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COLLECTIONBook excerpts
TITLEThe Wild Asses: A Journey through Persia
AUTHOR 1W. V. Emanuel
PUB_THISJonathon Cape
ABSTRACTPassing mentions of Babis in Tabriz and Zanjan.
TAGSBábísm; Iran (documents); Tabríz, Iran; Travelogues; Zanjan, Iran

1. Text


Characteristically a garden also surrounded the Ark or Citadel, the only other building of any antiquity left standing in Tabriz. The garden here is a sort of town park, blazing with zinnias and tobacco plants like a seedsman’s catalogue. From the Ark’s high top the Persians used to hurl faithless wives to perdition. This habit was abandoned after one such lady, kept up by her inflated petticoats as by a parachute, had floated down unharmed.

Another marvellous deliverance which might have been converted into a first-class miracle, with important religious consequences, took place here in 1850, when the Bab, the youthful founder of the new religion of Babism, was executed. He and a disciple were suspended by ropes from the ramparts, and a volley was fired at them. When the cloud of smoke cleared away, the important victim was nowhere to be seen. By some extraordinary chance none of the bullets had hit him, but his ropes had been cut, so that he slipped to the ground unhurt. For a moment even the executioners were overwhelmed with amazement, and the impression made on the mob was profound. But soon one of the soldiers caught sight of the Bab hiding in a guardroom nearby, and before his disciples could rescue him, a new firing party had disposed of him. His interesting and eclectic creed, together with its offshoot Bahaism, which is so liberal as to include the emancipation of women, has lost most of its once powerful influence in Iran, but survives among a few Europeans and Americans.


... the Sefid Rud or White River; to us it looked the colour of weak tea. In crossing it we left Turki-speaking Azerbaijan and entered the Persian-speaking part of Iran. The bridge was a magnificent hump-backed structure, a relic of the great Safavid dynasty. As the sun sank, the line of snow mountains on our left changed from a glory of pale colour to a black wall, scarred with great purple shadows and hollows, and silhouetted against a saffron sky.

At the time of the lighting of the lamps we came to Zinjan, where the police, after much talk, allowed us to sleep at an inn called ‘Grand Hotel Town Hall’. We preferred its courtyard to its bedrooms, and, as always, pitched our beds beneath the stars. A policeman with fixed bayonet stood sentry over us all night.

Zinjan is a small city, famous for the desperate stand which 300 Babi heretics made here in 1850 against thousands of royal troops. They held out for nine months, and their women cut off their long hair and bound it round the crazy guns to hold them together.

From Zinjan our road to Teheran ran through a perfectly flat stony plain bounded by low hills. The air was so crystal clear that objects many miles away stood out much larger than life. A donkey looked like an elephant, and the peasants working in the fields were like trees walking. Long before we reached it we could see the light flashing on a great sea-green dome. This was the mosque of Sultaniyeh, the tomb of the Mongol prince Uljaitu Khodabande, who kept court here until his death in 1316. His great mausoleum remains, even in ruins, one of the world’s important buildings....

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