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Chapter 43

The Madrassah--"Peace on Abraham"--The Hammam--Trade
caravanserais--The Hindoo caravanserai--Parsees--Ancient
fortifications--The Kala-i-Dukhtar, or virgin
fort--Speculation--The Kala-Ardeshir--A deep well--Why it was

A visit to the Madrassah on the north side of the bazaar was extremely interesting, it being the best preserved building of that type I had so far seen in Persia. The Consul and I were shown round it by the Son of Sirkar Agha, the head of the Sheikhi sect, a most dignified individual with long black cloak and ample white turban, and with a beard dyed as black as ink. He conversed most intelligently and took great delight in showing every nook of the building.

The college is only some ninety years old. Its courts, its walls, its rooms, its dome, are most beautifully tiled all over, and, strange to say, it is kept in good repair and the gardens are well looked after. There is a handsome lecture-hall, with four strong receptacles high up in the corners of the room, and fret-work at the windows, not unlike Egyptian musharabeahs. Four very high ventilating shafts are constructed over the buildings to keep the rooms cool.

"Peace on Abraham" reads an elaborate inscription, quoted from the Koran, but applying in this case, Sirkar Agha's son tells me, to the founder of the institution. There are other inscriptions on the towers and ventilating shafts.

At the time of my visit the number of pupils was two hundred. The adjoining Hammam belonging to the College was, to our astonishment, also shown us. Such baths are underground and are reached by steps or by a slippery incline. These particular ones were very superior and had a beautifully tiled entrance, but the door itself was small and always kept closed. The first room was domed with a fountain playing in the centre and platforms, three feet high all round, on the matting of which lay spread a great many cotton towels, red and blue. The only light came from a centre aperture in the dome. High earthen jugs stood artistically resting against one another, and a few people were dressing or undressing preparatory to taking or after having taken a bath. This was all that was done in this room.

Through a narrow slippery passage we entered another room, where the steamy heat was considerable. There were small sections round the room divided by a wall, like the cells of a monastery, and in each cell was a tap of cold water. Then we ascended through a small aperture into another and warmer room, spacious enough, but stifling with a sickening acid odour of perspiration and fumes of over-heated human skins. The steam heat was so great that one saw everything in a haze, and one felt one's own pores expand and one's clothes get quite wet with the absorbed damp in the atmosphere over-saturated with moisture.

There were two or three men, stripped and only with a loin cloth, lying down flat on their backs,--one undergoing massage, being thumped all over; another having the hair of his head and beard dyed jet-black. The reason that the Persian hair-dyes are so permanent is principally because the dyeing is done at such a high temperature and in such moist atmosphere which allows the dye to get well into the hair. When the same dyes are used at a normal temperature the results are never so successful. Further, a third man was being cleansed by violent rubbing. He needed it badly; at least, judging by the amount of black stuff that rolled from his skin under the operator's fingers. The attendants, too, barring a loin-cloth, were naked.

With perspiration streaming down my cheeks I took the photographs here reproduced, and then proceeded to a yet hotter small room--as suffocating a place as one may wish to enter in one's lifetime, or after! One received a positive scorching blow in the face as one entered it, the heat was so great. This is the last chamber, and in a corner is a tap of cold water with which the skin is repeatedly rinsed and made to sweat several times until the pores are considered absolutely clean. There were two people lying down in a semi-unconscious state, and although I was only there a few minutes I came out quite limp and rag-like. It ruined my watch, and only by very careful nursing I was able to save my camera from falling to pieces. On returning to the previous hot chamber it seemed quite cool by comparison, and when we emerged again into the open air, thermometer about 90° in the shade, one felt quite chilled.

The various trade caravanserais, of which there were over a dozen in Kerman on either side of the main bazaar street, were quite interesting. They were large courts with high platforms, six to ten feet high, all round them, the centre well, enclosed by them, being tightly packed with camels, mules and donkeys. Above on the broad platform lay all the packs of merchandise which had arrived from Birjand and Afghanistan, from Beluchistan or from India via Bandar Abbas. The shops and store rooms were neat and had wood-work in front, with gigantic padlocks of a primitive make. Some, however, had neat little English padlocks.

The most interesting to us, but not the most beautiful, was the Hindoo caravanserai, where some forty British Hindoo merchants carried on their commerce. The place looked old and untidy, and the shops overcrowded with cheap articles of foreign make, such as are commonly to be seen in India,--paraffin lamps, knives, enamelled ware, cotton goods, indigo, tea, sugar and calicos being prominent in the shops. The piece goods come mostly from Germany and Austria, the cottons from Manchester.

The Hindoos were very civil and entertained us to tea, water melon, and a huge tray of sweets, while a crowd outside gazed at the unusual sight of Europeans visiting the caravanserais. The merchants said that the trade in cotton, wool, gum and dates was fairly good, and that, taking things all round, matters went well, but they had a great many complaints--they would not be Hindoos if they had not--of petty quarrels to be settled among themselves and with the Persians. These, of course, arose mostly out of matters of money. They seemed otherwise quite jolly and happy, notwithstanding the exaggerated hats and curious costumes they are compelled to wear, so that they may be distinguished at a glance from the Persians themselves.

Here, too, as has been already said, there is a small Parsee community of about 3,000 souls. They are, however, rather scattered nowadays, and are not so prominent as in Yezd.

The side streets leading out of the bazaar are narrow and dingy, covered up in places with awnings and matting. There is very little else worth seeing in the city, but the many ruins to the east of the town and the ancient fortifications are well worth a visit.

It is to the east of the city that the ancient fortifications are found, on the most western portion of the crescent-shaped barrier of mountains. According to some natives the smaller fort, the Kala-i-Dukhtar, or Virgin fort, on the terminal point of the range, at one time formed part of ancient Kerman. The fort, the Kala-i-Dukhtar is on the ridge of the hill, with a fairly well-preserved castellated wall and a large doorway in the perpendicular rock at the end of the hill range.

In a long semicircular wall at the foot of the hill a row of niches can be seen, but whether these made part of an ancient stable for horses, or were used for other purposes, I could not quite ascertain. Some people said that they were a portion of a hammam; others said they might have been cells of a prison, but what remained of them was not sufficient to allow one to come to a satisfactory conclusion.

(Kala Ardeshir on summit of mountain) Kerman.]

The outside wall of the fort was very high, and had strong battlements and towers. Inside the lower wall at the foot of the hill was a moat from twenty-five to thirty feet wide and fifteen feet deep. The upper wall went along the summit of two ridges and was parallel to the lower one, which had four large circular turrets, and extended down to and over the flat for some 120 yards. There was another extensive but much demolished fortress to the east of this on the lower part of the hill range, guarding the other side of the entrance of the pass, and this, too, had two large walled enclosures in the plain at its foot. A great many fragments of pottery with angular geometrical patterns and small circles upon them were to be found here and in the neighbourhood.

The fort of Kala-i-Dukhtar is attributed by the people to King Ardishir, and is one of the three mentioned by Mukaddasi in the tenth century, who, in describing the city of Bardasir, unmistakably identified with the present Kerman, speaks of the three famous impregnable castles--the Hisn defended by a ditch, evidently the one above described, directly outside the city gate, and the old castle, the Kala-i-Kuh, on the crest of the hill. It has been assumed that the third castle mentioned by Mukaddasi, was where the Ark or citadel is now, but personally I doubt whether this is correct. The citadel, the residence of the present Governor, is to my mind of much more recent origin. There is every sign to make one doubt whether Kerman extended in those days as far west as the citadel, which to-day occupies the most western point outside the city; whereas in the accounts of Mukaddasi one would be led to understand that the third fortress was well within the city near a great mosque. In Persian chronicles, too, the Hill Castle, the old, and the new castles are often referred to, but personally I believe that these three castles were adjoining one another on the same chain of hills.

An ascent to the Kala Ardeshir well repays the trouble of getting there. It is not possible to reach the Castle from the south side, where the rocky hills are very precipitous, and even from the north it is not easy of access. On the north-west side, facing the British Consulate, there is a somewhat narrow and slippery track in the rock along a ravine, by which--in many places "on all fours"--one can get up to the top.

The gateway is very much blocked with sand, but squeezing through a small aperture one can get inside the wall, within which are several small courts, and a series of tumbled-down small buildings. In the walls can still be seen some of the receptacles in which grain and food were formerly stored.

Although the exterior of the castle, resting on the solid rock and built of sun-dried bricks so welded together by age as to form a solid mass, appears in fair preservation from a distance, when one examines the interior it is found to be in a dreadful state of decay. The courts and spaces between the walls are now filled up with sand. There is a well of immense depth, bored in the rock, the fort standing some five hundred feet above the plain; but although this is said by some writers to have been a way of escape from this fortress to as distant a place as Khabis, some forty-five miles as the crow flies to the east of Kerman, I never heard this theory expounded in Kerman itself, but in any case, it is rather strange that the well should have been made so small in diameter as hardly to allow the passage of a man, its shaft being bored absolutely perpendicular for hundreds and hundreds of feet and its sides perfectly smooth, so that an attempt to go down it would be not a way of escape from death, but positive suicide. The well was undoubtedly made to supply the fort with water whenever it became impracticable to use the larger wells and tanks constructed at the foot of the hills within the fortification walls.