4 Traditional and unique crafts in Iran (with VIDEO)
Bazaars are so much more than a place to buy and sell goods in Iranian culture. More often than not they sit in the very centre of city life, both physically and metaphorically, and are the place where people meet, political gossip is discussed, religious and national symbols are displayed and social classes interact.
Bazaaris (store owners) play a striking role in Iranian society, and are often said to embody more conservative ideas. As a social class they played an important part in the Islamic Revolution and today still have a huge say in how economic life is structured in the country.
One of the things that struck us whilst walking around these wonderfully atmospheric places was the range of goods and products made on site. Workshops seemingly filled every corner, with the banging of hammer on copper contrasted with careful hand weaving. Food is prepared, dough baked and meat fried, leading to an attack on the senses that we haven’t experienced anywhere else before.
Below we highlight a couple of these trades, giving you a sense of the sites and smells of the marketplace and bringing you into the lives of these hard-working people:
Bread (nan in Persian) plays a fundamental part in Iranian cuisine and no table is complete without some form of flat bread being present. Families buy their daily bread from a baker who specialises in a specific type of loaf, and everybody has their particular favourite. There are four types of bread found all over Iran:
Nan-e sangak is perhaps the king of Iranian breads and is certainly the most traditional. It is made from brown flour and is made by fermenting the dough for 1 to 2 hours with the previous day’s batch. The dough is then stretched by hand on a flat surface and then baked on a stone surface (from which the name sangak – meaning stone, comes from). It should always be eaten hot and it is delicious.
Nan-e barbari is a fluffy, thick bread made from white flour, normally costs a little more than sangak and is in our opinion the finest bread in Iran. It is sometimes known as Tabrizi Bread due to its connections with the city.
Nan-e lavash and Nan-e taftoon are thin and flaky (with the taftoon being a little thicker) and are made in a tandoor (a cylindrical, clay oven). They also have the advantage of keeping for longer than the thicker variants.
Copper is big business in Iran. It is the world’s 10th largest copper producer and the National Iranian Copper Industries Company (NICICO) is one of the largest companies listed on the Tehran Stock Exchange with exports valuing a whopping $1.3 billion. Currently there are 100 active mines in the country especially in the Kerman area (which holds the largest reserves of the country) and East Azerbaijan (predominantly situated in the Ahar Jolfā belt, in the Arasbārān area). Copper pots and pans are common throughout the country and copper craftsman have remained faithful to the traditional means of making these robust and highly sought-after products.
Woodblock textile printer
Ghalamkar, the art of using wooden blocks to create pattern on cloth, is the oldest and most traditional textile printing method. It’s been used in Iran since ancient times and the way it’s done in the present day hasn’t changed for millennia.
The principle is very simple: first a thick wooden block is carved so that its surface contains a pattern. Then, it is dunked in paint and pressed onto the cloth. There are usually several different patterns and colours used to achieve the most stunning effect.
It’s a lengthy process (it can take even a week to make one table cloth) but the results are astonishing!
For best examples of this extraordinary craft go to the Isfahan Bazaar where you can see craftsmen at work.
Carpet making is definitely one of the most iconic elements of Persian culture which dates back to ancient times.
Iran is the biggest carpet producer in the world and contributes to over three quarters of all the handmade carpets made on Earth. There are around 1.2 million carpet weavers in the country who make over five million square metres of carpets every year!
The most common materials for carpets are cotton, wool and silk. Motifs found on Persian rugs can have different meanings which are heavily dependent on the area where the carpet was produced.
Making a carpet is a tedious process and the length of time depends on the quality and size of the product. It can take anything between a few months to several years to make one carpet.