Sari from the Viewpoint of British and Russian Travellers in Qajar Period
Хасан К. В., Панахи А., Сорая Х. А. Sari from the Viewpoint of British and Russian Travellers in Qajar Period // Молодой ученый. 2015. №15. С. 514-519.
The Russian and British governments had common political and economic interests in the north of Iran during Qajar era. These common interests caused the two countries to send various travellers and missionaries to this region. These people precisely recorded their observations and left them as travelogues. From the viewpoint of these Russian and British travellers, one of the most significant northern areas of Iran was the city of Sari. For many centuries, this city was the capital city of Mazandaran and because of this, a great deal of information concerning the historical geography of Sari can be found in the travel accounts of these travellers. In this paper, an attempt has been made to present a clear picture of Sari in Qajar period, using an analytic-descriptive method.
Key words: Britain, Mazandaran, Qajar, Russia, Sari, travelogue
Sari is an ancient, large, and historical city in Iran. Its antiquity goes back to pre-Islamic time. The city was the official and political center of Mazandaran for many centuries. It was also the capital city of Espahbodan and other rulers. The city of Sari was full of ups and downs during Qajar dynasty. Without any doubts, the development of Sari occurred during Qajar era. Agha Mohammd khan had his coronation in Sari in 1783 A. D. It was at this time when many travellers from neighboring countries such as Russia or other European countries travelled to Iran and Mazandaran and recorded valuable pieces of information about Mazandaran and Sari in their travelogues. The question raised here is that: what sort of subjects did the travellers of Qajar period take into consideration about Sari and reflect in their travelogues? The assessment of this period travelogues demonstrates that subjects such as historical geography, public buildings, neighborhoods, ancient sites, products, industries as well as catastrophes inflicted upon the city were among the ones covered by these travellers.
The Historical Geography of Sari
Based on the travelogues of Qajar era, the foundation of Sari goes years back into history. According to some of these travellers, Sari was founded by Kiomars, the first Iranian king, while others believe that Tahmores, Freidoon, Iraj or such kings founded the city. However, some of these travellers say that Sari is in fact the same ancient “Savrakarta”, mentioned by Estrabone as one of the four major cities of Hirkanids.
Sari was the capital city of Tabarestani Espahbods of the dynasties of Qaran, Zeid, etc. Zahiroddin attributes the foundation of the city to Espahbod Farkhan,The Great(at the end of seventh or the onset of eighth century A. H.) and mentions that after its foundation, Farkhan named the city “Saroye” after his son. During the 10th century A. D. the city was completely ruined either by an earthquake or by flood. Then the people of Sari searched for another location close to a mountain to live in. Based on the sayings of the citizens, the old city was located in a plain on the west of a city currently called “Shaban” [6, p. 2000, 201].
In the third century, Sari was the capital city of Al-e-Taher rulers and Al-e-Ali Hassan kings as well as Mohamad ibn-e-Zeid. It was also the capital city for Al-e-Bavand up to 635 A.H. [7, p. 91] the city was the residence and capital of independent rulers who ruled over it up to the end of the Middle Ages. In modern times, Agha Mohammad Khan, who was fighting to get the power of kingdom while his territorial limits weren’t beyond Astarabad and Mazandaran, chose Sari as his capital city. [1, p. 498]
Most of the travellers of Qajar era have almost quoted the same sayings regarding the naming of the city. However, the longest saying is that of Rabino. In his book — “Mazandaran and Astarabad” — he says that the current city is located next to an old one and there are different beliefs about the name of this old city. Some people have known it as “Fanake”, while for others it is known as “Zedrekerte”. A third group called it “Serinks”. But, the term “Sari” has been derived from “Saroyeh”, the son of Farkhan, who was the interim king at the time of his nephew’s childhood. [7, p.89, 90] In his travelogue, Fraser briefly talks about this matter and considers Sari as the capital city of Mazandaran province and regards it as the ancient city of Zadrekerte. [2, p. 320] Repeating the same matter, Curzon says that Danvill and Renel considered Sari to be the ancient Zadrekerte, located 35 miles to Ashraf where Alexander camped for 15 days and murdered so many people. [1, p. 498]
It should be mentioned that those who consider Sari’s old name as “Sirinks”, have used coins minted in Ashkanid era as a proof to their claims. These people believe that the site of the mint of these coins was the city of “Sirinks” in which the current city of Sari is situated. [2, p. 70]
From the viewpoint of James Fraser, a merchant who travelled to the northern parts of Iran in 1822 A.D., Sari was not a big city. He couldn’t find any signs or buildings showing that the city was a large one. [2, p. 320] When Melgunov –a Russian academician and geographer- travelled to the north of Iran Barforoosh was the capital city of Mazandaran and Sari was only a district of the province which included several blocks. He mentioned that the boundaries of Sari were from the river of Neka in the East to the river of Tallar in the west. Based on these travellers’ writings, the blocks of kalijagh Rastagh in south west, Neka in the East, Farahabad in the north, and the blocks of Milrood, Androod, Miandorood, and Gharataghan in north east, the block of Shirgah in the south as well as parts of Hezarjarib, Aliabad and Kiakola blocks belonged to this district [6, p. 188]. Rabino, who travelled to the north of Iran almost 50 years after Melgunov, said that Sari’s boundaries were 3 miles and limited the city to Neka river in the east, Tallar river in the west, Hezarjarib and Savadkooh in the south, as well as the coasts of the Caspian Sea in the north. He referred to different blocks of Sari as following: Baladeh, Aliabad, Bishesar, Shoorab, Esfirood, Kalijagh Rastagh, Karkandeh, Kiakola, Moshkabad, Nokandeka, Sariroodpay, Savadkooh and Shirgah [7, p. 96].
Reading the contents of the travelogues, we find out that the travellers who visited Sari in Qajar era recorded various figures for the population of this city. It seems that the population of Sari was under the impact of factors such as diseases (plague and cholera), economic and commercial exchanges, seasonal immigrations, as well as natural phenomena including floods and earthquakes. Therefore, the rise or fall of the trend of population was greatly influenced by these factors. In his notes, Kate Abbot refers to factors such as reasonable prices, the presence of rulers (to establish security) and suitable climate as the main causes for the population increase in Sari [8, p. 490]. Almost ten years before the outbreak of the horrible plague in 1830 A.D., when James Fraser came to Sari, he estimated the population of the city to be about 40,000 [2, p. 320].
The English major general, Darcy Todd, travelled to Sari in 1834. Four years after the occurrence of that plague, he reported that the population of Sari was fewer than 20,000 people. If the previously reported figure of 40,000 by Fraser had been right, we can simply find out that the population of Sari decreased 50 % during four years [9, p. 47]. According to Melgunov, there were 1,700 houses and 8,000 people in Sari in 1860 [6, p. 208]. In 1874, major Nippier, who had a mission on behalf of the British government to prepare comprehensive, precise and secret reports about Khorasan, Guilan and Mazandaran provinces, reported the population of Sari about 16,000. However, he said that those were fluctuating figures, namely, the number of people in winter and summer was not the same. This was because in winter many people left villages and grasslands to go to Sari, while in spring they abandoned the city again. During summer, a large number of people of Firozkooh district tended to go to Sari in order to work in its fields, markets, and brick-making kilns [9, p. 57]. Curzon believes that although Nippier estimated the whole population of Sari 16,000, the city currently doesn’t have a population more than 8,000. This is because nowadays, Amol and Barforoosh are the main centers for business and commerce [1, p. 499].
Travellers’ Descriptions of Sari
The assessment of the travelogues of Qajar era travellers who visited Sari shows that most of them had especial political, military, and economic purposes. Considering the problems and the difficulties of these travels, especially regarding the undesirable situation of the roads and climate, there were few people who travelled to Sari just for visiting the city. Each of these travellers, based on the goals of their trips (political, military, commercial or recreational) described special aspects of the city and talked about Sari from different perspectives. To study the situation of Sari from the viewpoint of these foreigners is quite intriguing.
John Macdonald Kinneir, who travelled to Iran in Fath Ali Shah’s era, described sari as a small city, surrounded by a strong fence and a deep ditch in which some merchants and businessmen were busy trading. These people exported their commodities to Astarakhan and imported some other goods from there [3, p. 347]. Fraser, who was a merchant, quite precisely talked about the trading centers, commercial roads, and various products in provinces in his travelogue. He believed that Sari didn’t conform to any civil engineering and municipality regulations [2, p. 320]. In his reports, Darcy Todd had described the conditions of roads leading to sari as terrible; however, he believed that the city itself was clean and neat. Because of the colorful tiles on the roofs of the houses, and the abundance of farmlands outside the city, he described the former as a rose garden and the latter as a park. He found the congregational mosque quite magnificent. He described the people of the city thin, pale and like the sick [10, p. 70&77].
Charles Stewart, the private secretary of British ambassador (Sir Henry Alice) came to Iran almost a year after Darcy Todd. While traveling, which was simultaneous with Mohammad Shah’s era, he only visited Mazandaran amongst the northern coastal provinces. Taheri, who quoted from this foreigner in his book, mentioned that the houses and fences of Sari at that time were so densely surrounded by trees that one couldn’t realize he actually got to the city’s gates. Due to the passage of time and the irresponsibilities of the authorities, various towers, castles, fences, and ditches which were made or repaired during Agha Mohammad Khan’s ruling, were so badly damaged or devastated that they could no longer protect the people of Sari against the attacks of the foreign Invaders [9, p. 37].
Kate Abbot, the British consul in Tehran, travelled to Sari 15 years after the devastating earthquake of 1250 A. H. As Sotoodeh quoted from Abbot’s notes, the latter found Sari a city with a shallow and narrow ditch as well as some broken gates. It was said that these devastations were because of that horrible earthquake. He said the city had 6 neighborhoods in which 3,000 families lived. He saw many poor people. Streets and alleys of the city were paved with pebbles. It seemed that Sari’s bazar was much better than Barforoosh market. There were 4 caravanserais and 70 schools in the city. During summer, the distance from Sari to Tehran could be crossed in 7 days, whereas it was done in 9 days during winter [8, p. 489&490].
Charles Francis Mackenzie, who was the British consul in Rasht and lived there from 1858- 1860, had a trip to Mazandaran and visited Sari as well. He said that the walls of the city were built based on the science of engineering because there were especial holes in them suitable for shooting. He said the weather of Sari was hot in summer. However, he had a positive attitude towards its weather, as a whole [4, p. 123&126]. Melgunov, who visited Sari during the same years, mentioned the following four gates: Barforoosh, Farahabad, Astarabad, and Nagharehkaneh or Arg. Based on his writings, the gates were named in accordance with the directions of the neighborhoods they were located [6, p. 207].
Major Nippier visited Sari almost 50 years after Fraser’s visit. According to his writings, it could be found that the appearance of the city hadn’t changed that much. But Amongst the four gates of the city, only Astarabad remained and repaired well. Quoting him, Taheri said that inside the city everything was quite neat and organized. The houses were strongly built, large, clean, and every house had a separate yard with a citrus orchard. The markets were roof-covered, clean, and the shops were full of goods. Nippier mentioned that Sari was without any industries. However, he talked about some products such as cotton, silk, and leather wares [9, p. 57].
Rabino was the British consul in Rasht from 1905–1911. Since he was interested in Mazandaran’s history and geography, he travelled there once in 1908 and another time in 1909. Based on Ibn-e-esfandiar’s book, Rabino said that Ardeshir made five gates for Sari after Espahbod khorshid. They were: Koohestan, Darya, Guilan, Gorgan, and Seyd gates [7, p. 90]. When Rabino travelled to Sari, he only found four of the gates mentioned by Nippier; he didn’t find the fifth one. Comparing Rabino’s travelogue with other travellers’, we can find that like other cities of Mazandaran, Sari had a descending trend due to the passage of time, carelessness of people, earthquakes, and plagues. Unlike Fraser time, Sari was no longer proud of its 30,000 to 40,000 residents. (Taheri, 1968:67) [9, p. 67].
Public Buildings, Neighborhoods and Ancient Sites of Sari
According to Mackenzie there were four neighborhoods in Sari. They were: Osanloo, Chalehbagh, Siahsarv, and Mirmashhad [4, p. 124]. Melgunov points to the following four Caravanserais: Shah,Vakil, Mirza Agha, and Haj Abbasgholi. He also talked about some mosques such as Jame, Mostafakhan, Haj Darvishali, and Haj Rezakhan. Furthermore, several schools, tekyehs (religious buildings), and bathrooms were mentioned by him [6, p. 207&208]. Rabino mentioned the following Imamzades (Imams’sons): Yahya, Abdollah, Shah Ghazi, Molla Majdoddin, Ghassem, Hossein, Saeed Sar, Soltan Mohammad Reza, and Zeinolabedin as well [7, p. 95].
Water reservoirs, which were abundantly found in different neighborhoods of the city, were public buildings used by many people. Fraser talked about an interesting way by which people made water cool. According to him, to cool water, the people of Sari chose a tall tree and pruned its branches and tied a long pad on the top of it. Some spools were connected to this pad from which a rope passed through each of these spools. People tied their pitchers to this rope and pulled them up using these spools. The current of cool air on top of the tree quickly made the water cool [8, p. 560&561].
Amongst various ancient sites and buildings which were mentioned in the travelogues of Qajar era and drew the attentions of most travellers are: Salm and Toor tomb, Agha Mohammad Khan palace, Congragation mosque, Bagh-e- Shah, and Farahabad complex.
In 1260 A.H. when Holmes visited Jahan Nama palace of shah Abbas, it was getting ruined. Based on his writings, we find out that the above — mentioned palace had two floors. There were several rooms in each of them. Holmes said that the doors and the roofs were beautifully painted and one could still recognize the images of women dancing and playing music. However, due to the smoke and ash, all paint was gone, and the plaster work was either broken or completely demolished [9, p. 36]. Melgunov Said that during Shah Abbas ruling, Farahabad was a sea port and ships that sailed in Tajan anchored beside the bridge. After Ashraf, this village was the residence of Shah Abbas and after 43 year of ruling he passed away in Jahan Nama palace in Farahabad [6, p. 211].
The tomb of Salm and Toor is another famous building in Sari, mentioned by Fraser. He described the building as cylindrical, with a conic roof, 100 feet high, and a crescent entrance arch. The building was made of bricks and mortar. There were two manuscripts in Kofi calligraphy, written on glowing greenish tiles laid all around the tomb. According to Fraser, this building was the tomb of Hessamoddole, a descendant of the Deylamians, who died in fifth century [8, p. 505].Concerning the authenticity of Fraser’s writing about Salm and Toor tomb and its connection to Hesamoddole, Sotoode says, “As far as the researcher is concerned, the tomb of Salm and Toor has nothing to do with the tomb of Hessamoddole, the ruler. The tomb of Salm and Toor belongs to Sassanid era, while Hessamoddole’s tomb was built in Bavands era. It is probable that there was no sign of Salm and Toor tomb at the time of Fraser” [8, p. 506]. Based on Melgunov’s writing, it looks as if the people of Sari didn’t have any precise information regarding the exact site of this tomb. Some believed that it was in the west of the city, behind Imam Zade Yahya, whereas others thought it was situated in the eastern part of the city next to Astarabad gate. The tomb was so strongly built that it only got some cracks by earthquakes. Agha Mohammad Khan decided to destroy the building with cannon fire, but because of the strength of the walls he failed. Holmes believed that Salm and Toor tomb was destroyed under the order of Mohammadgholi Mirza Malekara, the ruler. Stewart who hadn’t seen any signs of the tomb believed that it was ruined by an earthquke and Malekara made a house just on its rubbles. The building currently called Salm and Toor is a glass factory in which bottles are produced [6, p. 202&204].
The congregation mosque is another ancient building in Sari which was visited by travellers. According to Mackenzie, in the past, the congregation mosque was a temple for Zoroastrians. It is said that the tomb of Freidoon is located there, but there is no sign of it [4, p. 125]. Melgunov mentioned that the location of the congregation mosque is indeed the site of a Zoroastrian temple. He believes that it was built either by Omar Ibn-e- Elah or Yahye Ibn-e-Yahya in 125 A.H. (742 A.D), but its repair is attributed to Maziyar Ibn-e-Gharan [6, p. 205]. Rabino says that the first building built in Tabarestan by Moslems was the Grand mosque of Sari which was constructed under the order of Abolkhasib, the first ruler of Bani Abbas in the province in 140 A. H. Soon after that, the city’s congregation mosque was built in the same place [7, p. 91].
Another old building in Sari visited by Stewart was the palace of Agha Mohammad Khan. Based on his writings, this palace had a series of roofed corridors and verandas, several water pools, as well as a few beautiful rooms most of which were destroyed in a fire. The bodies of three European women were drawn on three separate walls. They were probably drawn in 17th century [9, p. 37]. According to what Stewart reported about the paintings and the decorations of Agha Mohammad Khan’s palace, and the attentions paid to the details and landscapes, as well as the details of the garments, we can understand that either European painters decorated these buildings or at least their Iranian counterparts imitated their styles and principles in doing so [9, p. 36].
Besides the ancient buildings mentioned so far, Melgunov says that there were two famous orchards in Sari as well. Lemon and pine trees grew inside one of them which was located in the northern part of the city and was called Shah Abbas. Formerly, there was a tower inside the same orchard which was known as “Kolah Farangi”, and the Caspian Sea could be seen from there. In another orchard- situated in the western part of the city- there were palaces, pools and ponds made by Mohammadgholi Mirza, the former ruler. This garden was called Malekara [6, p. 206].
Products, Industries and Revenues of Sari
Having a mild and wet climate together with fertile soil, the city of Sari seems to be the center of various agricultural products. Even industrial products and handicrafts of the city are often connected to agriculture. Since the city is located next to many rivers as well as the Caspian Sea, we can find lots of sea foods and products in it. Regarding the revenues and products of Sari in 1850, Abbot says, “The income tax of Sari is 5,000 tomans (250 Pounds). There is little trading in the city. Russian products used in Sari mainly come from Barforoosh. Caviar hunting in Tajan river flowing near Sari is rented by a Russian-Armenian. It is said that all the fishes caught during a year are sold in AstaraKhan market at a cost of 8,000 tomans.” (Abbot, 2006)
Concerning fishing in the Caspian Sea, information given by Mackenzie shows that about 20,000 poods salted fish and 6000 poods caviar were caught by ten fishing ships in Sari every year. Russians were the main customers of caviar. In 1895, caviar cost between 11 to 12 Rubles in Astarakhan. [4, p. 202]. Besides fishing industry, Mackenzie mentioned to other industries in Sari and said, “People make a lot of gunpowder in Sari; they import potassium nitrate from Semnan and Sulfur from Fars. Iranians gunpowder is so bad that the guns must be cleaned after some shootings” [4, p. 122]. According to Mackenzie, in Mazandaran, especially in Sari, people wove various materials such as aledjeh, cloth, red pants, handkerchiefs, scarfs, and women’s skirts using silk. They made white waist-shawls with jute and ornamented it with their hands. Using cotton and wool, they wove various high quality cloth and rugs as well as felt [4, p. 122&125]. Melgunov believes that Sari was well-known due to its silk export to Amol. He also mentions the following products in Sari: cotton, sugar cane, rice, cattle breeding industry, woolen cloth production, coarse blankets for packing goods and baskets to carry fruits [6, p. 214].
Historic Calamities of Sari
Rabino extensively reported the catastrophes that had taken place in Sari in ages. Based on his reports, Russians put the city on fire in 298 A.H., as they attacked Mazandaran’s coasts through the Caspian Sea. In 325 A.H. the city was so badly damaged by a flood that people were forced to take refuge to the nearby mountains. In 578 A.H., Sultan Takesh who rebelled against Shah Ardeshir, came to Mazandaran via Gorgan. After his arrival in Sari, he burned the palaces and the castles, looted the city and completely destroyed the suburbs. During the Kingdom of Sultan Mohammad Kharazm Shah, Sari was looted again. When the Mongols attacked Iran in 7th century, Sari was badly damaged; nevertheless, its fields were full of grapes and wheat and people made cloth using the silk.Seyyed Kamaloddin Ibn -e- Ghavamoddin Marashi built a fence around the city and reconstructed it. The reconstruction started in 769 A.H. and lasted for 8 years. In 795 A.H., Amir Teymour’s army looted the city again and the conquering ruler ordered the massacre of people. (Rabino, 2010:92) Regarding this barbaric massacare, Marashi- a renowned historian in 9th century- said, “In 795 A.H., the army of Amir Teymour Gorkani looted Sari and under his order they killed so many people by their swords. He devastated Mazandaran so horrendously that after his leaving, there were no cocks to crow and no hens to lay eggs.” (Marashi, 1966:237) When Mohammad Hassan Khan-e-Qajar, chased by Sheikh Alikhan-e-Zand army, was forced to escape from Shiraz and go to Hezarjarib, Sari was looted by Turkmans. The city then was damaged by Mohammad Khan-e-Savadkoohi, who was appointed to rule over Mazandaran after the departure of Nazarkhan-e-Zand. Sari was damaged again in a massive fire in 1784 A. D. In 1810 A.D. an earthquake destroyed the city and a large number of people were killed because of a plague in 1830 A.D. (Rabino, 2010:92&93) Besides what Rabino has counted as the undesirable historic catastrophes of Sari, Charles Stewart in his writings mentions that when Fath Ali Shah died in 1834 A.D., the northern parts of Iran were struck by a strong earthquake which caused extensive damages. It is likely that one of the oldest historical buildings in the north, namely, Salm and Toor was completely devastated by this tremor. (Taheri quoting from Stewart, 1968:38)
According to the travelogues of the travellers who visited Sari in Qajar era, this city had a significant role in the formation of political establishment of Qajar since this was the place where Qajar dynasty started to establish their government and ruled the country afterwards. Because of its suitable geographical situation on one hand, Sari was a gateway of communication between Qajar government and the world, and on the other hand, it was one of the most important agricultural and economic pillars of the country. These economic and geographical specifications made most travellers who entered Iran from the northern borders pay a visit to Sari. What was reflected in the travelogues of these travellers was a city with a beautiful nature, diligent people, and a flourishing agriculture. Furthermore, cattle breeding, silk, and fishing industries of the city were considerable as well. Although the breakout of wars, diseases, natural calamities as well as disqualifications of some rulers caused occasional socio-economic weaknesses in Sari, the city has never lost its significance throughout the history of Iran.
1. Curzon, George Nathaniel (2001), Iran and Iran’s Question, translated by Gholam Ali Vahid Mazandarani, Vol.1, 5th edition, Tehran: Cultural and Scientific publications.
2. Eslami, Hossein (1993), Two Thousand Years of the History of Sari, Ghaemshahr: Islamic Azad University publication.
3. Kinneir, John Macdonald (1990), The Geograghy of the Empire of Iran (written in the book of Ten Travelogues), translated by Mehrab Amiri, first edition, Tehran: Vahid publications.
4. MacKenzie, Charles Francis (1980), The Travelogue of the North, translated by Mansoureh Ettehadieh, first edition, Tehran: Gostareh Publication.
5. Marashi, Zahiroddin (1966), The History of Tabarestan and Royan and Mazandaran, corrected by Mohammad Hossein Tasbihi, Tehran: Shargh.
6. Melgunov, Grigorry (1997), The Southern Coasts of the Caspian Sea, translated by Amir Hooshang Amini, first edition, Tehran: Ketabsara.
7. Rabino, Hyacinth Louis (2010), Mazandaran and Astarabad, translated by Gholam Ali Vahid Mazandarani, 5th edition, Tehran: Cultural and Scientific publications.
8. Sotoodeh, Manoochehr (1987), From Astara to Astarbad, Vol.4, Tehran: publication of Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
9. Taheri, Abolghassem (1968), Historical Geography of Guilan and Mazandaran and Azarbaijan from the Viewpoint of Travellers, Tehran: Publication of the Central Councile.
10. Todd, Eliot Darcy (2009), Mazandaran Travelogue (written in the book of persian manuscript travelogues), researched and corrected by Haroon Vahooman, Vol.1, Tehran: Akhtaran.
11. Abbot, Kate Edward (2006), “Mazandaran Travelogue”, translated by Ahmad Seif, Mazandnume, www.Mazandnume.com/fullcontent/6537.
 A unit of mass which is approximately equivalent to 16.38 kilogram.