Do people travel blind?
‘Do people travel blind?’ asks Byron on the 20th of March 1934, in front of the portal of the Friday Mosque of Yazd.
Byron, on this occasion, is upset that no other traveler has described the mosque, that he considers magnificent. From the travelogue, it is clear that Byron relies on previous travel accounts and that he is well acquainted with the history of the places he visits. Nonetheless, the sources he relies on, such as Ten Thousand Miles in Persia by Major Percy Molesworth Sykes, are travel accounts that are not focused on the art and architecture of the region.
In fact, before Byron, few Europeans had had the chance to travel around Iran and take photos of the monuments there. As Christopher Sykes puts it, at the time, Central Asian mosques “had been seen by so few Europeans that no reliable record of them existed; not one single photograph had been taken of them”. And also, the mosques in Iran and Afghanistan used to be closed to foreigners until 1931.
One of the qualities of the Road to Oxiana is introducing people to some forgotten monuments that even today are neglected. While working on this project I had come across some monuments that I have never heard about before. Not only this: in some cases finding the details on their construction, dating, let alone their history, was hard, if not almost impossible.
Then this is a double quality of the book: if when it was first published it allowed people to read for the first time about monuments such as the Tughril Tower or the Vaqt-i Sa’at, today it helps us re-discovering some monuments that are laying in that vast area that stretches from Iran to Afghanistan, and that hardly enter art history books.