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Gilan Museum Displaying Perfect Slice of Iranian Traditions

By Setareh Behroozi; photos by

RASHT, June 11 (Mehr News Agency) -- The welcome by a woman in traditional costume at the entrance to the Gilan Museum of Rural Heritage heightens expectations of a promising visit. Passing by the wooden entrance gate of the museum, you enter upon the pathway which leads to the unique rural residences of Gilan.

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The museum delights tourists not only because it is the sole eco-museum in Iran and the Middle East, but also because of the panoramas of nature and its natural fragrance which totally envelopes visitors.

The Gilan Museum of Rural Heritage is located in the Saravan forest about 15 kilometers from Rasht, the capital city of Gilan Province on the Tehran-Rasht road.

In this eco-museum, architecture is considered as an external manifestation of regional culture since the museum aims to highlight anthropological aspects of Gilan, the museum's curator Maryam Purmohammadjani told Tehran Times last week.

She went on to say that two groups of experts go to target villages for selecting residences to be dismantled and relocated to the museum site: architects and anthropologists.

"The anthropologists interview the inhabitants about their experiences, their traditions, and their way of life, especially concentrating on older people. They even ask about the house wares and the way they furnished their homes," she added.

The houses are furnished with straw mat and traditional house wares including copper dishes, bolster and the wall are mainly made of clay and straw, she said.

"According to anthropological and architectural studies, nine different cultural and architectural zones are identified in Gilan and for each of them a particular place has been allocated on the museum site.

Each residential compound includes six styles of residences which represent different social classes and includes the residences of landlords, farmers and peasants," Purmohammadjani added.

Lying along the southern coastline of the Caspian Sea, Gilan is one of the smallest provinces in Iran. It contains different ethnic clans such as Talishi, Galeshi and Tabarids, Tats and Gilaks, the latter is the main ethnic group in the province.

However as French Orientalist Christian Bromberger mentioned in his book "Habitations du Gilân" (1974), it has a very high rural density and a characteristic pattern of settlement: the social unit is not the village as it is common in other parts of Iran but the mahalla, a loose grouping of houses surrounded by gardens and orchards.

Gilan is one of the provinces of Iran. It lies along the Caspian Sea, just west of the province of Mazandaran, east of the province of Ardabil, north of the provinces of Zanjan and Qazvin. Northern part of province is part of territory of South (Iranian) Talysh. The center of the province is the city of Rasht. Other towns in the province include Astara, Astaneh-e Ashrafiyyeh, Fuman, Lahijan, Langrud, Masouleh, Manjil, Rudbar, Roudsar, Shaft, Talesh, and Soumahe Sara.


The ethnic and geographical diversity as well as the method of settlement leads to the creation of multiple cultures and architectural styles in this small province.

"We transfer the complex to this site, for example the stable, hen-house or even the toilet which are not in the main building of some residences, then they are reassembled at the museum," she added.

"Rice cultivation is the main source of livelihood in Gilan so that in rural areas, farmers were obsessed with storing their rice. The sitting room of houses was used for rice storage or as a place to smoke it," she said.

In eastern part of Gilan due to the high humidity, wood is mostly used in construction in comparison to the western part, she mentioned.

This is a good example to show that how people adapt themselves to their surroundings and climate, she stated.

"Unfortunately, present day architecture in Gilan cities and even villages is the same as we see in every other part of Iran. Although today, a natural approach can not satisfy the whims of all people, traditional techniques still remain useful," she said.

Like houses built in central Iran, there is no division between the biruni (exterior) and the andaruni (interior) in Gilan residences. The sitting room was also the kitchen, she said.

She points to other rooms of the residence which "were used for guests who were strangers".

A small portion of the residence is covered by a roof and wide balconies are used for everyday activities, which point to the extravert character of the Giulaks, she mentioned.

The idea of establishing a museum evolved after the powerful Manjil-Rudbar earthquake in 1990. Sociologist and university professor Mahmud Taleqani began to conduct research on social and economic damages suffered by rural people in the aftermath of the earthquake.

In the course of his research, he noticed that the traditional rural lifestyle in Gilan had almost been obliterated. The proximity of villages to cities in this region adversely impacted the traditions and he decided to establish a museum to preserve what remained, she mentioned.

Taleqani accompanied by Bromberger and veteran sociologist Mahmud Ruholamini decided to establish the museum, she said.

About 260 hectares of the Saravan forest was allocated to the rural heritage museum on the condition that no harm would be done to the forest and ecosystem.

The museums was opened to public in 2006 and up to now, six residential compounds from the eastern plain of Gilan and four from the central plain have been completed.

"Gilaki games, rituals, festivals, a market for regional handicrafts and food, and other cultural activities take place at the museum.

Maestro of Gilan folk music Fereidun Purreza who has conducted comprehensive research on folklore, music and literature, recently performed concerts at the museum," she said.

"We can divide visitors into three categories: anthropologists and architectures who examine very detail during their visits, history buffs who experience a wave of nostalgia in this place, and of course, ordinary visitors".

During the Noruz holiday, the museum ranked first amongst Iranian museums with more than 34,000 visitors in 11 days. Several festivals and rituals were performed each day during the Noruz holiday, she said.

This is a kind of cultural experience which introduces and acquaints people by watching real life activities, and not locked up behind display windows, she said.

The museum is advertised by word-of-mouth spread by the visitors and also advertising on TV programs has recently introduced it as a Gilan tourist attraction, she said.

The museum is supported by the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization and has benefited greatly from the experience of the French and Swiss experts shared in their workshop on architecture and anthropology, Purmohammadjani stated.

The rural heritage museum of Gilan reveals the lifestyle of the Gilaks residing in harmony with their natural surroundings, and documents the culture and way of life of the inhabitants who live along the coastline of the Caspian Sea.

... Payvand News - 06/11/10 ... --

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