Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi, Deputy Editor of Iran Review
Gilan Province is one of the 31 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. The northern part of the province is part of territory of South (Iranian) Talesh. At the center of the province is the main city of Rasht. Other towns in the province include Astara, Astaneh-e Ashrafiyyeh, Fuman, Lahijan, Langrud, Masooleh, Manjil, Rudbar, Roudsar, Shaft, Talesh, and Soumahe Sara.
The main harbor port of the province is Bandar-e Anzali (previously Bandar-e Pahlavi).
The first recorded encounter between Gilak and Deylamite warlords and invading Muslim Arab armies was at the Battle of Jalula in 637 AD. Deylamite commander Muta led an army of Gils, Deylamites, Azerbaijanis and people of the Rey region. Muta was killed in the battle and his defeated army managed to retreat in an orderly manner.
However, this victory appears to have been a Pyrrhic victory for the Arabs, since they did not pursue their opponents. Muslim Arabs never managed to conquer Gilan. Gilaks and Deylamites successfully repulsed all Arab attempts to occupy their land or to convert them to Islam. In fact, it was the Deylamites under the Buyid king Mu'izz al-Dawlah who finally shifted the power by conquering Baghdad in 945. Mu'izz al-Dawlah however allowed the Abbasid caliphs to remain in comfortable but secluded captivity in their palaces.
In the 9th and 10th centuries AD, Deylamites and later Gilaks gradually converted to Zaidite Shi'ism. It is worth noting that several Deylamite commanders and soldiers of fortune who were active in the military theatres of Iran and Mesopotamia were openly Zoroastrian (for example, Asfar Shiruyeh awarlord in central Iran, and Makan, son of Kaki, the warlord of Rey) or were suspected of harboring pro-Zoroastrian (for example Mardavij) sentiments. Muslim chronicles of Varangian (Rus, pre-Russian Norsemen) invasions of the littoral Caspian region in the 9th century record Deylamites as non-Muslim.
These chronicles also show that the Deylamites were the only warriors in the Caspian region who could fight the fearsome Varangian vikings as equals. Deylamite infantrymen actually had a role very similar to the Swiss Reisläufer of the Late Middle Ages in Europe. Deylamite mercenaries served as far as Egypt, Islamic Spain, and in the Khazar Kingdom.
Buyids established the most successful of the Deylamite dynasties of Iran.
The Turkish invasions of the 10th and 11th centuries CE, which saw the rise of Ghaznavid and Seljuq dynasties, put an end to Deylamite states in Iran. From the 11th century CE to the rise of Safavids, Gilan was ruled by local rulers who paid tribute to the dominant power south of the Alborz range, but ruled independently.
Before the introduction of silk production to this region (date unknown, but definitely a pillar of the economy by the 15th century AD), Gilan was a poor province. There were no permanent trade routes linking Gilan to Persia. There was a small trade in smoked fish and wood products. It seems that the city of Qazvin was initially a fortress-town against marauding bands of Deylamites, another sign that the economy of the province did not produce enough on its own to support its population. This changed, however, with the introduction of the silk worm in the late Middle Ages.
Provincial city of Rasht, Gilan
Gilan recognized twice, for brief periods of time, the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire without actually rendering tribute to the Sublime Porte, in 1534 and 1591.
The Safavid emperor, Shah Abbas I ended the rule of Kia Ahmad Khan, the last semi-independent ruler of Gilan, and annexed the province directly to his empire. From this point in history onward, rulers of Gilan were appointed by the Persian Shah.
The Safavid empire became weak towards the end of the 17th century CE. By the early 18th century, the once mighty Safavid empire was in the grips of civil war. Peter I of Russia (Peter the Great) sent an expeditionary force that occupied Gilan for a year (1722-1723).
Qajars established a central government in Persia (Iran) in late 18th century CE. They lost a series of wars to Russia (Russo-Persian Wars 1804-1813 and 1826-28), resulting in an enormous gain of influence by the Russian Empire in the Caspian region. The Gilanian cities of Rasht and Anzali were all but occupied by the Russian forces. Anzali served as the main trading port between Iran and Europe.
Gilan was a major producer of silk beginning in 15th century CE. As a result, it was one of the wealthiest provinces in Iran.
Safavid annexation in 16th century was at least partially motivated by this revenue stream. The silk trade, though not the production, was a monopoly of the Crown and the single most important source of trade revenue for the imperial treasury. As early as the 16th century and until the mid 19th century, Gilan was the major exporter of silk in Asia. The Shah farmed out this trade to Greek and Armenian merchants, and in return would receive a handsome portion of the proceeds.
In the mid 19th century, a widespread fatal epidemic among the silk worms paralyzed Gilan's economy, causing widespread economic distress. Gilan's budding industrialists and merchants were increasingly dissatisfied with the weak and ineffective rule of the Qajars. Re-orientation of Gilan's agriculture and industry from silk to production of rice and the introduction of tea plantations were a partial answer to the decline of silk in the province.
After World War I, Gilan came to be ruled independently of the central government of Tehran and concern arose that the province might permanently separate at some point. Prior to the war, Gilanis had played an important role in the Constitutional Revolution of Iran. Sepahdar-e Tonekaboni (Rashti) was a prominent figure in the early years of the revolution and was instrumental in defeating Mohammad Ali Shah Qajar.
In the late 1910s, many Gilakis gathered under the leadership of Mirza Kuchik Khan, who became the most prominent revolutionary leader in northern Iran in this period. Khan's movement, known as the Jangal movement of
Gilan, had sent an armed brigade to Tehran which helped depose the Qajar ruler Mohammad Ali Shah. However, the revolution did not progress the way the constitutionalists had strived for, and Iran came to face much internal unrest and foreign intervention, particularly from the British and Russian Empires.
The Jangalis are glorified in Iranian history and effectively secured Gilan and Mazandaran against foreign invasions. However, in 1920 British forces invaded Bandar-e Anzali, while being pursued by the Bolsheviks. In the midst of this conflict between Britain and Russia, the Jangalis entered into an alliance with the Bolsheviks against the British. This culminated in the establishment of the Persian Socialist Soviet Republic (commonly known as the Socialist Republic of Gilan), which lasted from June 1920 until September 1921.
In February 1921 the Soviets withdrew their support for the Jangali government of Gilan, and signed the Soviet-Iranian Friendship Treaty with the central government of Tehran. The Jangalis continued to struggle against the central government until their final defeat in September 1921 when control of Gilan returned to Tehran.
Gilan has a humid temperate climate with plenty of annual rainfall. The city Rasht which is the center of the province is known internationally as the "City of Silver Rains" and within Iran as the "City of Rain". The Alborz range provides further diversity to the land in addition to the Caspian coasts.
The coastline is cooler and attracts large numbers of domestic and international tourists.
Despite of the abundant humidity, Gilan is known for its moderate, mild and Mediterranean-like climate.
Mirza Kouchak Khan house
Large parts of the province are mountainous, green and forested. The coastal plain along the Caspian Sea is similar to that of Mazandaran, mainly used for rice paddies.
In May 1990 large parts of the province were destroyed by a huge earthquake, in which about 45,000 people died. Abbas Kiarostami made his films Life, and Nothing More... and Through the Olive Trees based upon this event.
The majority of the population speaks Gilaki as their first language while many children, particularly in the cities, tend to use Standard Persian amongst themselves. Gilan has some Azerbaijani-speaking people in Astara and Manjil. The northern part of the province is inhabited by Talesh people. The Kurdish language is used by some Kurds who have moved from Arbil to the Amarlu region. The language of Rudbar is Tati. Gilanis call themselves gilamard, which is a combination of 'Gil' and 'Amard.'
Gilan's position on the Tehran-Baku trade route has established the cities of Bandar-e Anzali and Rasht as ranking amongst the most important commercial centers in Iran. As a result, the merchant and middle-classes comprise a significant percentage of the population.
The province has an annual average of 2 million tourists, mostly domestic. Although Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization lists 211 sites of historical and cultural significance in the province, the main tourist attraction in Gilan is the small town of Masooleh in the hills south-east of Rasht. The town is built in a fashion not dissimilar to the Pueblo settlements, with the roof of one house being the courtyard of the next house above.
Gilan has a strong culinary tradition, from which several dishes have come to be adopted across Iran. This richness derives in part from the climate, which allows for a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and nuts to be grown in the province. Seafood is a particularly strong component of Gilani (and Mazandarani) cuisine. Sturgeon, often smoked or served as kebab, and caviar are delicacies along the whole Caspian littoral. Other types of fish such as mahi sefid, kuli, kulmeh, Caspian salmon, mahi kapur and many others are consumed. Fish roe, or ashpal, is widely used in Gileki cuisine. Traditional Persian stews such as ghalieh mahi (fish stew) and ghalieh maygu (shrimp stew) are also featured and prepared in a uniquely Gilani fashion.
Pashteh Palace, Anzali Port
More specific to Gilan are a distinctive walnut-paste and pomegranate-juice sauce, used as a marinade for 'sour' kebab (Kabab Torsh) and as the basis of Fesenjān, a rich stew of duck, chicken or lamb. Mirza ghasemi is an aubergine and egg dish with a smoky taste that is often served as a side dish or appetizer. Other such dishes include pickled garlic, olives with walnut paste, and smoked fish. The caviar and smoked fish from the region are, in particular, widely prized and sought after specialities in both domestic and foreign gourmet markets. Gilan is a popular tourism destination.
The most famous handicrafts of the province are: wooden articles, hand woven textiles, carpets, jajeems (a type of loosely woven woolen material), Gelims (a coarse type of carpet), silk weaves, earthenware and wooden vessels, statues, felt articles, wicker work, bamboo products, crochet articles, cotton fabrics etc.
Music in Gilan, contrary to other parts of Iran, reveals to be of various types. This difference in particular can be noted in areas such as Talesh, Daylaman and Espily. In the Talesh region there are three basic kinds of melodies, i.e., "Qadim Dastan", "Talesh Dastan" and "Tazeh Dastan". In the province, melodies are usually related to the life style of the inhabitants and are inspired from subjects such as rustic life. Some of the rhymes are chanted along with the appropriate dances, whereas others are cordial. Lamentations that are colloquial are common, besides lullabies, love songs and nursery rhymes. The famous musical groups of Gilan are the Ashiq Gilan, Gil Ava, Saba and Sarang.
The most beautiful vicinities of Iran are found in northern Iran, and especially in Gilan Province. Coverage of green forests, diverse sources of water, local architecture, and cultural specifications are eye-catching; forming a basis for the development of tourism. Some of these rural attractions, known both internally and internationally are:
Harzavil Village, Roodbar- Manjil
The history of this village dates back to over a thousand years, and is situated near the city of Manjil. Nasser Khosrow, the famous Iranian poet had traveled to this village and had mentioned this vicinity in his travel accounts. There is an ancient cypress tree in the village that attracts crowds of people every year. The tomb of Aqa Seyed Mahmood Marandi and Imamzadeh Ebrahim are other attractions of this area.
Kiashahr Village, Rasht
This village has made impressive progress during the years and has turned into a city. Kiashahr is located on the banks of a beautiful wetland, and enjoys a wonderful landscape and pleasant weather. Here there are wooden docks and some cottages for temporary use and fishing. Rest houses and restaurants have been constructed in the forest park close to the sea, so as to provide services to visitors. This village is one of the beautiful attractions of Gilan.
Masooleh Village, Fooman
This village is situated in the south west of Fooman, 63 km. from Rasht. It enjoys a moderate climate. Local architecture, springs, waterfalls, the 'Rood Khan' River and dense forests all make it an attractive tourism spot. Masooleh's integrated architecture and its houses are of two storied. These comprise of an entrance corridor, cellars and other unique architectural features, and are linked to each other by a staircase, such that the terrace of each house is the court-yard of the house above. The presence of the ancient Own Ebne Ali and Own Ebne Mohammad in Masooleh are pilgrimage sites and hold cultural importance.
Mian Poshteh Palace Museum (Navy Exhibition), Anzali
The historical structure of Mian Poshteh is located in one of the most beautiful locality of Bandar Anzali. In the year 1924, this palace was reclaimed by Reza Shah from its owner who was a Russian merchant. In 1977, this museum was inaugurated as the Navy museum. In this double storied structure, paintings and intricate plaster adornments can be noted. There is also a portrait attributed to Nasseredin Shah Qajar.
Rasht Museum, Rasht
The Rasht Museum extends over an area of 560 sq. m. and is a double storied structure. These premises belonged to Mirza Hossein Khan Kasmaie, (an ally of Mirza Kuchak Khan Jangali). The same was purchased by the Cultural and Arts Organization in 1970. After the required renovations, the structure was converted into a museum. The said museum is under control of the Cultural Heritage Organization at present, and was inaugurated in the year 1989. The museum comprises of three sections named as, the archaeological, anthropological and a sector displaying documents. Objects discovered in the excavations of hillocks such as Marlik, Tukam, Daylaman, Cheraq Ali and the Tegran cave are on exhibit here.
Gilan's Rural Heritage Museum
About 15 Kilometers far away from Rasht, there is a green and calm highway, with its two sides surrounded via rush and pine trees.
Stepping or driving a little forward, you'll reach an open and wide area decorated with wooden tableaus and billboards including the text "Musee patrimoine rural de Guilan" next to "UNESCO" and "Aix Du Province University" logos.
That French title remembers the glorious opening ceremony of "Guilan museum of rural heritage" in March 2007 where Prof. Christian Bromberger gave an interesting lecture about the history of Gilak tribe in front of hundreds of people, those in love with Persian culture.
Guilan museum of rural heritage is a fantastic and unique Eco-Museum that has been constructed in order to show the hidden corners of Guilan people's culture and lifestyle to the tourists from all around the world.
After paying a very skimpy amount of fee to the attendant at the entrance gate, you will find your way into a natural corridor with tall maple trees on the two sides and their foliage acting as roofs, preventing the sun and rain from damaging the traditional cobblestone floor of this narrow rural route
The artificial wooden fence on the two sides of this corridor extends all around the museum that is designed exactly such as a small village and includes all parts of a real hamlet such as teahouse, playground, municipality, stable and lake.
Mainly, this museum is dedicated to anthropology and is considered a good and reliable source for sociological studies especially to researchers who want to gather more valuable information on Gilak's life.
The Eco-museum shows the cultural and ethnic diversity of 27 Gilak subgroups in 27 cottages, in each of them there are girls wearing traditional costumes, some of them cooking cuisines, foods and some others making handicrafts. It is necessary to know that the total surface area of museum is about 260 hectares.
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Old and Historical Houses
Mirza Kuchack Khan tomb
Darya Beigi House, Langerood
One of the ancient houses of Langerood is the Darya Beigi house, one of the reputed families of Gilan. It is a double storied structure, and the rooms on the upper floor have latticed sash windows. This house has two large wooden doors with spikes and knockers. Flanking the doors are mantles with ancient mirrors. Each floor has three chambers, each accompanied by a beautiful balcony. The hall is adorned with paintings and valuable plaster work of the Qajar period. The interior adornments of this house are the important historical and artistic works of Gilan.
Monajem Bashi House, Langerood
The said is located in the Feshkalay locality, near the Sabzeh Maidan square in Langerood. This house belongs to the Monajem Bashi household, and is composed of the interior and exterior segments, private quarter, a mosque, bath and stables. Between the entrance and hall is a vestibule, which is connected to the upper floor by stairs. The upper floor comprises of a hall and three chambers. The adornments of the former depict the architectural effects of Gilan in the Qajar era. Four exquisite sets of doors displaying shrubs and floral designs, adjoin the chambers to the hall. This structure is registered as a national monument by the Cultural Heritage Organization.
Other Old Houses
Other ancient houses of the province which are mostly relevant to the Qajar period are: The houses of Haj Mirza Ahmad Abrishami (Rasht), Ayatollah Aqa Roodbari (Rasht), Dewan Beigi (Rasht), Mohammad Sadeqi (Lahijan), Dawoodzadeh (Rasht), Haj Seyed Hashem Bahrani (Rasht) and Sardar Mowtamed Rashti.
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