Sean McConnell
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Tehran to Qom

Published by Sean on July 12, 2023

Have you traveled the road from Tehran to Qom? Have you seen the Imamzadeh Ali shrine?

Emamzadeh Ali Ghom Road
Published by Tabanfar, Nasser-Khosrow Street, Tehran. Photo by Malek Araghi

I love the image on this postcard. An imamzadeh shrine stands solemnly near mountains and snow. Its remaining blue tiles shine in the sun. I cannot find its exact location though. “Emamzadeh Ali Ghom Road, Tehran Iran” is printed on the reverse. Is it in Tehran or Qom or somewhere in between? There are numerous such shrines in Iran to imamzadehs, or descendants of an imam. There is a shine to Imamzadeh Sayyid Ali in Qom but it looks nothing like this beautiful but stark one.

Malek Araghi photographed the shrine around 1971. I read that his career spanned almost 70 yeas, beginning in the 1940s. He passed away after being hit by a car in 2015. Malek Araghi said in an interview that “I always take photographs for my own heart.”

سینما تئاتر, 1993

While I do not know where Mr. Malek Araghi took this photo, I do know it ended up in the hands of an archaeologist. They were with the Délègation Archéologique Française en Iran in Susa, or Shush. The Délègation Archéologique Française conducted digs in Iran and later Afghanistan. Naser al-Din Shah gave the French a monopoly on archaeological excavation in the 1890s. Naser al-Din Shah and his son sowed the seeds of revolution with their habit of granting Europeans rights to Iranian resources, from railways to tobacco. While oil money went to London, ancient artifacts went to Paris. The Pahlavi government ended the monopoly in the 1920s but the French continued excavations until the second revolution in 1979. The delegation operated in Afghanistan until recently. I’m unsure of their status since the Taliban takeover.

The French explored Shush from the 19th century to the 1970s. Readers of the Bible may recognize Shush as the setting of the Book of Esther. If you visit Shush, you will also find the tomb of the prophet Daniel. An interesting tower that resembles a honeycomb sits atop the shrine. Samarkand claims Daniel’s tomb as well. I wanted to visit it when I was in Uzbekistan last year but food poisoning kept me in bed!

The writer sent the postcard to a well-know archaeologist in Istanbul. They wrote that they arrived in Shush after four days of rough travel and stayed in a mud house with a library. I hoped to find out who sent the postcard, so I headed to Rice University in Houston, the nearest place I could find the Cahiers de D.A.F.I, the official archaeological reports.

Rice University. Photo by Sean McConnell, 2023.

I tried to register at the library as a guest but couldn’t find my license. I ran back to my car and luckily found it on the seat. I ran back, found the 1970s reports, and sat drenched in sweat from Houston’s ungodly humidity. I couldn’t find a list of workers, but I did see amazing photos of what they unearthed.

Look at this statue of Darius. The statue came from Egypt and features hieroglyphics instead of cuneiform.

Cahiers de la Délègation Archéologique Française en Iran, 1974. Permission to reproduce from Paléorient.
Cahiers de la Délègation Archéologique Française en Iran, 1974. Permission to reproduce from Paléorient.

Although I’ve only purchased a dozen Iranian postcards so far, two mention the digs at Shush. An American oil worker named Charles (more on him later) visited Shush. He mentions Daniel (“of thrown to the lions fame”) and the French excavators. This guy from Jersey ended his trip with a sunburned head and a pair of Bakhtiari pants.

So…an interesting snapshot of Iran in the early 1970s. My favorite part is still the image of the shrine. Mr. Malek Araghi, you took it for my heart too.

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2 comments on “Tehran to Qom”

  1. Hello Dear Sean
    The article you shared so precious, as an Iranian I had never heard about the shrine between Tehran and Qom but that's so interesting. There are some Imamzadehs in Iran that are older than others as well as sons of Imams.
    There are some prophets tombs in Iran other than Prophet Daniel in Shush like prophet Hayaghugh, also I remember four prophets tombs in Qazvin named Salam, Salum, Sahuli, Alghia.
    Thanks for sharing, hopefully I can read more from you here.

    1. Hello, dear Belal. Thank you for visiting my website and for your kind comment. I would love to visit the tomb for the prophet Daniel someday as well as Qazvin. I hope you are well.

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