CHAPTER XXI. SOJOURN IN TEBRIS.
DESCRIPTION OF THE TOWN - THE TOWN - PERIOD OF FASTING - BEHMEN MIRZA - ANECDOTES OF THE PERSIAN GOVERNMENT - INTRODUCTION TO THE VICEROY AND HIS WIFE - BEHMEN MIRZA'S WIVES - VISIT TO A PERSIAN LADY - PERSECUTION OF THE LOWER CLASSES, OF THE CHRISTIANS, AND OF THE JEWS - DEPARTURE.
Tebris, or Tauris, is the capital of the province of Aderbeidschan, and the residence of the successor to the throne of Persia, who bears the title of Viceroy. It is situated in a treeless valley on the rivers Piatscha and Atschi, and contains 160,000 inhabitants. The town is handsomer than Teheran or Ispahan, possesses a number of silk looms and leather manufactories, and is said to be one of the principal seats of Asiatic commerce.
The streets are tolerably broad, and are also kept clean, there is in each an underground water canal with openings at regular intervals for the purpose of dipping out water.
There is no more to be seen of the houses than in any other Oriental town. Lofty walls with low entrances, without windows, and with the fronts always facing the court-yards, which are planted with flowers and small trees, and generally adjoining a beautiful garden. The reception rooms are large and lofty, with whole rows of windows, forming a complete wall of glass. The decoration of the rooms is not elegant, generally nothing beyond some few carpets; European furniture and articles of luxury are rare.
There are no handsome mosques, palaces, or monuments, either ancient or modern, with the exception of the partly ruined mosque of Ali-Schach, which, however, will not bear comparison in any respect with those in India.
The new bazaar is very handsome, its lofty, broad covered streets and passages forcibly called to my remembrance the bazaar at Constantinople; but it had a more pleasant appearance as it is newer. The merchant's stalls also are larger, and the wares, although not so magnificent and rich as some travellers represent, are more tastefully displayed and can be more easily overlooked, especially the carpets, fruits, and vegetables. The cookshops also looked very inviting, and the various dishes seemed so palatable and diffused such a savoury odour, that I could have sat down with pleasure and partaken of them. The shoe department, on the contrary, presented nothing attractive; there were only goods of the plainest description exposed; while in Constantinople the most costly shoes and slippers, richly embroidered with gold, and even ornamented with pearls and precious stones, are to be seen under glass cases.
I had arrived at Tebris at a rather unfavourable time - namely, the fast month. From sunrise to sunset nothing is eaten, nobody leaves the house, there are neither visits nor company - indeed, nothing but praying. This ceremony is so strictly observed that invalids frequently fall victims to it, as they will take neither medicine nor food during the day; they believe that if they were to eat only a mouthful, they would forfeit the salvation to be obtained by fasting. Many of the more enlightened make an exception to this custom in cases of illness; however, in such an instance the physician must send a written declaration to the priest, in which he explains the necessity of taking medicine and food. If the priest puts his seal to this document, pardon is obtained. I am not aware whether this granting of indulgences was taken by the Mahomedans from the Christians, or the reverse. Girls are obliged to keep these fasts after their tenth year, and boys after their fifteenth.
It was to the courteousness of Dr. Cassolani, and his intimacy with some of the principal families in Tebris, that I was indebted for my introduction to them, and even for my presentation at court, notwithstanding the strict observance of the fast.
There was no viceroy in Tebris until about six months since, but only a governor; the present reigning schach, Nesr-I-Din, raised the province of Aderbeidschan to a vice-royalty, and decreed that every eldest son of the future inheritor of the empire should reside here as viceroy until he came to the throne.
The last governor of Tebris, Behmen Mirza, the schach's brother, was a remarkably intelligent and just man. He brought the province of Aderbeidschan into a flourishing condition in a few years, and everywhere established order and security. This soon excited the envy of the prime minister Haggi-Mirza-Aagassi; he urged the schach to recall his brother, and represented to him that he would engage the affections of the people too much, and that he might at last make himself king.
For a long time the schach paid no attention to these insinuations, for he loved his brother sincerely; but the minister did not rest until he had attained his wishes. Behmen Mirza, who knew all that was going on at court, hastened to Teheran for the purpose of exculpating himself before the schach. The latter assured him of his love and confidence, and told him, candidly, that he might retain his office if the minister would consent to it, and recommended him to endeavour to gain his favour.