[ May 1999 ] From Astara, the border town in Iran close to Azerbaijan, we headed for Ardabil and stayed there for one night.
The hotel here was terrible, though they said it was three star.
Winged ants fell on my bed and there was even a cockroach in our room.
This city was fairly large as a capital of the Ardabil province and I wondered if there were not any better hotels.
The itinerary of this holiday had been arranged before we left through an agency and the hotels were chosen by them.
The reason why we stayed one night here in Ardabil was to visit the area where the nomad people called Shahsavan lived.
I was very much attracted to the carpets woven by Shahsavan people, so one of my main purposes for visiting Iran was to see these people and possibly to see them weaving.
But when we arrived at the hotel in Ardabil, out guide, Khalil said “The road condition to the Shahsavan people’s area is so bad that we would like to omit this part”.
Until then, I had been fairly quiet and kept letting Khalil and Ali, our driver choose the routes, but now I got very angry and said flatly “If you do that, the meaning that I came all the way to Iran will be lost”.
Khalil was astonished at my fury and hurried to calm me down promising that we were going there, but I felt hard feelings between me and him after that for a while.
He tended to forget that he was in the service business and tried to make things easier for him.
So, I wanted to go to the Shahsavan people’s area straight away on the next day, but first we visited Sheikh Safi al-Din Khanegah and Shrine Ensemble within Ardabil city.
It was the mausoleum of Safi-ad-din Ardabili who was born in the 13th century and became the founder of the Safavid order, which led to the Sasfavid dynasty in the 16th century.
He was a very important person in Iranian history, so I could understand that we could not miss here while we were in Ardabil.
I was looking at those beautifully tiled Islamic architecture without much enthusiasm, when suddenly I realised that here was the place where the famous Ardabil carpet was laid down originally and I got very excited.
Ardabil carpet is a huge carpet exhibited in Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum in London and I had seen it quite a few times.
Originally they were a pair and because both of them were damaged badly, one was used for the other one’s repair work.
The perfect one is now in V&A and the other one is apparently in a museum in Los Angels in the US.
The Iranians sold the pair in the 19th century to raise money to build a big mosque in Ardabil.
When V&A bought it, the famous designer William Morris played a part apparently.
Now they had lost the huge carpet, so there were smaller carpets on the floor.
But here was the original place of the Ardabil carpet!
I was very glad that I could come here.
Khalil was surprised to see that suddenly my expression changed.
In one room, three men were weaving exactly the same carpet as the original Ardabil carpet, working on a huge loom.
They were still at an early stage and apparently it would take three years to complete it.