Popular Public Wine-drinking Locations

Iranians certainly made an occasion of wine drinking. Apart from private homes, the following locations catered for such events:

Fig. 5. Karim Khān Zand garden pavilion overlooking an extensive water canal, Dowlat-Abād Residence, Yazd, ca. 1750 CE (photo: Dariush Borbor, March 2012).

Fig. 5. Karim Khān Zand garden pavilion overlooking an extensive water canal, Dowlat-Abād Residence, Yazd, ca. 1750 CE (photo: Dariush Borbor, March 2012).

Fig. 6. Karim Khān Zand interior of garden pavilion, Dowlat-Abād Residence, Yazd, ca. 1750 CE (photo: Dariush Borbor, March 2012).

Fig. 6. Karim Khān Zand interior of garden pavilion, Dowlat-Abād Residence, Yazd, ca. 1750 CE (photo: Dariush Borbor, March 2012).

Fig. 7. Picnic and drinking scene at the Khāju Bridge (mid 17th century CE), Isfahan (photo: Dariush Borbor).

Fig. 7. Picnic and drinking scene at the Khāju Bridge (mid 17th century CE), Isfahan (photo: Dariush Borbor).

Fig. 8. The interior of Ali Qāpu pavilion, Isfahan (1598-1606 CE), with decorative recesses representing wine jars used with the double purpose of creating both an elegant erotic atmosphere and a sophisticated acoustical absorption treatment (photo: Dariush Borbor, September 2012).

Fig. 8. The interior of Ali Qāpu pavilion, Isfahan (1598-1606 CE), with decorative recesses representing wine jars used with the double purpose of creating both an elegant erotic atmosphere and a sophisticated acoustical absorption treatment (photo: Dariush Borbor, September 2012).

1. Nature
Wide-ranging evidence from miniatures show an old picnic tradition at all levels of the Iranian society which involved the drinking of wine. The events took place either in scenic open countryside or in wholly or partly landscaped gardens and chahār bāghs.

2. Garden Pavilions
Strategically placed semi-open or enclosed garden pavilions, overlooking pools and water canals, were usual wine-drinking spots for those who could afford them (figs. 5,6).

3. Bridges
In populated areas, bridges did not cater solely for transportation, but included sitting areas for outings and wine-drinking (fig. 7).

4. Public Wine-Houses: Taverns, Inns, Wine-shops and Wine Culture
Some imprecise evidence of taverns has come down to us from ancient Mesopotamia, The “tavern”, “inn” or the “bar” as we call it today materialized during the Old Babylonian Period (first half of the second millennium BCE) and began to play a social and cultural role in society[35] – the bīt sabīti “Woman Taverner’s House” was a “domesticated” household entity handled by the housewife. With the advent of manufacture and the general sale of alcoholic beverages it became bīt sabī “Taverner’s House” and the job passed to the husband. Later, in the first millennium BCE, it was offered outside the home by an innkeeper. Most of the taverns appear to have been located outside of the city walls in the vicinity of the commercial arteries, and the favourite alcoholic beverage which was served was probably beer rather than wine.[36]

In ancient Anatolia, the Hittite ARZANA-house is associated with a tavern which probably functioned in much the same way as inns in other parts of the ancient Near East, a place to find food, drink, merriment, women and lodging.[37]

Apart from the ancient evidence of wine in Egypt, there are further widespread indications of the existence of taverns and wine culture from the late fourth through to the early sixth century CE Ballana period.[38]

Toleration of taverns had its ups and downs in different periods in history. Plautius speaks of effeminate Greeks and thieving slaves frequenting such establishments,[39] while Cassius Dio states that Claudius commanded the closure of such places altogether.[40]The taverns in ancient Greece were called kapeleia. Although featured prominently in classical plays, little tangible archaeological evidence has come down to us. Thermopolia formed the corresponding Roman version of the tavern in antiquity. They were widely spread throughout the Roman Empire including Pompeii, Herculaneum and Ostia. Considerable amount of archaeological evidence gives a clear vision of their architecture. Many possessed straight or L-shaped counters. They served hot food and wine from earthenware jars. Many had an adjoining room which catered for sit-down eating and drinking.

Taverns (accompanied with cooked meat and probably other delicacies) existed in various towns in ancient India, Their locations were restricted to particular areas in the towns, and municipal authorities supervised their activity. Inspectors were appointed to oversee these establishments and control their adherence to the local byelaws and social codes.[41] Some of the regulations which were applied included: wine was not allowed to be taken out of the village. The taverns were not allowed to be very close to one another. Wine or liquor was to be sold to persons of “well known, pure character” and in small quantities; they were allowed to take their drinks out of the tavern, the rest were obliged to have their drinks in-house.[42] Special permission was required for the manufacturing of wine “On special occasions of festivals, fairs, and pilgrimage, right of manufacture for four days shall be allowed”.[43] We have evidence of the misuse of wine in India. There is mention of wine to intoxicate maidens and marry them against their will; harlots made use of wine in their profession.[44]

Iranians have always had a knack of balancing the “does” and the “don’ts” of society. The prohibitive edicts of Islam do not appear to have dampened their thirst for wine. Ancient traditions of tolerance combined with strict Islamic restrictions led to an unwritten compromise in which Zoroastrians,[45]the Jews, and Christians who were not bound with religious constraints became responsible for wine fabrication. Further to this, the title of may-khān “tavern” was vandalised and degraded to kharābāt “ruins/ruinous” or karābāt-e moghān “ruins/ruinous (place) of the Maggi” which did not cater solely to the Zoroastrians, but were frequented by the general public.
A vivid picture of wine drinking habits of north-eastern Iran in the 13th century CE is given by Marco Polo who expounds that the people of Casem, modern Kishm[46]

Are worshippers of Mohammet [...] whose great delight is in the wine shop; for they have good wine (albeit it be boiled), and are great topers; in fact they constantly getting drunk.[47]

“The Mussulman of Kerman is,” according to Khanikoff, an epicurean gentleman, and even in regard to wine, which is strong and plentiful, his divines are liberal”.[48]

Chinese authors of the 10th century CE report abundant grapes and excellent wine in the Muhammadan Xinjiang (Khotan) province of China which is corroborated later by Marco Polo.[49]

Fig. 9.

Fig. 9. Sultan Muhammad: Heavenly and Earthly Drunkenness (text, verso; text recto), folio from a manuscript of Divan of Hafiz, c. 1526-1527. Ink, color and gold on paper.

Fig. 10. A private party held at a typical 16th century tavern in medieval Iran.

Fig. 10. A private party held at a typical 16th century tavern in medieval Iran.

We possess no detailed written evidence of how taverns functioned or how they looked architecturally in Iran. Our sole sources are illustrations obtained from ancient miniatures and gleanings from Persian poetry and travelogues. The illustrations show that these were quite substantial buildings, usually of more than one story, They furnished courtyard and roof-top accommodation for the summer months personal suites for the dignitaries or private occasions (figs. 9, 10), and doormen (parda-dārs) to protect the clients from unwanted intruders (fig, 9).

Two of our miniatures, however, reveal much architectural information of interest. In one of these (fig. 9), the courtyard of the tavern is occupied by a group of singers and musicians who are entertaining a groups of revellers in various states of ecstasy. At the entrance, a tipsy gentleman is being led out of the tavern. To the left of the entrance an attendant is sending a tumbler of wine to the higher floors by an excellently improvised home-made elevator. To his left, a heavy and ornate jug of wine is being carried as “take-out” by a delivery man, perhaps for a special occasion. The well-stocked wine cellar (khom-khāna) with several huge wine jars is situated at the ground floor of the tavern at an advantageous location to serve the requirements of the courtyard and the upper stories of the tavern. The upper rooms of the tavern cater for private guests. The whole occasion is in progress under the blessing of the angels at the roof-top. In contrast to the informal nature of the previous illustration, in this miniature (fig. 10), a groups of well groomed professionals are performing a choreographed dance in unison, being overlooked by the dignitary and his entourage who are seated in the first floor saloon overlooking the courtyard The wine is being served in big wine=bowls (qadah), as was usually done in opulent receptions, by two uniformed attendants. A chamberlain (parda-dār) with curtain in hand is guarding the entrance to the upper floor. At the first floor private quarters of the tavern, musicians are entertaining the grandee and hi9s entourage.

We have a good description of the sixteenth century taverns in Isfahan. According to Chardin, they opened at dawn and this was the time and towards the evening that clients come the most.[50] Although, he does not give the closing time for these, the information obtained from Persian literature indicates that they continued late to the night, if not the early hours of the morning. The guests met there to drink cordials, liqueurs, strong spirits, wine or coffee. To smoke tobacco or opium during the day or the evening, to chat and listen to poetry or story-telling – these were centres of social gathering and full of animation with a broad range of amusement, seriousness, and obscenity. They appealed to Persians of all classes.

Architecturally, they had high-ceilinged rooms of different shapes and were located in the most attractive parts of the town such as the Hārun-e Velāyat and (extraordinarily) in the vicinity of Masjed-e Jāme. These were places where news was discussed and where politicians criticised the government. Innocent games such as draughts, hopscotch, or chess were played. Attractive Georgian boys between the age of ten to thirteen with hair plated like girls were available for homosexuals.[51]

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[35] Jean Bottero, The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia, Chicago-London, 2004, p. 93.

[36] Les de̕buts de l’histoire, sous la direction de Pierre Bordreul et al., Paris, 2008, p. 75.

[37] H. Hoffner, “The ARZANA House”, in Ajatolian Studies Presneted to Hans Gustav Gὔterbock on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, eds. K. Bitte;, Ph. H. J. Ten Cate, and E. Reiner, Nderlands Hisotrisch-Archaeologisch Instituut in Het Nabije Oosten,m Istanbul (1974), pp. 113-21; Ronald L. Gorny, “Viticulture and Ancient Anatolia”, in The Origins and Ancient History of Wine, op. cit., p. 153.

[38] Adams, Nubia…,op.cit., p. 418; McGovern and Michel, op.cit., pp.63-64.

[39] Curculio,II.iii. 288ff; Trinummus, IV.3.1013.

[40] Romaika,LX.6.7.

[41] Kautilya,Artha Shastra (about 300 BCE), Cha[t. XXV; Dhirendra Krishna Bose, Wine in Ancient India, Calcutta, 1922,p. 27.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.; Bose, op. cit., p. 28.

[44] Ibid., VI. 91, III. Pp. 24-25; ibid., p. 32.

[45] Bahmanji Nusservanji Dhabhar, “use of Wine in Zoroastrian Rituals”, in Idem, Essays on Iranian Subjects, Bombay, 1955, pp. 98-181

[46] Which is now a small town and the seat of a district of the same name on the right bank f the river Mashhad, a tributary of the Kokcha, in the Province of Badakhshan in Afghanistan.

[47] Marco Polo, The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian; Concerning the Kingdoms and Marvels of the East, ed. And trans. Henry Yule, Cambridge Library Collection, Cambridge-New York, vol. I,p.145 and note 4,pp. 147-48.

[48] Khanikoff, Me̕moire sur la Partie Me̕ridionale de l’Asie Centrale, Paris, 1862, p. 186 seqq. And notice p.21; Marco Polo, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 91, note 4.

[49] Ibid., p. 174 and note 2

[50] Chardin, Voyages…, op.cit., vol.4. p. 69; idem, A Journey…, op. cit., p. 118.

[51] Ibid., vol.7. pp.449-450. 3.pp.300-302 and 4. P.69; ibid., p.118.