Bazaar of Isfahan
By: Mohammad Gharipour, 12 December 2003
A - Introduction
Many researchers believe that the bazaar is one of the most important achievements of Persian civilization. After the occupation of Iran by Muslims, Iranian built several bazaars in different Islamic areas.
The Bazaar of Isfahan, the heritage of the Saljuqid and Safavid era, is the longest roofed market in the world. Unfortunately, despite the uniqueness and importance of this bazaar, few studies have been done on it. In this paper the historical development of the Bazaar of Isfahan will be explored based on its social context. The concept of the bazaar and its economic and spatial concepts will be explained. Although the vastness of the subject does not allow an in depth discussion, many references have been consulted.
B - The Bazaar in Ancient Persia
Bazaar means a marketplace or assemblage of shops where miscellaneous goods and services are displayed to buy and sell.
The word "bazaar" refers to "waazaar", which is an ancient Persian word. This word, bazaar, has been transferred into Arabic countries, Ottoman Turkey, Europe and India and even China through economical interactions between Persia and these countries. A study of the usage of the word "bazaar" since ancient times reveals the economic exchanges between Persia and other countries.
|Figure 1: Parthian City of Dora
Archaeologists have found evidence of bazaars in different parts of Iran. It is certain that the creation of cities was based on not only the growth of the population but also on the increase of production, which brought about the growth of trade and accumulation of wealth.
Archeologists could find proof of the existence of bazaars in different areas of the country; Kermanshah (9000 B.C.), Zagheh hills in Ghazvin(7000 B.C.), Sialk hills in Kashan(6000 B.C.), Hasanlu in Kerman (6000 B.C.), Tal Eblis in Kerman (5000 B.C.), Khabis in Kerman (4000 B.C.), "the burned city" in Sistan (3000 B.C.) and Shush (from 4000 B.C.).
In Iran, together with the growth of the population and joining together of villages, in the fourth millennium, urbanization took shape, and since then, we have witnessed economic growth and trade even with far away lands.
Drawn site plans of the burned city in Sistan prove that the city was divided into a number of zones and one of these zones was intended for commercial exchanges.
Also based on the documents of Perspolis, in the ages of Achaemenid, crafts were completely categorized and the bazaar was one distinct part of the city. Even Xenofon commented that these bazaars were far from crafts-schools.
The economy of Iran in the Partian era was based on agriculture and business. At that time they built many stores and caravanserais in some important commercial roads, which were connected to China from the east and into Rome from the west. Based on documents bazaars were placed in the central regions of Partian city of Dora.
Also in the Sassanid period, the government converted many villages into cities and in these cities the bazaar played an important role in the urban design.
C - Islam and Trade
One of the characteristics of uncivilized Arabic society before Islam was their way of business. Their trade was particularly based on benefit and interest to the extent that Prophet Mohammad called their markets 'the places for evil'. In these societies a number of rich people oppressed others and many people were suffering from the lack of regulations and morality in the trade.
After establishment of Islam, Prophet Mohammad tried to make some regulations to recover the trade in the society. In these regulations collecting wealth without considering others is prohibited and attempts have been made to decrease the difference between the wealth of classes within the society based on an honest trade system.
The two important restrictions, which were made at that time, were:
The regulations of trade of debts for fixed terms also demonstrate the complete freedom of trade in the Quran, with its minimal restrictions in the interest of the unhindered fulfillment of cultural obligations and in conformity with the moral requirement of fair dealing.
- A difference was established between decent trade, which was lawful, and usury, which was unlawful.
- The warning of materialism, including the possession of merchandise, implies the obligation of preference of God and his prophet over the interests of family and clan as well as of goods and chattel.
Also based on the Quran and the Hadith (recommendations of Mohammad and other religious leaders) there were many detailed regulations for trade in bazaars. For example, there are not any limitations for non-Muslims in Islamic bazaars. What is important is the consideration of justice and fairness in every business. In addition, clear regulations on trade and economy such as waqf, nathr, kaffareh, zakat and sadaghe were intended to create an economical balance in the society.
- Karim Pirnia, Islamic architecture of Iran, Elm-o-Sana'at Publications, Tehran, 1990.
- Iraj Porushani, "Bazaar", Encyclopedia of the Islamic world, 1995: 305.
- Some researchers believe that the word "suq", which is called to the markets in the Arabic countries, is derived from the word "suqsuq" in Arami language, a branch of ancient Persian.
- Mohammad Y. Kiani, Urbanism and Civilization in Iran, Jahad-e Daneshgahi Publication, 1985: 30.
- Sistan is a region in the east of Iran in the neighborhood of Pakistan.
- The Persian empire from 6th to 4th B.C. (Columbia Encyclopedia)
- The Persian empire, which ruled from 250 B.C. to 226A.D. (Columbia Encyclopedia)
- Many of these caravanserais were located in the "Silk road", which started from China and extended into Rome.
- Hosein Soltanzade, Iranian Bazaars, Cultural Research Bureau Publication, 2001: 18.
- The Persian empire, which ruled between 224 A.D. and 640 A.D. (Columbia Encyclopedia)
- Quran [2:275; 3: 130]
- Quran [9:24]
- Iraj Porushani, "Bazaar", Encyclopedia of the Islamic world, 1995: 323.
- Waqf is a religious endowment, a property giving revenues, as regulated by Islamic law. The revenues from the waqf finance mosques, and other religious institutions. (Encyclopedia of orient)
- Nathr is a pledge. When somebody expresses in words that if successful in something or resolving any problem, he will fulfill or do something, such as fasting any number of days, or giving to the poor certain amount of money, or offering three hours of night worship, etc.
- Kaffareh is the money, that should be given to poor people, when somebody makes a big mistake. Also at the end of Ramadan all of the Muslims should pay an amount of money to poor people as kaffarah.
- Muslims who have wealth remaining over the year must pay a certain percentage to aid those in need. It is called zakat.
- Sadagheh is the money given in charity.