First revision workshop of Isfahan historical monuments studies

Old city structure lies within memories

Maryam Asadi Jafari
Translated by Natalie Haghverdian

2019-06-18


According to the Iran Oral History Website, the first review session for “pictorial, narrative and research documents of architecture oral history in recognition of historical monuments in Isfahan” was held on 8 June 2019. The key speaker was Nima Valibeig, PHD of architecture, associate professor and member of the scientific board of Isfahan Art University; the event was sponsored by Isfahan Study Center and Home of Nations, and it was held in the central library of Isfahan.

 

Elimination of collective memory through improper changes

The pavement of a part of Chaharbagh Street in Isfahan, between the state gate and Revolution Square, was the subject of dispute between the Cultural Heritage Organization, Isfahan Municipality and academics last year. This street has been registered in the National Register since 1931, i.e., 88 years ago, and any undue change in it would jeopardize its identity and originality.

 

 

Hence, Dr. Nima Valibeig, at the beginning of his speech criticized the authorities' actions to change the use of Chaharbagh street and its negative impact on collective memories, and stated: "One of the questions that has been raised in recent months and has been addressed by the publications, social media and the media is change of use of Chahar Bagh street and its transformation to a walkway. We are going to address this issue from a critical point of view and ask whether pavement of Chaharbagh, to restore its look of the Safavid period is a proper action? First, we have to see the whole theorem, whether we are allowed to transform Chaharbagh into a walkway, and then, think about paving it? We need to consider the cultural heritage and the municipality's point of view. Some believe that the street should be transformed into its old looks, and others think that it has to be rebuilt to meet the needs of today. There are no Esfahani who has not travelled from the gates of the government to the Revolution Square or the opposite direction. Remember Chahar Bagh and its commercial side in the past five years. How were the shops and its walkways and driveways? When the Charbagh Avenue was closed for the construction of a subway, what happened to its immediate users and backyard layers? And what happens next, when it’s turned into a walkway? If we know the past based on past visual documents and ask the elderly about the past of the city of Isfahan, does this mean that we should return to that time? Should our recognition lead to a return to the past?

They say that traveling cars in the same distance will destroy the pavement. We don’t want it to happen. There should be cultural advocacy for the public and the opportunity has to be made available once or twice in a year for people to drive by the street for the sake of collective memories. “Legend” is one of the oldest cities of London including both walk and drive ways. We shouldn’t omit a portion of collective memories and create fraudulent memories based on the history of 400 years ago and be tangled in simple matters including brick or stone pavements! Look at the stores in Chaharbagh. In the past, usually we travelled there to buy clothes. However, now, people go to the fast food stores and coffee shops there. In fact, we have deleted a part of the collective memory by paving the street and turning it into a walkway and we have created fraudulent memories. Many old shopkeepers have changed occupation and left the street.

He introduced context recognition as a method to investigate the past and added: “when a city has an ancient history, in order to return to its historical and ancient layers, we have to investigate it context. For instance, your parents, grandparents or old people can tell you about old neighborhoods. This is “oral history”. A new method has been introduced in the past ten fifteen years in which architecture is studies using oral history scientific methods. Of course, the method has always been there and both nationals and foreigners have applies this method and collected documents based on oral history studies. One of them is late Dr. Mohammad Karim Pirnia who spent his entire life collecting the oral history of the architecture of Iran. He would interview the elderly about the construction methods and investigate special terms. Westerners have done the same; one prominent feature in the field is Donald Newton Wilbert. He spoke eight or nine languages and travelled to Iran and wrote books about the Iranian architecture and conducted oral history studies. When CIA documents were published ten years ago, they discover that the same gentleman has been one of the key elements of the coup in 1953; it is interesting to know that he wasn’t an architecture, yet his work is invaluable.”

 

Discovering the past through direct and indirect quotes

In defining the status of oral history documents in recognition of the past of historical monuments, Valibeig said: “I was working on “Takht-e Foulad Caravanserai” in 1999. The documents indicated that this caravanserai used to be a hotel at the time. There were some texts and quotes available. I asked for the oldest person in the area. Someone said: “Our Hajagha is old and has good knowledge of the area”. I entered the store and there was sitting an old man. I asked him about the caravanserai during the Pahlavi era. Then I took pictures of the caravanserai. Then I again saw the man who had introduced me to the old man. He said: “the man you spoke to is my father; Hajagha is my grandfather”. His grandfather was a 97 year old man with a brilliant mind and the information he provided was nowhere to be found. He stressed that during Reza Khan’s regime, another building was built next to the caravanserai and turned into a hotel. The caravanserai at some point had been used as a military base. In fact, direct and indirect narrations built the past of the city and part of these quotes are implicit in the collective memory hence no attempt should be made to omit them.”

Dr. Nima Valibeig demonstrated the remaining documents and maps of the city of Isfahan during various historical eras and defined the quality and quantity of narrative, pictorial and otherwise documents and the proper methods of their interpretations.

The second session is scheduled for the 15 June 2019.



 
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