Kashan is a historical city in the north of Isfahan province.
Some etymologists argue that the city name comes from the Kasian, the original inhabitants of the city, whose remains are found at Tapeh Sialk dating back 9,000 years; later this was changed to “Kashian”, hence the town name. Between the 12th and the 14th centuries, Kashan was an important centre for the production of high-quality pottery and tiles. In modern Persian, the word for a tile (kashi) comes from the name of the town.
Kashan is divided into two parts, mountainous and desert. In the west side, Kashan is cited in the neighbourhood of two of the highest peaks of Karkas chain, Mount Gargash to the southwest of Kashan (the home of Iran national observatory, the largest astronomical telescope of Iran) and Mount Ardehaal in the west of Kashan, also known as “Damavand of Kashan” and the highest peak of Ardehaal mountains (end part of Karkas chain in central Iran).
In the east side of the city, Kashan opens up to the central desert of Iran. Kashan is also known for Maranjab Desert and Caravanserai located near the Namak lake (or salt lake). Today Maranjab and the surrounding Shifting Sands is a visitor destination at the weekends for safaris.
The earliest evidence of human presence around Kashan date back to Paleolithic period that has been found at Niasar, Kaftar Khoun and Sefid-Ab. Middle Paleolithic stone tools were discovered at the travertine spring of Niasar and the travertine of Kaftar Khoun. Upper Paleolithic groups were living around Sefid-Ab spring at SW of Kashan.
Archaeological discoveries in the Sialk Hillocks which lie 4 km west of Kashan reveal that this region was one of the primary centres of civilization in the pre-historic ages. Hence, Kashan dates back to the Elamite period of Iran. The Sialk ziggurat still stands today in the suburbs of Kashan after 7,000 years.
The artefacts uncovered at Sialk Mahan Pasha reside in the Louvre in Paris and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Iran’s National Museum.
By some accounts, although not all, Kashan was the origin of the three wise men who followed the star that guided them to Bethlehem to witness the nativity of Jesus, as recounted in the Bible. For example, medieval traveller Friar Odoric of Pordenone related this story in 1330 after having visited there. Whatever the historical validity, the attribution of Kashan as their original home testifies to the city’s prestige at the time the story was set down.
Abu-Lu’lu’ah/Pirouz Nahāvandi, the Persian soldier who was enslaved by the Islamic conquerors and eventually assassinated the caliph Umar al-Khattab in 643 CE, reportedly fled to Kashan after the assassination. His tomb is one of Kashan’s conspicuous landmarks.
Sultan Malik Shah I of the Seljuk dynasty ordered the building of a fortress in the middle of Kashan in the 11th century. The fortress walls, called Ghal’eh Jalali still stand today in central Kashan.
Kashan was also a leisure vacation spot for Safavi Kings. Bagh-e Fin (Fin Garden), specifically, is one of the most famous gardens of Iran. This garden with its pool and orchards was designed for Shah Abbas I as a classical Persian vision of paradise. The original Safavid buildings have been substantially replaced and rebuilt by the Qajar dynasty although the layout of trees and marble basins is close to the original. The garden itself, however, was first founded 7000 years ago alongside the Cheshmeh-ye-Soleiman. The garden is also notorious as the site of the murder of Mirza Taghi Khan known as Amir Kabir, chancellor of Nasser-al-Din Shah, Iran’s king in 1852.
The earthquake of 1778 levelled the city of Kashan and all the edifices of Shah Abbas Safavi, leaving 8000 casualties. But the city started afresh and has today become a focal tourist attraction via the numerous large houses from the 18th and 19th centuries, illustrating the finest examples of Qajari aesthetics.