The Odyssey
The Odyssey
Base Camp
Trek Connect
Time Machine
Multimedia and Special Guests

Middle East Monica Dispatch

Home is where the Heart is.... Zartosht's Home
April 12, 2000

Click image for larger view
Angel, with the eternal flame, on the second floor
Architecture studies the "built environment" such as temples, skyscrapers, and houses. An architect tries to understand the relationship between people and the space around them. For example, the coziness in visiting a friend's bedroom "feels" different than the stress in taking a test in a stuffy classroom. Why is that? (Tip! If you conceptualize rooms or buildings well, and like creating drawings or models, perhaps you're an architect at heart!)

Yazd, in the center of Iran, is a city of many Zoroastrians. Distinct neighborhoods of Zoroastrians dot the city, and we are fortunate to visit two Zoroastrian houses with architecture that reflects the beliefs of this religion. For example, look up when you enter the neighborhood. Designs of angels catch your eye as you walk narrow streets. They are whitish-stenciled designs on mud-colored backgrounds. Notice the eternal flame one angel tends? Fire, symbolized by the eternal flame is one of the Zoroastrian elements. The other elements are air, earth, water, plants, and animals. Humans complete the circuit.

Click image for
larger view
What's behind door number 3?
When you find the doorway you're looking for, make sure to knock the right knocker! Males and females use different knockers, which in turn make different sounds ("BOCK-BOCK" for the guys and "pash-pash" for the girls) so your host knows who to expect when company arrives. Jasmine doesn't need to knock because she uses the key our Zoroastrian friend Parvis entrusts to her. Directly inside, a small illustration of the prophet Zarathustra, or Zartosht, hangs on the wall. According to their sacred text, the Avesta, the Wise Lord (Ahura Mazda) revealed Zoroastrianism's principles, particularly its emphasis on monotheism and the purity of elements, to Zartosht.

Click image for larger view
Abeja chills in front of a wind tunnel
When you enter the alcove, look up at the skylight. Air conditioning helps keep the house cool, and this A/C naturally flows from outside, where it's trapped in wind tunnels and vented indoors. Abeja, Kavitha and our guides had a fun time climbing on these wind tunnel contraptions, where wind gets sucked through the towers, then circulated throughout the tunnel and into the space. This first alcove in the house feels light and airy, but be careful where you step! Workers are reconstructing the two houses we're visiting, so watch out for stones and bags of dry cement lying around. Now let's enter the rest of the house.

Click image for
larger view
Brian basks in the light of the meat cellar
Zoroastrian houses are built along two long axes: horizontally and vertically, but so many nooks and crannies pop up that we can't stop exploring! The staircase branches off into two directions, one towards the downstairs kitchen and the other to the lower level meat cellar. Parvis points out the kitchen, a cavernous space with a huge oven for baking bread and three separate kitchen fires. The concept of "asha" in this religion challenges translators, who commonly substitute "truth, righteousness, world-order, eternal law, or fitness" for that word. One blessing from the Avesta says:

"May these blessings of the Asha-sanctified come into this house, namely, rewards, compensation, and hospitality; and may there now come to this community Asha, possessions, prosperity, good fortune, and easeful life..."


conceptualize - to make ideas in the mind
axis (plural axes) - a straight line that separates an object into two symmetrical parts
emphasis (plural emphases) - to assert importance on something
cavernous - to be like a cavern by having empty space

If a Zoroastrian family played host to many guests, they were blessed because they were hospitable to all the people who visited their house. I was thinking that a big kitchen makes a terrific addition for when a family hosts many guests. Persian culture to this day relies on entertaining in the home, between and within families, and much of the social life revolves around family and kin.

Click image for larger view
The water's excited to share with you...
Once we continue outside, Parvis shares with us that typical Zoroastrian houses have two courtyards. We're in the small courtyard, admiring a fountain, the symbol of water…when we see more of the stenciled designs. In fact, right behind us, there's also writing, which explains that "this door is open always" to God. This and other verses in Zoroastrianism have the special claim of being the first to preach monotheism. They won many converts throughout this area. For example, Darius the Great, the Achaemenian king who swept through Persia, highly encouraged people to worship Ahura Mazda, more than 2,400 years ago-- the writing, which Darius left as a record, continues to speak clearly of their Wise Lord.

"O Maker of the material world, thou Holy one! Which is the second place where the Earth feels most happy? Ahura Mazda answered: 'It is the place whereon one of the faithful erects a house with a priest within, with cattle, with a wife, with children, and good herds within; and wherein afterwards the cattle continue to thrive, virtue to thrive, fodder to thrive, the dog to thrive, the wife to thrive, the child to thrive, the fire to thrive, and every blessing of life to thrive."
--- Vendidad, Fargard 3: 2,3 of the Avesta

PLANTS As we head out the small courtyard and into a larger, more public courtyard, I admire all the greenery and the care that the gardener takes to beautify the surroundings with plant life, even when the house is under construction. Zoroastrianism teaches much respect for the divinity in all nature.


Click image for larger view
If walls could talk, this is what they'd say

Designs on the wall round out the picture: there are illustrations of lions and gazelles mixed in everywhere. Zoroastrianism, with its emphasis on the elements, shines through in the house that we visited. I hope that emphasis on the elements shines back to you, as well. Thanks for taking a quick tour of the house, and come visit us for the next update!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - Out of Town, Across the Sand, Into the City: Nothin' but Desert! Iran Gets Creative with Wind and Water
Brian - My Visit to the Vank (pronounced Bonk)
Jasmine - The Golden Age: Safavid Rule
Kavitha - Balancing East and West: Pars Grows Up
Team - Turn Off That Faucet! Water Doesn't Grow on Trees, You Know

Meet Monica | Monica's Archive

Base Camp | Trek Connect
Time Machine | Multimedia and Special Guests

Home | Search | Teacher Zone | Odyssey Info
Meet Monica