Forgotten monuments Byron revives

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.

The Shrine of Qadamgah, visited by Byron on the 16th of November 1933. The majority of information over the shrine is to be found in Byron’s book itself.
The Madrasa-i Khan, visited on the 17th of February 1934. Apart from Byron’s account, the Madrasa is mentioned in the Lonely Planet website. It was built in 1615 and when Byron visited it, it was in ruin, probably because of the frequent earthquakes.
The Khatun Mausoleum is also hardly taken into account by art-historians. The monument, after Byron visits dated 17th February 1934, has been restored and is currently listed as a National Heritage Site in Iran.
The Shrine of Khoja Aghacha dates back to late 15th century. It was visited by Byron on the 30th of May 1934. In his travelogue he records “Who St Agacha was I don’t know”: we don’t know more than this either.


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