In 2018 while studying at Dehkhoda, I learned by word of mouth a story about Zarafshan Street (خیابان زرافشان) in Eivanak (ایونک), west Tehran which was full of thousands of tulips (لاله /lā’leh/). Apparently one had to see these flowers to appreciate them. I took a taxi there to see for myself. Despite the sky being overcast it was a very colourful trip.
The word Zarafshan is a compound of two Persian words: zar (زر) meaning gold, and the present tense root of the verb af’shān’dan (افشاندن) meaning to scatter or to sprinkle. Both of these words are very familiar to me from reading the Shahnameh. The snippet below is from the story of Siavash:
One can see that the word ‘zarafshan’ exists outside of Iran today. Firstly there is a city in Uzbekistan. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the main products of this town is gold. Then there is the Zarafshan mountain range sitting in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. There is also the Zeravshan River. The meaning is exactly the same, only the pronunciation is different. This is about 1,000 miles as the crow (کلاغ /ka’lāg/) flies from Tehran, and serves as an indicator of how large the old Iranian empires were, and the pervasiveness and persistence of the Persian language.
Doctor Hooman Ardebili
For several years, a man called Doctor Houman Ardebili (هومن اردبیلی) has planted thousands of tulips by the side of in West Town, Tehran. Initially, he did this for the memory of his deceased mother. Over time it grew into an even of greater proportions. In 2018 he had planted over 200,000 tulips in 60 varieties, neatly grouped by type. There was a modest sign with some information about the flowers and about Doctor Ardebili.
I wondered who Doctor Ardebili is. I looked on DuckDuckGo and Google in English, but all I found were secondary sources referring to the flowers in Zarafshan, but no information on the good doctor himself. Then I tried again in Farsi ‘هومن اردبیلی’. And the very first link was correct (web site in Farsi). This demonstrates a couple of important points which I will only briefly mention here: firstly, not everything on the internet is in English or has been translated to English; secondly, looking for primary sources in the original language is sometimes hard to beat. If I had paid more attention to the sign above I could have saved myself a few minutes – the web site name is printed on it! I did find one link in the English language Iranian newspaper Tehran Times here.
Putting my Persian language skills to good use, this is a translation of the page in the link above:
Hooman Ardebili is the founder of the Enphila collection. Listen to his own language for the idea of its formation:
“My mother was very much interested in flowers and plants, and she died three years ago. I thought what can I do by way of a memorial for her. Various ideas came into my head. Such as I can prepare some food or I can do different things in religious ceremonies and festivals. But continually at the centre of my ideas was the point that my mother had a fondness for flowers and plants. I spent some time thinking about what people would also like. Eventually I decided to do the tulips.”
After seeing the flowers, I spent a couple of hours wandering around Eivanak in the general direction towards West Town. Unlike some other parts of Tehran, this district has been studiously planned: the roads were wide, the traffic was quite light and flowed well (as can be seen in the photographs below), the houses were modern and large. It is a residential district for the more prosperous. But there were very few cafes that I could see. It was for me a little bit sterile and dry – a place to go home to rather than to go out.
West Town (شهرک غرب)
An impossible to miss landmark (or group of landmarks), there is a cluster of formidable residential buildings located in West Town not too far from Milad Tower. They are named after four of the great Persian poets: Khayyam, Sa’adi, Hafez, and Nezami. They are colossal and imposing buildings whilst being architecturally austere.
This is a view towards West Town looking down from Milad Tower on another day. When the weather is clear, the backdrop of the mountains is very beautiful.