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Report of a journey through Persia - Yezd
Yezd is a city about 2 miles (3.2 km) in length from north-west to south-east and 1.25 miles (2 km) broad. It is built almost entirely of mud or sun-dried bricks. A few of the better houses as well as some of the mosques and other public buildings being faced with burnt bricks.
The fort or ancient city is surrounded by a high mud wall flanked by towers at about 50 yards (46 m) interval. Outside this high wall runs a low one with a command of about 9 feet (2.7 m) over the glacis, and giving a second tier of fire. Outside this lower mud wall runs a ditch with perpendicular unrevetted sides of a width and depth of about 20 feet (6.1 m).
The weaker points of the buildings are defended by round towers connected with the main building by arched bridges; the ditch being widened in places so as to include the towers and yet preserve the same width throughout.
The governor lives in a fortified enclosure, the citadel, which is inside the fort. The citadel is the only part of the defences which are not in a ruinous and unserviceable condition. It is similar in construction to the rest of the fort, and like it, has mud walls about 30 to 40 feet (9 to 12 m) in height. These are about 8 feet (2.4 m) thick at the base and taper gradually upwards, till at the parapet the thickness does not exceed 1 foot (30 cm).
It is entered by two gateways, one being on the north-west and the other on the south-east face. The ditch in each instance is crossed by a permanent single-arched bridge.
2-3- Urban texture
The fort has evidently been unused as such for many years. The interior being chocked up with a mass of houses, through which run narrow winding streets, some of which are roofed over and so low that it is impossible for a horseman to ride through them. In many places, all the interior works have fallen away, leaving lines of loopholes 15 or 16 feet (4.6 or 4.9 m) above the ground, where they are quite useless.
The fort contains the Juma Masjid, an ancient building, whose lofty minarets are the first object to strike the eye when viewing the city from a distance. Several of the irregularly built bazaars of the city wind in and out of the fort on the south-west side, and as they are roofed over, it is hard to tell whether one is inside or outside.
There are no troops. 500 cavalry are, however, allowed to the Yezd district for the purpose of robber catching. There are no organizations of a military sort. Their armament is guns, none.
There is a Persian telegraph office. Single wire lines run from here to Shiraz and Kerman. The post office is worked on the European system. There are weekly mails to Bandar Abbas and Bushehr.
The Yezd district was formerly under the government of Shiraz, but now, in 1888, it has been formed into a separate district directly under the supreme government at Tehran. There is an assistant governor as well as the principal one.
The government of the district is farmed out. The last governor (3) held it for 250,000 tomans. The customs are farmed for 47,000 tomans.
The population of Yezd is about 65,000 or 100,000, inclusive of Taft and the adjacent suburbs. Of these, 6,000 are Parsis and 900 are Jews. Since the last famine in 1870, the population has been steadily increasing.
The Parsis possess four fire temples, which are however, concealed in private houses, for fear lest the Muhammadans should defile them. The parsis have been gradually driven out of the chief parts of the city until there only remains to them the south-eastern suburb and some adjacent villages.
They are much persecuted by the Muhammadans, and are not allowed to wear any clothes except those of a khaki color, nor is it allowed them to ride in any of the main streets of the city. In times of tumult, the Parsis are always the first victims. Their high priest as well as their secular head or kalantar reside here.
The Jews also suffer persecution. They are distinguished from the rest of the inhabitants by being compelled to wear a patch on their garments, no matter how wealthy they are.
The climate is very healthy and, as a rule, dry and bracing. During the coldest month of the year, December, the thermometer ranges from 30° to 37° Fahrenheit (-1 to 3 °C), but at the beginning of June, it rises to 90° (32 °C), which is the maximum temperature. (4)
The water, which is good and sufficient to meet the requirements of the town, as well as to irrigate a large number of gardens, is obtained from near the foot of the Shirkuh, whence it is brought by qanats starting at a depth of 100 feet (30 m). The qanats approach the town from the south and south-west.
There are said to be at least 70. It would be difficult to cut off the water supply from the city altogether, as some of the streams run at a great depth below the ground, and passing on, supply suburbs to the north. These subterranean streams are reached from the city by long flights of steps descending towards them through subterranean passages.
Yezd being simply an emporium of trade situated in the middle of an unproductive plain, does not contain supplies sufficient for the consumption of her own inhabitants. Consequently, sheep are imported from Shiraz and grain from Isfahan. It is only during the months of October, November and December that the city subsists on its own grain raised in the neighborhood. Special arrangements would have to be made for the supply of any large force halting here.
6-2- Bazaar rates
The following is a list of the prices current in the markets. 1 man at Yezd i.e. 1 shah man is equal to 13 lb. av. (5.9 kg) and 1 rupee is equivalent to 2.5 krans (5).
There were formerly 50,000 camels in the city, but since the introduction of the camel tax of 2 tomans per camel, the number has fallen off to about 15,000. There are, however, mules and asses to the equivalent of 35,000 camels. Mules preponderate. Horses are scarce. The people of Yezd are not horsemen; they prefer riding donkeys.
7-1- Camping grounds
There are good camping grounds for a large force between Mohammadabad and Yezd. Water is plentiful and soil is gravel and sand.
7-2- Defensive positions
The nearest position from which the city could be defended against a force advancing from the south is at Mohammadabad. The position of the city, low down, its irregular and straggling nature would prevent its being defended from any nearer point.
Since the introduction of the telegraph and post office, Yezd has become an important center of trade.
The imports are Indian goods, as well as English of all descriptions, amongst which are yarns, piece goods, prints, sugar, refined sugar, copper sheets, tin slabs, lead, iron, condiments, chinaware, glassware, spices, green tea, Indian tea, and Singapore tea.
These imports come chiefly from Bombay through Bandar Abbas; and after a sufficient quantity has been taken for local use, the remainder goes on from this city to the following places: Tehran, Mashhad, Kashan, Sabzevar, Birjand, Toon (6), Tabas.
The exports of Yezd are opium, cotton, wool, madder roots, cumin seeds, almonds, walnuts, pistachio nuts, etc. Yezd is the center of the opium trade. About 2,000 chests of opium being annually exported to Bombay via Bandar Abbas, and thence sent on to China. This opium is not only the produce of Yezd, but is also that of many other parts of the country, for instance, Semnan, Bajestan, and Gonabad.
8-3- Trade routes
Most of the imports and exports come and go via Bandar Abbas, which port is connected with this city by three routes. The first being the well-known one via Kerman, the second via Sirjan, and the third route via Herat Khowreh (7), Neyriz, Qatruyeh, and the Tang Zagh.
8-4- Local manufactures
The principal of these is the chador or outer covering worn by women. These go principally to Isfahan and Shiraz.
Trade in English goods is now, if anything, on the decline. They are being gradually driven out of the market by Russian goods, which, especially as regards their print goods, are preferred as being of a superior quality and more popular patterns. Russian print goods are fast dyed, while the English are not. English sugar is still preferred as being better than Russian.
There are several Armenian Russian subjects staying here, engaged in purchasing furs and in other business. These men, though only small traders, no doubt take care to inform their friends of the kind of goods which are most in demand here, and doubtless, give information on any other matters worthy of note to their own government.
It appears that the Russians have a better knowledge of the tastes and requirements of the Persian people than we have, and consequently know better how to suit them.
8-6- British subjects
In Yezd, there are some 15 naturalized British subjects, qualified by residence in India, both Mussulmans and Parsis. It is through their hands that the whole of the trade in English goods and the bulk of the trade from Bandar Abbas passes.
These merchants, among whom are several men of good education, for instance, Ardashir Mehraban Irani, who is a B.A. of one of the Indian colleges, possess great influence in Yezd. They are disposed to be loyal towards the British government.
Owing to the insecurity of life and property, these men dare not invest more than a quarter of their fortunes in trade. The British government has hitherto refused to protect these men in any way whatever, consequently they are liable to ill-treatment, extortion and persecution, especially the Parsis, whose lives are often in danger and sometimes lost. Through the Parsis, half the trade with Bombay passes.
I have just stated that the Muhammadan merchants require protection as well as the Parsis. This is the case, for in Persia, when a merchant is wealthy, the governor always squeezes as much of it out of him as he can.
Several of these merchants belong to the Bab sect, and from long residence in India have learnt to look with toleration upon men of other creeds. Their doing this is sufficient to arouse the dislike of their stay-at-home and more fanatical fellow citizens, who envious of their wealth, would be only too glad to do them a bad turn should an opportunity present itself.
If protection were afforded to these merchants, either by the establishment of a native agent to look after their safety and the interests of trade, or by their being taken under the protection of one of the British agents in Persia, the effect on British trade would be astonishing.
These merchants would lay out nearly four times the amount which they now do in trade. The Parsis of Yezd would form companies and firms, establish factories and banking corporations, and import and export goods of English manufacture for local as well as foreign consumption to a vastly larger extent than they do now.
English commercial influence would then, as it should, become paramount in these parts.
Since the above was written, the Karun River has been opened up to navigation; (8) and Haji Mirza Muhammad Taqi has been appointed Russian agent at Yezd.
The opening up of the Karun River will not affect the trade of Yezd. In order to develop it, other steps must be taken. The first of these should be the immediate appointment of an agent to the city. Other things would then follow of themselves.
For instance, the merchants, feeling secure, would, of their own accord, as is customary in the country, commence improving the communications with the Persian Gulf, by levelling the roads, building cisterns, erecting caravanserais, and sinking wells where necessary.
The subjoined extract from the diary of Mr. E. G. Browne, which was kindly furnished to me by that gentleman, who was recently travelling in Persia, is of interest as bearing on the subject in question: (9)
“Yezd is too well-known, and has been so often visited and described, that I will merely add a few impressions which I received during the 20 days I spent here.
1- That the governor, the Imad ud-Dowla is a very good and capable one.
2- That Yezd is really one of the most flourishing and opulent towns in Persia, and that the really poor are much fewer than in almost any town there.
3- That its merchants are many of them of great ability, integrity and enterprise, with a large connection not only through Persia, but with India, China, Beirut, and some of them have a large command of capital. They are, owing to their connection with India, and in the case of the Zoroastrians especially, many of whom have been themselves at Bombay, warmly attached to the English, of whose greatness.
They have very high ideas; many of them expressed a great wish that some day a railway would be made to connect them with the Gulf. They asked me what its cost would probably be. The same feeling prevailed in Kerman.
Those of them who are under British protection or are British subjects, are extremely proud of the fact, and many who were not so were anxious to become British subjects, if possible.
4- Amongst the Zoroastrians, several know English, notably their chief merchant, Ardashir Mehraban, a most admirable man in every way. Amongst the Mussulman merchants, the richest and most powerful are Haji Mirza Muhammad Taqi, and among his relatives, Haji Leyjid Mirza, originally of Shiraz, who are also most kindly and upright men. One of the sons of the former, a young man of 30 or so, named Haji Mirza Muhammad, knows English a little.
5- As to the condition of the Zoroastrians, it is better than it was formerly, but they are still subject to many vexatious laws, and are often insulted or unjustly treated without being able to obtain redress.”
Edward G. Browne, M.A., M.B.,
10- Final Word
With regard to the construction of a railway, I found the people much interested in the subject. The only remarks that I can offer are:
“That a line could be constructed from Yezd to Neyriz with but little difficulty, for, although the elevations crossed are great, yet the gradients are very easy, the greater part of the line running over a level plain.
To the south, between Neyriz and the Persian Gulf, the country is, I believe, very mountainous. The best route directly south would probably be Darab, Lar, Bandar Moghuyeh, where there is said to be a good caravan route. But I should think that the best direction to follow from Neyriz would be a line running in a south-east direction towards Bandar Abbas. The line then would run in conformation with the general line of the mountains, and an easy route might be found along the valleys and river banks.”
From the foregoing remarks on the commercial importance of Yezd, it would be easy to estimate whether such an enterprise would be profitable or otherwise.