1850 - Robert B. M. Binning
I had hired a house: and this mansion I shall endeavour to describe; as the detail will serve to convey an idea of Persian houses in general. The only visible sign of the house, in the street, is a low door, which is kept barred in the inside. It is constructed of thick timber, embossed with large iron knobs, and having an iron knocker suspended above the keyhole. No window or other aperture relieves the uniformity of the high mud-coloured wall. Entering by this door, a short passage called the dihleez, leads into the hyât or court of the house, a space of thirty feet square, the greater part of which is paved with slabs of stone; paving in the centre, an oblong tank of water, about five feet deep, constructed of stone: and on either side of the tank, a small plot of ground, in which grow half a dozen orange trees, a few rosebushes, jessamine shrubs, and other flowers. Round this court, the house is built; the principal part of it, being directly opposite to the entrance. The end where the entrance lies, is occupied by the kitchen and one or two closets. On either side of the court, leading from this, are four small rooms, some of which are occupied by the servants, while the others remain empty, or are used as occasion requires.
The chief part of the house, inhabited by myself, and facing the entrance, consists of two stories with a flat roof above: and the greater portion of the lower story is occupied by the deevan-khoneh or principal room, which is raised a few feet higher than the level of the court. This apartment is about 16 feet square, and the side of it, towards the court, is entirely occupied by the ooroosee, a large window of coloured glass, extending the whole length and height of the room. The ooroosee merits particular description. It is a kind of proscenium, the upper part of which, consists of open woodwork, carved, painted and gilt; and containing an infinite number of minute panes, or rather bits, of coloured glass, arranged in fancy patterns. From this upper half, descend five sashes, sliding in grooved posts: each sash being seven feet high, and reaching down to the floor. These are also composed of little panes of stained glass, fitted into the woodwork: and any or all of these sashes can be opened, by sliding it upwards into the higher portion of the ooroosee; so that the whole apartment can he thrown open to the court, or completely closed, according to the inmate's pleasure. Above the ooroosee., on the outside in front, is fastened a curtain, like a dropscene, which is let down and pulled up, by means of cords and pulleys. In hot weather, this curtain is often lowered, to keep out the glare and heat, while the ooroosee is thrown open. I should observe that no putty is used in a Persian window. The little pieces of glass are fitted into grooves in the woodwork; and when fresh pieces are to be inserted in the room of broken ones, it is often necessary to take a great part of the window to pieces. Much taste is often displayed, in the construction of an ooroosee; and in palaces and great houses, this is generally a very handsome affair.
The other three sides of the room, have a hizâra or wainscot (if it can properly be so termed) of level white plaster, painted with flowers, running round to the height of three feet; and above this, the wall is worked into taukcheh or niches, also of white varnished plaster, ornamented with a profusion of painting and gilding, representing birds, flowers, and shrubs. Above this, runs a cornice of gold and azure, about eight feet from the floor: and the upper part of the wall is occupied by a representation of his late majesty Fateh Alee Shah sitting in state, and attended by ten ladies. The figures which extend round three sides of the room, are nearly as large as life, and gaudily coloured. Whether they are good likenesses or not, I cannot pretend to say. The ceiling is in keeping with the rest of the apartment; being covered with painting and gilding in mosaic or arabesque pattern.
There is a great waste of paint and gold leaf, in these decorations; and according to my taste, a room would look better, with a more sparing allowance of colours and glitter.
The floor is covered with a mat; above which is an ordinary carpet, and round the sides of this, are spread the nummuds or thick doubled layers of felt, upon which the Persians seat themselves. In the centre of the wall, opposite to the ooroosee, is the bookhâree or fireplace, a narrow kind of stove, without a grate, projecting slightly from the wall. At the sides of the room, are doors leading into small antichambers, called the kefsh-ken or "pull off shoe;" for here every one leaves his shoes, previous to stepping over the durgah (threshold) of the chief room. From the front of these antichambers, a few stone steps lead down to the court; and at the sides lie the san-dook-konehs or closets for stowing away trunks and baggage. Beside these closets, proceed narrow tortuous staircases, conducting to the story above. This upper story consists of two goosh-wâras or small rooms, used as sleeping apartments. Each apartment has a small ooroosee in front; and the walls are of white stucco, ornamented with figures of birds done in relief. Beside these sleeping rooms, two doors, approached by a few steps, lead out upon the bâm or terraced roof of the house. This roof, which is very thick and substantial, has a mahjer or low parapet wall running round it, and is furnished with several nâvdân or long wooden spouts, to carry off the rain.
In the heat of summer, people commonly sleep on the roof at night, and at this season, they sit there during the day, to bask in the sun.
The doors in the house, all consist of two leaves. They are badly fitted, and do not suffice to keep out the cold and wind; for which purpose, a chintz curtain is generally hung up in front of each door, inside of the room. Each linga (leaf or division) fastens by means of a few links of chain, called the chift, which fits upon the reeza, a kind of hasp, fixed in the top of the doorframe. To this hasp, a padlock is attached, when it is requisite to fasten the door securely. The outer door of the court, leading into the street, is secured by a lock, as well as by a thick wooden bar, called the koloon.
House-rent is by no means expensive in this country. The rent of an ordinary house, such as I have described, is about two tomans (eighteen Shillings) per month.
Persian houses are all built much on the same principle: but those inhabited by men of wealth and rank, having families and numerous dependants, are much larger, and cover a great space of ground; being divided into two compartments - the zenana or part occupied by the women; and the merdâna, where the lords of the creation dwell - which are distinct and separate. In these mansions, a second courtyard with garden-plats and tank of water, lies behind the gentlemen's quarters, and contains another division of the house, similar to the first, wherein the ladies and female attendants live: and here, the chief wife's authority is paramount, even to the exclusion of her liege lord, if she does not choose to be troubled with his company. Here the ladies receive their visitors, and give entertainments, &c., to which none of the other sex are, on any account, admitted.
I should observe, that the upper story of a house, instead of being divided into two small apartments, as in mine, which I have described, often consists of one room, as large as that below, having closets at the sides, and opening towards the court, with an ooroosee. This is termed the balakhoneh; a word from which our "balcony" is probably derived. Many dwellings are also furnished with a zeer-zemeen or serdaub, a subterraneous apartment, lighted from above; which is resorted to in summer, and is cool in the hottest weather.
In the best houses, the ornamental work is executed in first-rate style. The ooroosee is a splendid arrangement of coloured glass - the roof is beautifully arabesque - the taukchehs (niches) finely painteed - and the jirz or spaces of the wall between these niches, inlaid with looking-glass, neatly joined together. This has a very pretty effect, particularly when the lamps are lighted at night, and the apartment seems to be multiplied to an endless extent. In some of these mansions, the deevan-khoneh is very large, and has at one end, a shahmisheen or alcove, elevated on a dais, in which the inmates usually sit. This alcove often has a small ooroosee occupying its back, which leads into a tanabee or inner room behind. Above the alcove, is commonly a ghoorfa or upper apartment, open to the deevan-khoneh; and here they sometimes sit, in hot weather, as being cooler than down below. A bâdgeer or windtower, such as I described at Bushire, is occasionally erected above; but this addition to the dwelling, is not so common or so necessary, on the table land of Fars, as in hotter regions.
I ought to mention that in one corner of the court, there is generally a draw-well, having a wooden wheel over it, with a rope and leathern bucket. Upon the roof, there are two or three chimney tops, built of brick, three or four feet in height; and sometimes a sukkoo or platform, in the centre, a few feet high, upon which the beds are spread in the warm summer nights. Many houses have besides, a kind of eaves of woodwork three or four feet broad, extending round the top of the house, outside of the parapet wall. This wooden ledge, called the toorra, is plastered on the upper side, and painted and gilt on the lower. I have now hastily described a Persian dwelling, as accurately as lies in my power, with-out being too minute in regard to particulars: and hope I have succeeded in making myself intelligible.
Binning, Robert B. M.
A Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, Ceylon etc.