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Middle East Brian Dispatch

A Chat with a Mosque
April 15, 2000

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The Odyssey lands an exclusive interview!
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Hello ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the city of Esfahan in Iran. I am walking through the grounds of the Masjed-e Emam, one of the most fabulous mosques in the entire country. I welcome you here, and I also invite you to take a walk through my brain. Yes, that's right, welcome to my brain. While walking through this magnificent place I had a daydream that the Masjed-e Emam decided to grant me an exclusive interview. As you know, these buildings all have stories to tell, and here is the story of this one.

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Brian (B): On behalf of the Odyssey, I would like to thank you, Masjed-e Emam, for taking the time to speak with me. I know you are busy with an endless stream of visitors, and I really appreciate your time.
Masjed-e-Emam (M): Oh no, it's really no problem at all. I have plenty of time on my hands. I've been sitting in the same spot -- on Emam Khomeini Square -- since 1638 CE, so I like to take a break now and then. I like meeting new people, you know.

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Check out Monica's airtime!  That will be a BIG echo!
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B: How does it feel to be a mosque?
M: I have to admit, it is really quite an honor. A lot of work went into building me -- it took twenty-six years -- and I must say they take pretty good care of me.

B: As far as mosques go, what makes you special?
M: (chuckling) Ha! Look around you! Your eyes will tell you most of what you need to know! You could say I am the jewel in the crown of Esfahan, or the apple in the eye of Shah Abbas-I, who built me, or the cream of the crop of Iranian mosques... Well, you get the picture. Then there is my dome, which must be "heard" to be believed, if you know what I mean.

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The entire mosque is covered in beautiful blue tiles.
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B: I know that the dome of the Aya Sofia in Turkey is respected far and wide, but I must admit that I haven't heard of yours yet. And, what do you mean by "be heard to be believed?"
M: Well, my main dome is almost 180 feet tall. If you walk underneath it you will notice a black stone set in the floor. Stand on this stone and clap, or sing, or stomp your feet, and you will hear exactly seven echoes. Not many domes can boast such perfect acoustics -- none that I know of.And that's not all, my friend. I am not a one-trick pony. It was a very good time to be a mosque when I was constructed in the days of the Safavid dynasty. By that time the styles of Persian architecture had been perfected, and I received the most royal treatment.

Vocabulary

acoustics - a science that deals with the production, control, transmission, reception, and effects of sound, the qualities that determine the ability of an enclosure (as an auditorium) to reflect sound waves in such a way as to produce distinct hearing
magnificent - marked by stately grandeur and lavishness, sumptuous in structure and adornment, impressive to the mind or spirit
threshold - the plank, stone, or piece of timber that lies under a door, the place or point of entering or beginning
portal - a door, or an entrance, esp. a grand or imposing one
vestibule - a passage, hall, or room between the outer door and the interior of a building; in this case a prayer hall

For example, they clad me in beautiful blue tiles, which are a specialty of the mosques of Esfahan, and put on quite a show in the brilliant sun of Esfahan. Just sit in the courtyard and watch my walls for a little while, and you will see them change color as the sun moves across the sky. They don't turn yellow or pink, of course, but they reflect different shades of blue throughout the day. They have the most beautiful designs in all of Iran painted on them, which seem to dance in the sunlight. It is a magnificent sight!

You know as you cross my threshold that you are in the presence of greatness. My entrance portal is 98 feet tall, which makes you look like a peanut staring up at an elephant. It's a long way up, and you probably feel like you just might get swallowed!

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This man is performing his daily prayers.
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B: How do you stay clean after over three hundred years of visitors?
M: Let me share with you one of the benefits of being a mosque: no shoes. Things stay a lot cleaner when people are not tracking dirt all over the place. Although I am a famous tourist attraction, my first duty is still to serve as a house of prayer. My main vestibule faces towards Mecca, and Muslims from all over the country come here to pray, every day of the year.

B: It's hard being the best, huh?
M: They say it's lonely at the top, but I actually live in a good neighborhood. I am the main attraction on Emam Khomeini square, which is one of the largest open town squares in the world. It was built in 1612 CE, and I moved in about twenty years later. The square is the main attraction here in Esfahan, and there is always a great deal of hustle and bustle to keep things interesting. There are many shops, and even horse-drawn carriages that will take you on a spin around the square. It is mostly tourists like you who take these carriage rides, but both tourists and locals enjoy the bright and bustling shops around the square.

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A rainbow waves good-bye to the trekkers in the Emam Khomeini square
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B: Who me? Am I a tourist? Is it that obvious?
M: Only tourists have cameras strapped around their necks and jump up and down under my dome like crazy fools. But don't worry, I don't mind it -- in fact I like it when people enjoy themselves under my dome. I hope you enjoy yourself, and feel free to come back whenever you like.

B: Thank you, Masjed-e Emam! It was an honor to speak with you!
M: It was my pleasure. Just don't tell anyone you talk to buildings or they will call you a crazy fool too. Bye now!

Related Links

Salam Iran
Esfahan

I hope you enjoyed that little tour of history with my brain and me. Although I snapped out of my wondrous daydream, it was not before I got that exclusive interview with the mosque. And as we left the square, a beautiful rainbow appeared in the courtyard fountain as if to say goodbye to us. We took one last look, piled into the bus and headed out for our next adventure.

Brian

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...briwingate@bigfoot.com
 

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