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Reconstruction of Cultural Heritage Sites of Mali



Earlier this month President Hollande of France visited cultural heritage sites in northern Mali including the mausoleums of Timbuktu and the city’s fabulous collection of manuscripts to launch the process of reconstruction and safeguarding of Mali sites.  The visit also included a tour of the Ahmed Baba research center, where some 40,000 of the manuscripts are stored. It is estimated that over 2000 of the manuscripts were burnt by the Islamist militants before the French troops freed the city.  An estimated 300,000 manuscripts are kept in private and public collections in Timbuktu. Many of them date from the 13th to 16th centuries and were produced by great scholars from the city and elsewhere or came from the ancient markets of North Africa, and the eastern-most countries of the Arab region.  The director-general of UNESCO accompanied President Hollande and promised a full mobilization of resources to ensure assistance by UNESCO.

A Rare Gift by Cyrus Ala’i



A large donation of over two hundred and fifty five rare maps of Persia and publications were donated to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, by an internationally well known scholar, Dr. Cyrus Ala’i.  The donation, which will be referred to as ‘Dr Cyrus Ala’i’s Map Collection of Persia’, will be managed by the Archives & Special Collections section of the SOAS library.  The donation was formally received by Professor Paul Webley, Director of SOAS, Dr Hassan Hakimian, Director of the London Middle East Institute and Dr Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies at a private ceremony on Thursday 31 January 2013. A public event to celebrate the donation will be announced later in the year.

SOAS, University of London (The School of Oriental and African Studies) is the only Higher Education institution in Europe specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East.  SOAS is a remarkable institution. Uniquely combining language scholarship, disciplinary expertise and regional focus, it has the largest concentration in Europe of academic staff concerned with Africa, Asia and the Middle East.


CYRUS ALAI was born in Iran and received his PhD degree (Dr.-Ing.) from ‘Technische Universität, Berlin-Charlottenburg’. He completed the ‘Executive Controls Program’ – a management course – at the University of Syracuse, USA, and lectured at the University of Teheran for eight years. Dr. Alai founded a group of engineering companies in Iran, which he directed for twenty years. He settled later in England, working as a consulting engineer and studying history of cartography in his free time. He served nine years as the honorary treasurer of the International Map Collector’s Society (IMCoS), and wrote numerous articles and gave many lectures (including one at SOAS on 8th NOV 2006 at the Khalili Lecture Room. organised by SOAS and Iran Heritage) on ‘the cartography of Persia’ and ‘the traditional cartography of classical Islamic societies’. His articles (in English and Persian) appeared in several prestigious cartographic and cultural periodicals, such as:  Map CollectorIMCoS JournalMercator’s WorldPortolanJournal of the Iran SocietyIranshenasi (Persian), Rahavard, etc. The entry ‘Geography iv, Cartography of Persia’ in the Encyclopaedia Iranica, has been written by him. He also collected old maps of Persia and owns perhaps the largest personal collection of such maps. Dr. Alai recognised that Persia has been mapped extensively for centuries but the absence of a good map-history and carto-bibliography has often deterred scholars from making use of such maps. Therefore, he embarked on a lengthy (about 20 years) investigation into the old maps of Persia and visited major map collections and libraries in many countries. As a result, he produced a monumental work in two volumes: General Maps of Persia, 1477-1925 appeared in 2005, and Special Maps of Persia in 2010, both published by BRILL in Leiden, The Netherlands.


Publisher’s Commentary


Iran, or Persia as it was known in the West for most of its long history, has been mapped extensively for centuries but the absence of a good cartobibliography has often deterred scholars of its history and geography from making use of the many detailed maps that were produced. This is now available, prepared by Cyrus Alai who embarked on a lengthy investigation into the old maps of Persia, and visited major map collections and libraries in many countries.  With over four hundred separate map entries and over two hundred illustrations this work covers all the important printed general maps of Persia from the early editions of Ptolemy at the end of the 15th century until 1925 when the Qajar dynasty was overthrown. Useful historical accounts provide the background to this wealth of cartographic achievement. After a description of the many editions of Ptolemy, later maps are divided into groups according to the country where they were produced: Italy, the Low Countries, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, America, Persia, Turkey, and Spain with Portugal. This permits the work of a single cartographer to be handled in an uninterrupted sequence, thus aiding quick reference to a particular style of map, and its later offshoots.


At the end of each major entry, further details concerning different editions and variations, other related maps, historical notes and unique or important features are provided, thus fitting the map into its chronological background. The large number of indexes at the end of the book should enable map collectors, dealers and librarians to identify any map of Persia with ease.


This book is a good balance between history and geography, and will appeal to a wide range of readers. Many Persian maps have surely been rescued from obscurity, and it is now possible to study sequence of developing geographical knowledge over a historically and economically important part of Asia. It is unlikely to be superseded for a very long time.

Extinction of “Child of Fire” Newt



Translated by WCHV.

Kaiser’s Spotted (KS) Newt (Neurergus kaiseri), also known as the Luristan Newt or Emperor Spotted Newt  is a species of very colorful salamander in the Salamandridae family. It is endemic to the southern Zagros Mountains in Iran.  The KS Newt and Salamander is one of the most beautiful species of salamander and is estimated that there are only about 1,000 to 10,000 left in the wild. However it has been reported widely that as of January 2013, the KS Newt or salamander only lives in captivity and is now considered to be highly endangered. 

The reasons for the almost extinction of the KS Newt are environmental pollution, drying rivers, streams and ponds which are their natural habitat and the most recent one; the illegal capture and trade in the black market by profiteers.  Lack of education and awareness about environmental issues and absence of preservation mandate has also led to trading of these KS Newt or salamander for the Norooz festival or the Persian New Year. 

KS Newt or Salamander’s name means the child of fire in the native Luristan language and it symbolizes bravery and kind spirit. 


Espandgan, Women’s Day in Ancient Persia



Espandgan is an Ancient Iranian Celebration to Honor Women & Mother Earth & The Oldest of Its Kind. A day to celebrate Love & Mother Earth devoted to women & mothers in ancient Iranian culture. spandgan is attributed to SPENTA ARMAITI or Spandarmad in the Middle Iranian language of Sassanid era (Pahlavi, 224-654 CE). The SPENTA ARMAITI in Persian Mythology was the divinity of devotion and unconditional love. She was also the guardian of earth and farmers. In ancient Iran each day of the month had a name, and all months had 30 days, for example: 1st day: Ahuramazda or the God 2nd day: Bahman (good thoughts) 3rd day: Ardibehesht (truth/purity) 4th day: Shahrivar (heavonly Kingship This brings us to the fifth day “Sepandarmaz” . whenever the name of a day coincided with that of the month, a feast was held. So the feast of Espandgan is held on the Sepandarmaz day of the month of Espand. Similar feasts include: Mehrgan: The day of Mehr in the month of Mehr Abangan: The day of Aban in the month of Aban appreciating water) Azargan: The day of Azar in the month of Azar (appreciation of fire) In Ancient Persia women were partner with men and active in all walks of life. As per rules of Zoroastrianism women could reach the highest religious position such as Zoot that required extensive religious education. In Achaemenid era women held outstanding positions that even today can be extraordinary in the modern world. Out of six Ameshaspandan of Zarathustras religion divinities), three are masculine (Bahman, Ardibehesht, Shahrivar) and three are feminine (Espandarmaz, Khordad, Amordad). According to the book “The Eastern Iranian Civilizations “by “Giger” the great German thinker, a sign of equality of men and women position in Zoroastrianism is that after marriage a woman was assumed as a wife and partner of a man not his property or his subordinate. Chapter 19 book Hezar Dastan” (paragraph 3 &4) says: Girls cannot be forced to a marriage without their consent.” Christian Bartolomé, based on the book of “Hezar Dastan”, writes: in a Sasanian family after the fathers deat the wifes, girls and the sons had equal shares of inheritance. According to Avestan rules: 1 – women were able to handle their wealth by themselves. 2 – Woman could be the guardian of their children. 3 – Woman could legally represent their husbands and make decisions on their own during their husbands illness / unavailability. 4 – Women were able to prosecute their husbands for their unjust action. 5 – Men were not allowed to marry their daughters without the wifes knowledge or consent. 6 – Woman could witness at the court. 7 – Women were able to be a judge or a lawyer. 8 – Women were able to be subject to a will or arrange their own will. Sassanid era as “Darmesteter quoted was outstanding. Based on the documents of this period including Karnamak of Ardashir Papakan women were highly respected and held high positions and administered their wealth. The most striking symbol of equal rights of men and women in ancient Persia, was the possibility to transfer the crown and ruling power to women. Shapur II’s mother ruled the country for nearly twenty years before he reached the legal age for becoming the king. In Azarbad Mehrspand he saysto his son: ..whether your child is a girl or a boy, send him or her to school to adorn him / her with the light of wisdom and knowledge ..». ________________ قوانین اوستا : ۱- زن می توانسته دارایی خود را بتنهایی اداره کند. ۲- زن می توانسته سرپرست و نگهدار فرزندان خود باشد. ۳- زن می توانسته نماینده قانونی شوهر خود بوده و دربیماری شوهر امور را بتنهایی اداره کند ۴- زن می توانسته از شوهر ستمگر خود به دادستان شکایت کند و سزای او را بخواهد. ۵- شوهر حق نداشته است بدون اجازه ی زنش دختر خود را شوهر دهد. ۶- در دادگاه گواهی زن پذیرفته می شد. ۷- زن می توانسته است داور یا وکیل شود. ۸- زن می توانسته وصی قرار گیرد و تمام اموال خود را وصیت کند.

Happy Espandgan Day



Batir“Battir” seeks World Heritage Recognition

A small village in the West Bank which contains ancient Roman ruins including Roman irrigation system is the subject of one of the recent requests to the UNESCO.  The Palestinian authority has sent a formal request to the UNESCO following the World Heritage listing of the Church of Nativity in June 2012 for the Battir village to be recognized and listed as a World Heritage site.  Even though the village is in the Palestinian West Bank, the slopes across from Battir are in Israel and Israel has been planning to build a security wall which will cut through the village and therefore has caused major concerns for the many families and farmers living in the village who rely on small farming along the ancient roman terraces.

For more info: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/26/world/middleeast/palestinian-village-tries-to-protect-landmark.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0






You may not have heard of Avebury, but the tourists and visitors who have visited this World Heritage

site in Wiltshire, Southwest  England, have now voted it the world’s second best heritage site in the world

after Mexico’s Monte Alban, outscoring sites such as Peru’s Machu Picchu and India’s Taj Mahal.  The announcement was made by a panel of judges who judged on 25 criteria, including visitor experience, the preservation of the site and the holiday appeal of the local region (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-21107977).  It is estimated that over 250,000 people visit Avebury every year.  The report described Avebury as “the best-preserved and most impressive complex of prehistoric sites in Europe”.  Avebury which is estimated to have been built around 2600 BC is a Neolithic or “New Stone Age” monument containing three stone circles and is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain.

Asiatic Cheetah Becoming Extinct



(Translated by WCHV)

Asiatic Cheetah or Persian Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) is the fastest mammal and is fast becoming extinct.  However, there are still a few of them living in Iran.

Cheetah and Tiger are two of the cat-like species that are becoming extinct in Iran.  In the recent years, Iranian lion and Mazandarani tiger became extinct in Iran.  The reasons that caused the extinction included; a) destroying their habitats, b) illegal hunting, c) shortage of their food supplies which was also caused by illegal hunting of deer and rabbits, d)  building factories and roads in the environments and areas where these animals live.  Until a few years ago, it was estimated that about 100 Persian Cheetah lived in Iran.  However, the new estimates show that there are only less than 50 of them that are still alive in Iran.  

Recently, the NGOs and activists working on behalf of natural heritage have been working on preservation of these tigers.  However, since they had no assistance from governmental organizations, their efforts were not effective.  As the director of the committee for preservation of Persian Cheetahs states: “In the last ten years, twenty seven Persian Cheetahs have been killed by hunters.  Eleven cases have been because of accidents with cars in the areas where these animals live. In spite of these losses and the warnings for their extinction,  the government is now building a new road in the restricted areas like the Bafgh Mountain of Yazd, where these animals live (therefore leading to more tigers and animals dying).” 

Destruction of a Botanical Garden



Nowshahr Botanical Garden is the second largest botanical garden in Iran which now houses over 800 species of plants and flowers, some of which are internationally rare.  This garden which has always been compared to the Florence Botanical Garden and the London’s Kew Garden has also been the focus of much attention by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), in addition to being registered a national natural heritage site in Iran. The experts believe that this Botanical Garden is in danger of destruction which started initially about 10 years ago.  One of the governmental organizations in Iran decided to build a road right through the garden at that time because of the lower cost of construction. This road runs through the garden for 1500 meters while the experts believe that they could have built the road differently and therefore not affect the garden.  Because of the resistance of the supporters of the garden, the construction of the road stopped for a few years.  However, three weeks ago, they started working on the road again which will no doubt have major impact on the garden.  There has so far been no response issued to all the oppositions to building this road.

NowshahrC-8 NowshahrC-7 NowshahrC-6 NowshahrC-4 NowshahrC-2

Yazd Awaiting Recognition



Translated by WCHV

The city of Yazd, which has been known to have been the first city to be built using adobes or sun-dried bricks in Iran, has historical sites spanning over 743 acres.  Even though Yazd has been recognized to have very well known historical sites, it still has not been listed and recognized by the UNESCO. Yazd is one of the oldest cities in the world and many of its sites are unfortunately in danger of deterioration. Lack of good management and record keeping have resulted in the delays in the international recognition by the UNESCO and other agencies and no doubt has created more destruction and deterioration of these beautiful historical sites.  For example, it has been reported that some very old houses are being renovated by the owners without paying any attention to the correct codes which are necessary for the preservation of historical buildings and national heritage sites.  In addition to old mosques and historical sites, it has been reported that over 140 private homes could be considered national heritage buildings but have unfortunately been deteriorating and many fixtures (of the homes) like doors and windows have been stolen. Other factors that prevent Yazd from being listed as a national heritage city includes the new central library building which was built blocking several older historical buildings and a two hundred meter underground tunnel under a number of historical sites.

Japanese Christian Historical Sites



Two governors of the prefectures (states/provinces) of Nagasaki and Kumamoto located on Japan’s western island of Kyushu have asked the Japanese central government to submit recommendations to the UNESCO for 13 historical Christian sites to be listed as the World Heritage Sites.  Most of the sites are located in Nagasaki including the Oura Cathedral which is already recognized as a Japanese national treasure.  Nagasaki was actually the port of entry for Christian missionaries in Japan.  According to historical records, the Tokugawa shogunate imposed a ban on Christianity in 1614, forcing the Christians to go underground for a period of around 250 years. The Japanese Central government is currently considering the request. (http://japandailypress.com/christian-historical-sites-in-kyushu-proposed-as-world-heritage-sites-2522171)