Ehsan Historical Guest House is a traditional house custom made for the desert climate in Kashan
Finding accommodations with character and charm means a lot to us when we are traveling. Especially if we are going to stay there more than one night, it is important for us that we live in a different environment than at home. Back in Norway it is attractive to stay high with views, facing an ocean, a lake or a river. We have stayed at the edge of volcanoes, places overlooking majestic mountain peaks, on desert plains and in tropical primeval forests.
When we arrived at Kashan in Iran, we went into the narrow streets and alleyways a few hundred meters to a modest door with a sign that said here is Ehsan Historical Guest House. Behind this door, we experienced a very different kind of architectural style than we Europeans are used to.
The modest door, typical of the desert cities of Kashan and Yazd, is double and has two door hammers, one for women and one for men. The women used the right hammer and men the left one and they had different sounds. When someone knocked on the door, the house residents could clearly hear if it was a man or a woman outside. If the women were home alone and a man knocked, the women could hide behind the door when they opened and could therefore keep the prescribed distance.
We opened the door to Ehsan Guest House and entered a circular room. We then had to struggle with our heavy luggage down the narrow stone stairs. It was many stairs and then another long staircase until we were down in the reception 3 floors underground. At first we thought the house was located on a slope, but this was not so. It took some time before we realized how this was constructed. The narrow stairs took us 3 floors down to an open courtyard with the mandatory water basin in the middle. Carps and other fishes swam around in the water under the shade of trees that surrounded the pool. Around the courtyard, on all four sides, the house, terraces and stairs up and down were situated. We realized that we were going to stay 3 nights in a hole in the ground.
Here, these smart people had figured out that the best way of living was to dig down. Below ground, the temperature is better both in the hot as in the cold season. They dug a large rectangular hole and build the house along all four sides with an open garden in the middle. A cool place where there always are areas where the sun don’t reach. This building method is common in Iranian desert cities. Traditional houses are often four floors, two underground and two above. During the year, the household is moving around the house depending on where the sun shines. In winter they live in the quarters with many windows letting the sun in. While in summer they moved into the part of the house that is sheltered from the sun.
We were told that Kashan has more than 400 such homes and many are large palaces. From the outside you can not see anything flashy and it is impossible to imagine that the city is full of such residential luxury and opulent ornate beads is behind many anonymous doors. Tree of these palaces are today open to the public and are major tourist attractions, both for Iranians themselves and the few foreign tourists who find their way to Kashan.
In addition to that we lived in one of these fabulous traditional underground houses, we visited the two that are currently open to the public and serves as a museum, Abbasian Historical House and Boroujerdi Historic House, built in 1857. They are both huge palaces on 2 -3000 m2 and wonderfully adorned with the most beautiful Glass mosaics, tile and woodwork. There are courtyards for the owners and the servants, all with shallow pools that create decorative water mirrors. Courtyards would also have fruit trees and almond trees that create pleasant shade.
Ehsan Historical Guest House is a spectacular place to stay. It’s not luxurious, the rooms are basic but it’s clean and warm now that it is winter and they serve simple and good homemade Iranian cuisine. And as we always wish for when travelling, the place has charm and atmosphere and is quite unlike other places we have stayed.
The only thing we would point out is that in most places we stayed at in Iran, service as we are used to from Europe is completely absent. The staff is nice enough, but as tourists we miss the presence of attention such sites should have. This stands in a strong contrast to how helpful and attentive everyone else is in this great country.