Photo Essay: The Ruins of Alamut

By Muslim and Nevin Harji

Editor’s note: Muslim and Nevin Harji of Montreal, PQ, Canada, visited Iran for a period of 4 weeks in October 2011. A magnificent collection of photos portraying the people and foods of Iran appeared in the first instalment of this series. The Harjis summarized their unforgettable journey as follows:

“There are no words to describe the hospitality, kindness, love and gentleness of the Iranian people. So far we have ventured into over forty countries, but never have we experienced such generosity. Our bodies may be back in Montreal, but Iranian hospitality has stolen our hearts which are probably somewhere either in Esfahan or Shiraz.”

Muslim and Nevin Harji (2nd and 5th from left respectively) seen with their Ismaili hosts – centre – in Teheran. Next to Muslim is his brother in-law Abdulla Suleman from Edmonton. Muslim’s sister Mehrun is on extreme right. Photo: Muslim/Nevin Harji Collection, Montreal, PQ, Canada. Copyright.

After a few days in Tehran, a metropolis of 16 million people, the Harjis ventured up North into the Alborz Mountain range, and spent sometime at the quaint village of Ghazor Khan, which is at the base of the historic Alamut Castle. They then trekked their way to the ruins of the fort. A collection of photos from their visit to Alamut is produced on this page. Alamut remained a Nizari Ismaili stronghold for almost 170 years from 1090 and 1256 AC. The resilient Ismailis finally surrendered to the brutal Mongols, who had issued an edict with the chilling words, “none of that people should be spared, not even the babe in its cradle.”

At the editor’s request, the Harji’s have made a high resolution image of the panoramic photo (top photo) available for browsing. This is quite an astonishing image and you are invited to click on the link to the large format immediately following the article.

THE WINDING ROAD

The twisting road crossing three mountain ranges that brings visitors to Alamut. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

Alamut lies at the end of a tortured, winding road that twists and turns over three mountain ridges, countless valleys and across some of the wildest and most spectacular scenery in all Iran. No one comes here by accident. The 80kms journey from Qazvin takes some three hours of hard driving on a modern road that is only a few decades old. Before that, all that existed was a narrow donkey track to lead the traveller to his destination, a journey that could last days, and sometimes weeks.

The Quaint Valley of Ghazor khan at the foot of Alamut. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

At the foot of the mountain on its western side lies the little village of Ghazor Khan, nestled among orchards of pretty cherry trees. From this position, the rock appears as a slim, rugged pyramid.

Nevin Harji…almost there. An official road sign. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

THE ROCK OF ALAMUT

it is not until you come to the foot of this colossal mass of stone that you realize the immensity and impregnability of the fortress at its summit.Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

It is not until you come to the foot of this colossal mass of stone that you realize the immensity and impregnability of the fortress at its summit. Bigger than anything else in the world it seems, this rock is deeply scarred by grooves and curious striations that change colour with the quality of the light: now purple, now mauve, metallic grey, brown. You could almost believe this mass of rock was breathing like an immense, sleeping organism.

THE ASCENT

The well constructed 800 or so steps that take you some of the way-up before a narrow goat track laboriously winds its around the northern side of the rock to its eastern side. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

The ascent begins with 800 stone steps recently constructed for the benefit of visitors. Thereafter the path dwindles to a narrow goat track that winds its way laboriously around the northern side of the rock to its eastern side.

Local village boys offer donkey rides up part of the track, but the Harjis declined the offer. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

 Local village boys also offer donkey rides up part of the track, but the Harjis declined the offer.

The fortress itself clings impossibly to the summit of a gigantic boulder set against the high peaks of the Hawdeqan Mountains. It is a truly beautiful place. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

The fortress itself clings impossibly to the summit of a gigantic boulder set against the high peaks of the Hawdeqan Mountains. The hills around it are folded in delicate shades of pastel green or lavender, pinkish in some places, terra cotta in others. Ochres and browns are streaked in wide brush strokes across the landscape. It is a truly beautiful place.

The last part of the climb is a hair-raising assault up a vertical cliff face covered in scaffolding and wooden planks as a result of excavation work that has been underway for some time. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

A tribute to the great Ismaili dai, Hasan bin Sabbah who was responsible for establishing the Alamut state after the divisions in the Fatimid Empire led to its eventual demise. Hasan maintained that Imam Nizar and not Musteali was the rightful heir to Imam Mustansir billah, the 8th Fatimid Caliph. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

Under the leadership of Hasan Bin Sabbah, Alamut became the site of intense activity for the Shia Nizari Ismaili Muslims between 1090 and 1256 AC. During the medieval period, the castle functioned as the major stronghold of the Nizari Ismaili state. In 1256, Ismaili control of the fortress was lost to the invading Mongols and its famous library holdings were destroyed when the castle’s library was condemned to be burned by Ata-Malik Juwayni, a servant of the Mongol court.

AT THE SUMMIT

Attaining the summit at Alamut is a breath-taking and exhilarating experience. The fortress complex, one soon discovers, sits astride a dangerously narrow ledge of rock resembling the handle and blade of a knife. The above is an open passage through the mountain. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

Attaining the summit is a breath-taking and exhilarating experience. The fortress complex, one soon discovers, sits astride a dangerously narrow ledge of rock resembling the handle and blade of a knife.

A portrait of an elder at the Albozor Mountain. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

EXCAVATION EFFORTS AND FASCINATING DISCOVERIES AT ALAMUT

At Alamut with a team of experts from the University Of Tehran in charge and overlooking the excavation project. Joining the trip, were Muslim’s sister Mehrun (standing, 2nd from left) with her husband on her right, Abdulla Suleman of Edmonton . Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

THE PRAYER HALL

The discovery of a prayer room at Alamut with Ismaili spelt incorrectly on the sign. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

Recent archeological excavations at Iran’s Alamut fortress have yielded food storage rooms and water reservoirs in the northwestern historical site as well as a prayer hall.

The Prayer Hall (with the mihrab on the left. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

A side view of the prayer hall. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

WATER RESERVOIR

Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

The legendary water basin which filled itself up by collecting rainwater and melting snow from channels and canals on the mountains. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright.

In one of the rooms at Alamut, can be seen the legendary water basin which filled itself up by collecting rainwater and melting snow from channels and canals on the mountains. It was famed never to overflow. Other rooms were clearly intended for storage, perhaps once filled with barley, honey, oil, dried fruit and sheep fat to enable the citadel to hold out during a siege for years if need be. Legend has it that during the castle’s conquest and destruction by the Mongols, an invading soldier is reported to have fallen into one of these tanks and drowned in a vat of honey!

Today the Fort is being carefully excavated under the watchful eyes of experts from the University of Tehran. Photo: Muslim Harji, Montreal, PQ, Canada. © Copyright

Today, as noted in the last caption, Alamut is being carefully excavated under the watchful eyes of experts from the University of Tehran. The eleventh season of archaeological excavations in the Alamut Castle for removing the detritions of tank water that is located northwest of the Cape began a few months ago.

Date posted: Sunday, February 26, 2012

Next (Week of March 5, 2012): The Treasures of Iran

© Copyright: Muslim/Nevin Harji, February 2012.

Please read previous instalmentPhoto Essay: Iran Through a Canadian Lens

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Editor’s note: In compiling the text for the above piece, the authors made extensive use of Ryszard Antolak’s 2010 article “Journey to Alamut” which can be read at the following links:

1. http://poetrania.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/journey-to-alamut.html
2. http://www.iranian.com/main/2010/mar/journey-alamut

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About the writers: Nevin and Muslim Harji live happily in Montreal, where, over the last 35 years, they have raised two children and run a successful business. Upon retirement in 2004, Muslim and Nevin truly started to explore the world. All told, together and individually, they have visited more than 40 countries around the globe, experiencing the beauty of the Middle East, the exoticism of Asia and the wonders of South America. Kayaking the Magellan Straights, exploring Palmyra by camel, hiking up to Alamut Fort in Iran or travelling by overnight train in India, Nevin and Muslim have always favoured unique ways of experiencing the countries they visit and plan to continue fostering their love for travelling the world.

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High resolution (5MB).

Alamut panoramic photo – high resolution (5MB). For personal use only. All photos are © Copyright: Muslim/Nevin Harji.

Related must read articles on this website:

My Climb to ‘Sacred’ Alamut, Where Every Stone Tells a Story by Ali M. Rajput
Voices: Unravelling the Dark History of the Medieval Ismaili Community being a review by Valerie Gonzalez of Professor Peter Willey’s “Eagle’s Nest”
“Hashish Assassin” – Pulling Back the Silk Curtain by  Dr. Karl  S. Kruszelnicki

The following appeared in Simerg’s highly acclaimed series I Wish I’d Been There:

The Eid-i Qiyama! by by Jalaledin Ebrahim
The Great Resurrection by Khalil Andani
Khawja Nasir Tusi’s Tales by Arif Babul
A Fida’i Mission: Into Saladin’s Tent by by Shazia’Ayn and Aliya-Nur Babul
Inferno of Alamut by Shariffa Keshavjee

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21 thoughts on “Photo Essay: The Ruins of Alamut

  1. The pictures are colourful, and reveal a lot of secrets of the capital Castle of the Ismaili Confederation for 170 years. The historians have been figuring out, how Ismailis could run their State for such a long time with such meagre resources against such a formidable adversary. The pictures reveal a very restricted accommodation at their disposal. The State had to create space to accommodate up to 500 garrisons and some administrative staff including, Hasan-i-Sabbah, the Head of the State. They had to provide their residents sleeping accommodation, praying facilities, library for education and research, storage of weaponry, food and other facilities. They must have been in extreme difficulty when living under siege of their enemy. Their financial resources were also really very limited. The Seljuk Turks, the chief adversary, however, were thousand time stronger in resources of material wealth, land and manpower. It is remarkable then to observe that the Ismaili scattered federation could maintain their independence for 170 long years. HOW DID THEY DO IT?

    I think that the Ismailis know the answer to this question.

    A few years ago I myself along with my son Dr. Karim climbed the Alamut Rock. We also visited the Castle of LAMASAR. We we were told that the Iranian state was going to excavate it after finishing the ALAMUT Project. Can the authors throw some light on LAMASAR excavation Project?

    Thank you
    Dr Ali Mohammad Rajput
    UK

  2. It reminds the hardships our Imams and Dias have undergone to keep the Ismaili flag alive. Proud to be an Ismaili. Looking forward to reading and seeing more about our cultural heritage. Mubarak Nevin and Muslim to see these historical sites and grateful to all of you for bringing this information. Thank you and may you live long life. Aameen

  3. It was indeed beautiful story of Alamut. When the word Alamut come I remembered the ginan “Alamot gadh patan delam des bhaire…” (Brothers, Pir Sadr al-Din, the true guide, departed from the fort of Alamut, the capital of the land of Daylam). Jenny Khakoo.

    • Editor’s note:

      Thank you, Jenny, for your feedback.

      The above Ginanic quote suggests that Ima‘ili activity at Alamut continued following the Mongol Conquests.

      There are other testimonies to support this theses and readers are invited to read Shafique Virani’s excellent piece by clicking http://www.iis.ac.uk/view_article.asp?ContentID=109002

      The followng is a translation of a Sindhi composition from Virani’s article:

      The Imam’s herald travels throughout the world
      Blessings be upon the Imam, the Pir and the community
      For the Imam has appeared in the fortress of Alamut

      Brother, we are perpetually blissful
      By God, he has arrived, the community enjoys its fortune
      Hail the advent of the Lord ‘Ali in the West!

      Recognise the Supreme Man, Lord of Light
      Friends, know the Pir to be he
      Who has led you to the recognition of the Lord of Twelve Splendours.

  4. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to “visit” Alamut through your stunning photography and descriptions. It was also wonderful to see pictures of you both–brings back memories of happy times in Montréal at Van Horne!

  5. Thank you for these wonderful photographs. They are an inspiration for the younger members of the jamat who do not know the history of the Ismailis from the outset.

  6. Really lovely and it has taken me back to my unforgettable summer in Iran way back in 1976 – twin sisters travelling from Canada…

  7. Alamut, the stronghold of the Ismailis in the 10th century, is part of our rich & glorious history. Muslim & Nevin, you have brought it alive in the 21st century through the magic of your lens with some spectacular & amazing photography! Thank you!

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