Photos of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian Fire Temple) in Tbilisi, Georgia

The photos of the Zoroastrian fire temple or Atashgah of Tbilisi in Georgia were provided to kavehfarrokh.com in late 2017 by Dr. Nader Gohari of Durham University, who is an avid researcher and scholar of Iranian Studies.

Panoramic view of the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

Georgia, like ancient Albania (known as Republic of Azerbaijan since May 27, 1918) and Armenia have stood at the crossroads between Anatolia, the civilizations of ancient Persia or Iran and Eastern Europe.

[A, C] Views of the stairway of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi; [B] Plaque at wall to right of bottom stairway providing a short history of the Atashgah and its protected status as a heritage site by the Georgian government (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

Alongside the impact of the major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), the Caucasus continues to bear a strong ancient Iranian imprint as witnessed for example by the Kurdish Yezidis who live in both Georgia and Armenia to this day.

Concave structure at one of the top corners of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

As noted by the late British historian Mark Whittow (1957-2017) who taught as a professor at Oxford University:

The oldest outside influence in Trans-Caucasia is that of Persia…many of its populations, including Armenians and Georgians, as well as Persians and Kurds, the Transcaucasus had much closer ties with the former Sassanian world to its south and east than with the world to the west” [1996, pages 203-204; Whittow, M. (1996). The Making of Byzantium: 600-1025. Berkley: University of California Press].

Despite the conversion of Georgia to Christianity in the 4th century CE, Zoroastrianism continued to endure in local culture of the region. Officially, it was King Mirian (Persian: Mehran) who converted to Christianity in 337 CE. Despite this, the name “Ohrmazd” (Ahura Mazda) continued to be invoked by the local peasantry who referred to their deity as “Armazi”.

Platform providing access into the the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

The Locals of ancient Georgia are believed to have provided offerings to Aramzi or Ohrmazd in a locale in close proximity to what is identified as “Bridge of the Magi” (Lang, 1956, pages 22-23; “St. Nino and the Conversion of Georgia,” Lives and Legends of the Georgian Saints, translated by D.M. Lang (1956), London: Allen & Unwin).

Mock-up view of the interior of the Atashgah (Zoroastrian fire temple) of Tbilisi (Source: Nader Gohari, 2017).

The Ancient Civilization of Jiroft

The Cultural Organization of Iran has identified the remains of an ancient city buried close the modern city of Jiroft, located in Iran’s Kerman Province. Archaeologist Yusef Majidzadeh identifies the “Jiroft civilization” as having been a distinct culture during the early Bronze Age (late 3rd millennium BC). This civilization was located in modern-day Iran’s Sistan and Kerman Provinces.

Possible pieces of an ancient game at Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

Yusef Majidzadeh, the head of the archaeological team that has explored the Jiroft site, has proposed that the area and its artifacts represent a bronze age civilization that featured its own language, culture and architecture.

A seal plaque from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News), suggestive that this civilization had developed a sophisticated legal and/or business system(s). The figures appear to possibly represent some type of “Trinity” symbol, possibly a reflection of some type of theological or religious system.

The assertions of Majidzadeh however have been challenged by several scholars as documented in the Encyclopedia Iranica:

“A number of scholars have indeed countered these unanchored pronouncements and firmly challenge them. They argue on the basis of objectively derived data surfacing from excavations that in reality the “Jiroft” artifacts reflect a thriving culture of the 2nd half of the third millennium B.C.E., one that flourished centuries later than the genesis of Sumerian culture. Therefore the “Jiroft” culture was contemporary with a much later phase of Sumerian cultural history”

Falcon figure from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News). This type of depiction has proven surprisingly resilient in the cultures of ancient Iran, as seen for example with the falcon image on a Sassanian metalwork plate housed at the Hermitage Museum at St. Petersburg, Russia (Inv. S-217). 

The Jiroft civilization of eastern Iran appears to be related to modern-day western Afghanistan’s “Helmand culture”. These may have been contemporary with each other or even part of the same cultural zone at one time.

Possible Candle holder or incense burner from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

According to the Archaeology News Network:

“For centuries, Mesopotamia was thought to be the world’s oldest civilization. This was generally accepted by most people until a 5,000-year old temple was discovered in Jiroft Historical Site in Iran’s southern Kerman province, prompting archaeologists to identify the region as the world’s oldest cradle of human civilization”.

Jiroft Figure on horseback (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

According to the University of Pennsylvania Museum (Penn Museum):

“The new excavations [at Jiroft] have produced an extensive ceramic assemblage, and monumental, domestic, and craft production areas. Most interesting among the finds are more than 400 seal impressions of cylinder and stamp seals used in economic administration.”

Oil Lamps and/or Pots from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

The Jiroft zone is indicative of an advanced civilization, even as much work remains to be done by researchers, archaeologists and anthropologists. The area has certainly yielded a large range of artifacts of which many raise questions as to their purpose and function.

Tablet with local script from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

The above tablet is a significant find as it demonstrates that the script of the Jiroft region is independetn and/or unique with respect to cuneiform and hieroglyphs. nevertheless the above artifact and other inscription finds need to be examined in more detail and by expert scholars, as information on samples such as the above piece have yet to analyzed in rigorous fashion (see Encyclopedia Iranica on this …)

Small statue with close up of face of a man from Jiroft (Source: Hamid Sadeghi – Mehr News Agency & Payvand News).

The Mushtaid (Mojtahed) Garden in Tbilisi

The Mushtaid Garden in Tbilisi (see more about this garden/park in the Georgia About webpage) was established in the 1830’s by Mir-Fatah-Agha who was originally from Iran. By the 1830s Georgia had been fully incorporated into the Russian empire. This was made possible by forcing Qajar-ruled Iran to relinquish her Caucasian territories to the Czarist Russians.  Iran signed the Treaty of Gulistan (September 24, 1813) after her defeat in the first Russo-Iranian war (1804-1813) and the subsequent Treaty of Turkmenchai (February 21, 1828) after the second Russo-Iranian war (1826-1828). As a result of these defeats,  Qajar-ruled Iran was to permanently lose her territorial links to eastern Europe. For more on the Russian-Iranian wars of the early 19th century consult Kaveh Farrokh’s third text “Iran at War 1500-1988“.

Entrance gateway into the Mushtaid Garden in Tbilisi in the late 19th century (Source: Georgia About).

Mir-Fatah-Agha was a mujtahid (Persian: religious leader) – hence the name Mushtaid for the garden. After Nino (Mir-Fatah-Agha’s Georgian wife), passed away of an illness, Mir-Fatah-Agha buried her close to his house and had roses planted around her resting place. This became the foundation for the future Mushtaid (Mujtahid) park, which became an official public park by 1858.

Public restaurant in the Mushtaid Garden of Tbilisi in the late 19th century (Source: Georgia About).

A key question that arises is how (or why) did the Russians decide to grant this prime real estate in one of Eastern Europe’s most lush regions to an Iranian national? This would seem interesting given that the Russians had fought so hard to wrest the entire Caucasus from the Iranians in the early 19th century. The reason the Russians did this is because Mir-Fatah-Agha had greatly helped the Russian empire’s military campaign against his homeland. Mir-Fatah-Agha had been accused of spying during the Russian-Iranian wars and expelled from Iran in 1828, the same year the Treaty of Turkmenchai was signed between imperial Russia and Qajar-ruled Iran.

A view of the Mushtaid (Mujtahid) Garden as it appears today in Tbilisi. As noted in the Georgia About website: “The famous Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani (Niko Pirosmanashvili) (Georgian: ნიკო ფიროსმანი) saw French dancer/actress Margarita perform in Mushtaid Garden in 1905. He was immediately besotted and it is said that he sold everything he owned to buy thousands of roses that were strewn in front of Margarita’s hotel.”

In appreciation of Mir-Fatah-Agha’s services to their empire, the Russians not only granted him asylum but also rewarded him with five hectares of land in Tbilisi (known as Tiflis in Persian and during the time of the Russian Empire).

Children’s railway in the Mushtaid garden or park of Tbilisi. As noted in the Georgia About website: “The first children’s railway in the world was opened in Mushtaid Garden on 24th July, 1935. Operating on a 1.2 km track, it was a narrow-gauge railway, complete with real wagons and locomotives.”

Nevertheless the case of Mir-Fatah-Agha should be considered in context. While more studies are needed in this topic, it would appear that the Qajar era (1789–1925) witnessed the rise of rampant self-interest among government officials and religious clergy (Mullahs and/or Mujtahids). The primary motivation in almost all of these cases was to acquire more wealth, property, recognition and influence. This was so transparent that British officials soon realized that they could easily buy off (often at a relatively low price) most Iranian government officials and clergy (Mullahs). This has been duly noted by Christopher Andrew in his book “Her Majesty’s Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community” (London, Penguin Books, 1987):

“The Long drawn-out ‘Great Game’ with Tsarist Russia…reached its peak in the later nineteenth century, gave rise to an equally long drawn-out series of intelligence operations…the Foreign office…particularly in Persia which acquired growing importance in British eyes…The Mullahs, who were the main authority within the country, proved vulnerable…to the ‘Cavalry of St George’. Sir Charles (later Baron) Hardinge, who became British Minster at Tehran in 1900, quickly concluded that there were few Persian clerics ‘whose religious zeal is proof against bribes’. The bribes to both Mullahs and civil officials sometimes took unusual forms: among them hyacinth bulbs, cigars, colored spectacles, silver clocks and – on one occasion – an artificial limb presented to a Persian brigand who had lost an arm in an attack on a caravan. The Marquess of Lansdowne, the foreign secretary … in Persia … acknowledged, he had ‘not hesitated to use secret service money’.” [Andrew, 1987, Pages 5-6]

In this context Mir-Fatah-Agha, a Mojtahed, was simply acting as many of his Qajar-era contemporaries would have acted: immediate self-interest even if it meant cooperation with a national adversary.

Traces of Neolithic era uncovered in Iran’s Fars province

The article below “Traces of Neolithic era uncovered in Iran’s Fars province” was published Payvand News on March 25, 2016, based on an original report by the Mehr News Agency.

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The first season of archaeological excavations in Bavanat county in Fars province has led to the discovery of 200 objects with the oldest having traces back to the Neolithic era.

Morteza Khanipour, the leader of the archeological team, said the Hermangan site located west of Jashnian village in Bavanat county, Fars province, has been discovered in April 2015.

A number of objects discovered at Bavant county (Source: Payvand News).

According to him, over 50 per cent of the site has been completely demolished by farmers and only a few parts of it have remained. As noted by Khanipour:

The excavations have so far led to the discovery of two settlement phases … In the older phase, the lack of architecture and the existence of several hearths and scattered ash could be indicative of the nomadic lifestyle of the settlers … on the deposits we discovered stratigraphic architecture including rooms and several other spaces that were painted in white clay, and the walls of two rooms that were painted red by using ocher.”

Due to unauthorized excavation, most of the rooms have been destroyed, thus making it impossible to give an accurate and definite explanation of their functions, he added.

The archeologist noted the discovery of a thermal structure in the trenches that was most probably an open furnace used for clay firing. Khanipour further avers:

By comparing the potteries obtained from this site to the ones discovered in Mushaki Hill, Jeri Teppe, Bashi, and Kushk-e Hezar, one can say that the site dates back to the Neolithic era of Bashi archeological site and the TMB workshop of Mushaki.

He went on place Hermangan archeological site somewhere between 8100-7800 BC.

Other unearthed objects during the excavations include stone tools such as microliths which indicate harvesting and agriculture, as well as protoliths that indicate the production of tools inside the settlement.