Kashan is a medium-sized city located in an oasis, to the east of the Kuh-i Kargiz range in north-central Iran. At the edge of Iran's vast central desert, the climate is dry, with most water coming from temporary mountain streams, in addition to a natural spring called Fin on the western edge of the city. A large garden
was constructed around this spring during the Safavid and Qajar periods.
Excavations in mounds at Sialk to the southwest of the modern revealed that the area was inhabited as early as the 5th millennium BCE, and that habitation continued until around 800 BCE, at which time the site was abandoned. Christian lore connects Kashan to the journey of the Magi to Jerusalem for the birth of Jesus, suggesting that the city was known in late antiquity. The town certainly existed before the rise of Islam, as medieval geographers and historians recount that the Kashanis provided such resistance during the Muslim conquest of Iran that the generals of the invading army had to throw grenades of scorpions over the town walls (Kashan is infamous for its scorpions).
The importance of Kashan increased during the reign of the Seljuk amirs, when its craft industry and intellectual life began to flourish. In addition to its men of letters, the city was known for its craftsmen. Most importantly, Kashan is synonymous with the luxury ceramics industry of medieval Iran, as it is famous for the production very fine fritware vessels decorated with enamel (mina'i, haft-rangi) as well as luster.1 It may have been the craft industry that partly spared the total destruction of the town during the Mongol invasions of the thirteenth century, as Kashan's workshops continued to operate in the late thirteenth/seventh century AH and early fourteenth/eighth century AH and beyond.
The Safavid Dynasty
is responsible for the further development of the city during the sixteenth/tenth century AH, as Shah Abbas I
and his successors invested in the town, constructing a dam, gardens, palaces, and bazaars there, as well as serving as patrons for the local textile industry. Travelers from Europe and the Near East describe Kashan of the Safavid period as a well maintained, prosperous city with a diverse religious population (Jewish and Muslim). At this time the town reached a zenith in its recorded history.
The eighteenth/twelfth century AH brought catastrophe to Kashan; first a reduction of prosperity under the Afghan occupation of central Iran, and then destruction in the earthquake of 1779/1192. Kashan regained some of its economy and population in the nineteenth/thirteenth century AH under Qajar rule, but never reached the same status as a cultural capital as it enjoyed during the early modern period. The twentieth century saw further economic growth due to the local population's adaption of the weaving industry to modern global markets, leading to a surge in population during the second half of the century, when it once again became a prosperous city.2
- The only surviving recipe for lusterware from an Islamic context was penned by a courtier with the nisba Kashani (from Kashan). J. W. Allan, "Abu'l-Qasim's Treatise on Ceramics," Iran 11 (1973): 111-120.
- de Planhol, "Kashan," Encyclopaedia Iranica.
Calmard, J. "Kās̲h̲ān." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by P. Bearman, et al.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/1573-3912_islam_SIM_3963 (Accessed July 10, 2018).
Lockhart, Laurence. Persian Cities, 120-126. London: Luzac, 1960.
Nārāqī, Ḥasan. Āsār-i tārikhī-i shahristānhā-yi Kāshān va Naṭanz. [Tehran: Anjumān-i āsār-i millī, 1348/1969].
de Planhol, Xavier. "Kashan ii. Historical Geography." Encyclopedia Iranica.