Tourist & Resident Guide to Iran

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Helmi Drum Showroom Tehran

Ostad Helmi and his tonbaks
Ostad Helmi, pictured here in his home/showroom, produces most of the tonbak drums in Iran. His walls are hung with a tremendous assortment of traditional musical instruments from Iran and elsewhere. In the gaps are photographs of memorable occasions from his long career.

tars on the wall
I visited Mr. Helmi to buy my own drum last week. A percussionist friend of mine accompanied me and recommended an udu - a clay jar drum with a circular hole which, when struck correctly, makes a kind of gulping-air sound. Production of this African-style drum has recently been started in Iran. Though fun to play, the udu didn't have quite enough volume for my liking.

So after testing out a few instruments, I finally settled for one of Ostad Helmi's famous tonbaks. It is mainly played with the fingers and has a low, breathy "ton" sound when played in the centre and a much higher, crisp "bak" sound when played near the edge.

helmi tonbaks
It is a goblet-shaped drum which can be made from a wide variety of woods and skins. It is one of only two distinctively Iranian drums - the other being the daf - and is mainly seen accompanying traditional Iranian music ensembles.

I'm not sure I'm yet playing it in quite the way it was intended but it certainly feels great to bang on a drum! Thanks Mr. Helmi!

Iranian Music CDs

Books on Iran

Guide to Tehran

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Ardebil Carpet

the reproduction Ardebil CarpetThe floor of the shrine to Sheikh Safi od-Din in Ardebil, northwest Iran, is covered with a reproduction of the most famous carpet in the world – the Ardebil Carpet.

Facts about the Ardebil Carpet

  • Originally woven as a pair in either 1540 or 1586 making it one of the oldest carpets still in existence.
  • The carpets were commissioned by Shah Tahmasp (1514-1576) who ruled Iran from the age of 10. They would have taken about 4 years to complete.
  • They covered the floor of the Sheikh Safi Shrine for 3 centuries before being bought by a British traveller in 1890.
  • They each measure 10.5m by 5m and contain some 30 million knots.
  • The lamps at either end of the design are different sizes to create an illusion of perspective – this is because they were intended to be viewed primarily from one side.
  • The 19th century British designer and socialist William Morris called it "the finest eastern carpet I have seen". It was he who persuaded the Victoria & Albert Museum and public donors to raise £2,000 to purchase it – at the time an enormous sum.
  • It is thought that the V&A Ardebil was restored using parts of its twin.
  • The V&A carpet has recently been laid on the floor for the first time in over a century as the centerpiece of the new Jameel Gallery of Islamic art. The room in which it is displayed is fully lit for only 10 minutes every half hour.
  • The sister carpet was purchased in 1931 by J. Paul Getty who later donated it to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
  • Modern carpet weavers were paid 100,000,000 Tomans to reproduce it for display at the Ardebil Shrine.
  • There is a copy of the Ardebil carpet in 10 Downing Street and Adolf Hitler had a copy in his Berlin office.
  • Both of the original carpets are signed and dated with an ode by the 14th century poet Hafez:-

I have no refuge in this world other than thy threshold
My head has no resting place other than this doorway

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Images: Ancient History of Iran

A huge variety of bric-a-brac is on display at Tehran's Jomeh Bazaar (Friday Market). Iran's last monarch and his wife are pictured here among the antiquities - very much part of the past.

Shah's coronation photos, Jomeh Bazaar

Another iconic figure of the 20th century, this time commemorated on a specially woven Persian rug.

JFK carpet

Books on Iran

Tehran Sightseeing Guide