When the Arabs invaded Persia in the 7th century, some followers of the Zoroastrian religion fled to the surrounding mountains and deserts to escape forced conversion to Islam. In a long and narrow valley in the Karkas Mountains, north of Isfahan, the Zoroastrians is believed to have founded a string of villages. Abyaneh is one of the last surviving village of the valley.
Abyaneh is located at the foot of Karkas Mountain, 70 kilometers southeast of Kashan in Isfahan province, in Iran. The ancient village is a muddle of narrow and sloped lanes, and crumbling mud-brick houses with lattice windows and fragile wooden balconies that cling to the slope. The terrain around Abyaneh contains iron oxides which give it a reddish color, and because the houses are built with mud bricks they have the same color as the rock above the village.
The village faces east across a picturesque valley to maximize the sun it receives and minimize the effects of gales that blow in winter. The winters are freezing, but summers are refreshingly cool. It’s during the summer months that Abyaneh is most lively, filled with tourists and residents returning after winter from different Iranian cities specially Kashan and Tehran where they have migrated to work. In recent years, Abyaneh’s permanent population has dwindled to less than 250 individuals, consisting of mostly old people.
The village’s remote location and isolation have, however, helped preserve the culture and tradition of its founders. Many elderly residents speak Middle Persian, an earlier incarnation of Farsi that largely disappeared some centuries ago. The local clothing is another example of great antiquity. The women’s traditional costume typically consists of a white long scarf with colorful floral design, which completely covers their hair and shoulders. They also wear colorful dresses, along with a special pair of pants. In winter, a velvet vest is added to this outfit.
Abyaneh’s most impressive building is the 11th-century Jameh Mosque, with its walnut-wood mihrab and ancient carvings. In addition to the mosque, there are some other places which are worth a visit including the Zoroastrian fire-temple dating back to the Sassanian period, three castles, a pilgrimage site and two other mosques.
Abyaneh is called an entrance to Iranian history. In some of the houses there is earthenware belonging to a few hundred years ago. The local traditional clothes are examples of styles of great antiquity. It is said a women of Abyaneh has inherited her wedding dress from her grandmother. The language spoken by the people is similar to the Parthian language (an Iranian language of the Parthian people who were inhabitants of an ancient country to the southeast of the Caspian Sea, now a part of northeastern Iran).
In addition to natural beauties, there are several historical monuments in Abyaneh, of which the following are of greater significance.
This mosque is magnificently impressive. Many tourists believe Abyaneh is worth visiting even if it only had this monument. The sanctuary of the mosque has a wooden mihrab — a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla; that is, the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca and hence the direction that Muslims should face when praying — around which there are eye-catching patterns and a chapter of the Qur’an carved on the wood. According to date inscribed on the mihrab, it goes back to the 14th century. There is also a pulpit with beautiful carved decorations dating back to the Seljuq era (1038-1194).
Situated in one of the most ancient neighborhoods of Abyaneh, this mosque has an impressive sanctuary. The date carved on the front door indicates that the mosque dates back to the 14thcentury. This is the oldest door found in Abyaneh, and its carved decorations are very similar to those of the mausoleum of Bayazid-e Bastami in Shahroud.
Located beside Mount Sakhreh Kuh, this mosque dates back to the Safavid era. Its sanctuary has pillars of wood, on which some verses of the Qur’an have been inscribed.
Ziaratgah (meaning shrine) is a magnificently impressive monument, attracting a large number of visitors each year. There are flower beds, brooks, a pool and a large veranda opening onto the vivid green valley of Abyaneh, making Ziaratgah a place worth seeing.
The other points of interest in Abyaneh are: The castles of Haman; two houses of dervishes (dating back to the Safavid era and remains of two fire-temples (dating back to the Sassanian era) built in an architectural style called Chahar Taqi (four-arch style).