? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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