Madi Jahangir * – On the wooden balcony and behind the geraniums, the old man was watching the people walking over the courtyard of his house. Noise of vehicles was far away, because no motor vehicle was allowed in. I knew this. I’ve been to the city once many years ago when I was a child. I do not have a clear picture of what I had seen that time though. It was not very known touristic place that time and we had traveled there after a flood which had left the place quite muddy. I had not stepped in there until recently when I decided to show my home-province to my Tajik friend.
We drove 20 kilometers from Fooman through deep forests and thick mist. The fog did not lift when we arrived. Many cars were lined up to enter the parking lot and there was too much traffic. So we just stopped the car somewhere before the crowd and walked some short distance to reach the welcome sign of the city on the other side of the river: “Welcome to ancient town of Masouleh! The town of history and attraction.”
Although it has been written that the community was established around 10 AD, the town is much older than that. The first village of Masouleh was established around 1006 AD, 6 km northwest of the current city, and it is called Kohneh Masouleh (Old Masouleh). It is said people moved from Old-Masouleh to the current city because of attacks from neighboring communities. Once been on the famous Silk Road trade route, the town is covered by forests and is blessed by annual rainfall, as is the characteristic of Gilan province. Masouleh-Roudkhan river passes through the city.
We crossed the river to reach first ‘stair road’. There and then the spender of Masouleh was witnessed. In this beautiful picturesque town of Gilan province with population of a village, the buildings have been built on a steep slope in a way that each house’s courtyard is other house’s rooftop. In fact, courtyards and rooftops both serve as the pedestrian roads similar to streets. To put it simply, “The yard of the building above is the roof of the building below.”
It may have been the only city in Iran which no vehicles are allowed to pass through due to its unique layout. The small alleys and the narrow stairs would not simply make it possible for vehicles to enter anyway.
On my way to main market, I found many Akkas-khaneh or photo houses inside which there were so many traditional Gilaki costumes for rent and some lovely decorations here and there, so that people would wear the clothes and take pictures.
Although the small shops start from the very beginning of the road but Masouleh’s market in downtown is the hub of trade. There are sweet shops, bakeries, grocery stores, knife-making shops, leather works, artwork and pottery shops, food stalls and several traditional Chay-Khaneh (teahouses).
Old women are usually seen at the doorstep of their house while knotting and chatting with the neighbors. The doors of such houses are wide open and there are knotted dolls, colorful socks and other handicrafts hanged from doors for sale. At the downtown mosque, there is shrine of a grandchild of prophet known as Aun bin Ali.
I was in fact walking on the rooftop of the mosque that I spotted the old man. Nobody had noticed him behind the geraniums. I asked him from far if I am allowed to take photo pointing out my camera. He smiled and nodded his head in agreement. Just then, people who were climbing the stairs discovered this new subject to capture. It just took few seconds and crowd was gathered in front of the house with their cameras and smart phones. The old man seemed little bit annoyed by all the suddenly attracted tourists treating him like an interesting ‘touristic object’ for photography!
To be honest, I felt guilty that I had disturbed his very peaceful moment of solitude on his beautiful balcony. But then he went inside and was back few minutes later with a small watering can. He watered the geraniums very carefully, quite distracted from the cameras and people walking in the courtyards. After all, Masouleh was no longer an unknown village peacefully situated in the Alborz range. It is now a booming and crowded touristic spot which attracts thousands of Iranians and international tourists each year. This has brought great prosperity for the locals. People in Masouleh have kept the city clean and unchanged. It still shows off the great harmony between man and nature. But tourism has eventually had some of its side effects.
Masouleh is no longer a quite picturesque destination to get lost in its beautiful deep forests and thick mist. Well, it has them all yet but not the calm. Everyone in Masouleh seems to have adapted to this fact and so did the old man on the wooden balcony.
* Madi Jahangir is editor at Dream of Iran